Safety Comes First in Texas A&M Fire Program

DALLAS, TEXAS -- When it comes to live fire training, Ron Peddy of Texas A&M University has a rule that trumps all others.

DALLAS, TEXAS -- When it comes to live fire training, Ron Peddy of Texas A&M University has a rule that trumps all others.

"There's no excuse for hurting a student in training, none," said Peddy, who was one of the presenters at Firehouse Central in Dallas this week.

Peddy is the associate director of logistics for the Texas Engineering Extension Service of the Emergency Services Training Institute of the university.

During his presentation, called "Safety Overview (Live Fire & Hands-On Training," Peddy said safety has to be the number one priority of any training exercise.

"In the EMS world, there's no excuse for dropping a patient," he said. "Well, in the fire world, there's no excuse for hurting a fire student."

To help him achieve that top goal, Peddy said he makes checklists covering all kinds of things that "could happen," "should happen" and "shouldn't happen."

His list includes things like making sure the weather is good before doing live fire training to making sure walking surfaces aren't covered with slippery algae, and checking that doors open and close as they should.

Peddy pointed out that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has recommendations for live fire training outlined in its 1403 standards.

"Is NFPA the law, no," Peddy said. "But it is the national standard and there's no way you can explain your way around why you didn't follow a national standard."

Each year, Peddy has responsibility for thousands of students passing through the Texas A&M fire school. When dealing with that number of students, nothing can be left to chance.

That's why Peddy said he follows the NFPA standard of one instructor for every five students.

"It makes for a lot of people and a lot of logistics, but it's just the right thing to do and we do it," Peddy said.

Because the school is in Texas, which Peddy said is hot nine months out of the year, heat stress and heat injuries are constantly watched for and warned against.

The school has charts that say how much water students should be drinking depending on the heat index and the work they're doing. Students might say they're taking in sufficient fluids by taking four or five ounce paper cups.

"That's not enough, they need to be drinking quarts," Peddy said, noting that students are advised to monitor the color of their urine and watch out for dark yellow as a sign of dehydration.

"When you do live fire training, or any training for that matter, you need to have a good place for rehab that's out of the sun," Peddy said, noting that students quickly learn that if they keep themselves hydrated and rehab when they should, they can take the heat better and do more evolutions.

Even though the school makes sure students get a lot of heat and understand its effect on the body, they have a rule that they never exceed 700 degrees at eye level in any of their burn facilities, Peddy said. The school does not work with any "acquired structures" to burn so all of his comments were focused on permanent burn facilities in which temperatures are easier to control.

By using only measured amounts of hay as fuel, Peddy said it's possible to control the temperature. The school doesn't use pallets because no two pallets are alike with some being pine, and others hardwood and some with full slat coverage, and some having sparse coverage.

"Untreated hay works the best for us," he said. "It makes a lot of smoke and the residue is easy to clean up after the burn."

Nevertheless, there were good take away tips for fire instructors and training officers to apply for virtually any kind of training.

"When did it become OK to wear shorts for fire training?" Peddy asked rhetorically. "I can't believe how many students think it's OK to wear shorts during fire training."

To curb that trend, Peddy developed a manual for personal protective equipment that allowed shorts during classroom training but required full PPE for live fire training and on a scale for everything in between, including long pants and shirts for just being outside in the sun.

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