USFA Technical Report on Fire Service Training Safety
Release Date: November 5, 2003
FEMA Special Review of Firefighter Training Uncovers Ways to Reduce the Risk of Tragic Outcomes
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A technical special report on the risks of firefighting training and ways to reduce deaths and injuries is being released by the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today. The special report underscores the inherent danger of such training but reiterates the importance of experience gained in real, rather than closely controlled training fires.
"It's important that fire departments train firefighters in as close to actual conditions as possible while also protecting them in the process," said Michael D. Brown, Homeland Security Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response. "This special report highlights how this challenge can be met by the nation's fire service educators and trainers."
The review, compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), also highlights the importance of following currently accepted procedures and standards to avoid training deaths and injuries and the need for instructors to avoid situations for which the students are not yet prepared.
The challenge is very real. Since 1987, reported training-related injuries have increased by nearly 21 percent. In 2001 alone, almost 7,000 training-related injuries were reported. That year, a firefighter died and two were injured while participating in a live burn training situation.
At the same time, live fire training buildings and simulators fed by propane or natural gas have many built-in safety features but may not provide the same quality of realism as live fire training in acquired structures. The training buildings, for example, fail to teach students to react to the diverse conditions encountered in real fire operations.
In addition, the need to provide training in situations other than fires, such as hazardous material incidents, increases the danger to participants. In 1997, for example, a member of a unit training to respond to a chemical incident was overcome by a nerve agent and needed to be administered an antidote to stop the seizures.
"Safe and effective - but realistic - firefighter training is vital to meet our mission of preserving life and property," said US Fire Administrator R. David Paulison. "This special report reviews training issues, tragic mistakes of the past and determines ways fire-related training can be safer but effective."
Other lessons learned cited in the special report include:
It is increasingly important that firefighters receive training in fire behavior and extinguishment methods for different types of buildings;
Modern protective equipment may make life-threatening fire conditions less obvious and firefighters must be trained to recognize the visual and physical clues to impending danger;
During training, a firefighter's physical stress level should be monitored continuously and departments should consider stronger physical screening programs and long-term health and wellness programs to reduce training-related heart attacks and strokes.
USFA develops technical reports on selected major incidents, usually involving multiple deaths or a large loss of property. USFA also prepares periodic special reports to discuss events, drills or new technologies or tactics of interest to the fire service. The focus is on "lessons learned" or new knowledge that underscores ongoing issues in fire service. These reports provide detailed information on the nature of the fire problem in this country for policymakers who decide resource allocations, and within the fire service to improve codes and code enforcement, training, public fire education and building technology. This special report was based on meetings, informal interviews and a study of a wide array of fire training literature.
A copy of the full report can be found at: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/application...ons/tr100.shtm
a little background . . .
Adam Thiel, the Virginia Department of Fire Programs Executive Director, was one of the committee members. Virginia had an uncomfortable experience in 2001.
After a seven year freeze, Virginia re-opened the procedure for experienced fire instructors to become part-time state employees and teach for the Department of Fire Programs. Fire Programs provides the bulk of the fire certification training to communities that do not have an established or independently-funded training academy/program.
The fire instructor process required candidates to already have Fire Instructor II or III. They needed to pass a knowledge test with a grade of 80% or higher and participate in a question-and-answer process. Most of the candidate pool who made it to the interview process were experienced local fire instructors.
One of the questions was "How would you set up an acquired structure live fire burn in order to be in compliance with NFPA 1403." We were stunned when almost half of the candidates had no clue about the standard.
I was most concerned about a candidate who was a lead fire instructor for a mid-sized town. He was smart, agressive and knowledgeable about firefighting and teaching. But his knowledge about 1403 or the related horror stories seemed to be a black hole.
The updated state instructor manuals includes specific state regulation on procedures that must be followed for live fire training. When the Virginia revised the Instructor I training program, it requires the student to puchase a copy of 1403. There is a dedicated section of the Instructor I class on live fire training.
This FEMA special report will help a lot.