Live-Fire Training The New Reality

Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., recounts the latest firefighter training fatalities and reviews standards and practices relating to the use of burn buildings.

We have all read and heard a great deal recently about the issues surrounding the use of live fire at locations other than established, regulated and properly designed training facilities. It is extremely difficult to think about this topic without pondering the fact that lives have been lost. It is...

To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.


Complete the registration form.


There is an exception to this last statement. Limited quantities of combustible liquids with a flash point above 100 degrees Fahrenheit shall be permitted in structures that have been designed to allow the use of fuels such as this.

Remember that the authority of the safety officer is absolute. Regardless of their rank, they have the authority to shut down any operation deemed by them to be unsafe. The wise instructor-in-charge will accept their word and shut down the operation.

I want to reinforce the fact that the greatest percentage of live-fire training problems we have reviewed can be found in the arena involving the use of structures acquired for training purposes. We would suggest that the use of these buildings be undertaken in accordance with strict safety procedures.

These procedures should be developed by your staff and be directly extracted from the pages of NFPA 1403. A great deal of information is available in the appendices of the standard for your use. Once these procedures are developed, they shall govern the use of all off-site structures that have been acquired for training purposes. While a fire training center structure has usually been designed for the role it will play in training, off-site structures have not.

Whether it is your intention to conduct burn evolutions in the building or not, strict attention must be paid to preparing the structure for your use. It may be that you will have to spend a sum of money to ready the property to meet local building codes. I can recall a series of live-fire exercises conducted in New England a few years back. A number of these structures were offered for live-fire use in performing Class-A foam firefighting research.

In order to obtain permission from local code compliance authorities, more than $5,000 had to be spent to repair holes and improve structural integrity. When the building was properly repaired, a series of live burns was conducted. It should be remembered that safety and not expediency is the primary goal of any operation in an acquired structure.

There are a number of important steps that must be taken to insure that your use of an acquired structure is performed properly. You should:

  • Secure all necessary permits for air quality, water runoff, water usage, burning and traffic control. You will need to research the appropriate state and local regulations to insure that you are in compliance.
  • Confirm property ownership.
  • You will need to examine proof of clear title to the property in question.
  • A clear description of the anticipated condition of the acquired building at the completion of the evolution(s) and the method of returning the property to the owner shall be put in writing and shall be acknowledged by the owner of the structure.
  • Secure the appropriate live-fire training permits from state and local authorities.
  • The owner of the property shall provide a certificate of insurance.
  • A complete inspection of the property in question will be made to insure structural integrity.
  • It must be ascertained whether the structure in question will hold the weight of personnel, equipment, and water.
  • Damage from fire will be a part of this assessment.
  • All hazardous materials and storage will be removed from the property in accordance with appropriate state and local regulations.
  • All hazardous conditions shall be corrected prior to the using the structure for your live-fire evolution.
  • Closed containers and highly combustible materials shall be removed from the structure.
  • Oil tanks and similar closed vessels that cannot be removed shall be vented sufficiently to prevent an explosion or overpressure rupture.
  • Any hazardous or combustible atmosphere within the tank or vessel shall be rendered inert.
  • All hazardous structural conditions shall be removed or repaired so as to not present a safety problem during use of the structure for live-fire training evolutions.
  • Floor openings shall be covered.
  • Missing stair treads and rails shall be repaired or replaced.
  • Dangerous portions of any chimney shall be removed.
  • Holes in walls and ceilings shall be patched.
  • Some locales actually paint arrows on the floor so that the participants can find easy egress.
  • Paint the wall sides with A, B, C and D to create an understanding of building layout. In order to insure that the structure is safe for personnel, the following items shall be inspected and defects corrected:
  • Floors, railings and stairs shall be made safe.
  • Special attention shall be given to potential chimney collapse hazards.
  • All walls and ceilings shall be intact or patched.
  • Debris creating or contributing to unsafe conditions shall be removed.
  • Low-density combustible fiberboard and unconventional interior finishes shall be removed.
  • All extraordinary weight that might rest above the training area shall be removed.
  • Bathtubs should be removed, so that they do not fill up with water and add weight to the floor. Any hole caused by this action will be covered in a solid, permanent method. (Nailing boards over the hole could be one way.)
  • No one will be allowed to move on floors above the fire area, as they might increase the weight and cause an unexpected collapse.
  • An adequate ventilation opening shall be created in the roof to insure that there will be a minimal opportunity for heat, smoke, and toxic or explosive gases to build up in the structure.
  • Utilities to the structure shall be disconnected at the street.
  • Always think about the existence of toxic materials, insects and vermin that might be in the structure.
  • All asbestos shall be removed from the structure by a qualified asbestos-removal contractor.
  • Some states require that you remove the roof covering.
  • Be sure that your operation complies with all appropriate state, county, and local regulations.