On Thursday, 12 February, the Red Sox struggled their way through an oppressive Florida winter to begin the first day of Spring Training. Last weekend, in the Washington D.C. area the thermometer hit the upper fifties and people could be found on The Mall in shorts and t-shirts. Spring, or any slight hint of spring, will get the body and mind active, giving us a desire to get out from inside four walls. Warmer days give us a chance to do something more than dry erase board drills or online simulations. The trade we have is a practical one, whether you do it for a salary or not, and practical work requires practical training.
While your department begins to make plans for the trip to the burn building or to scout out an old structure to possibly burn, take a look at the following investigated reports involving training of all types and see where your department is similar:
Career Probationary Fire Fighter Dies While Participating in a Live-Fire Training Evolution at an Acquired Structure – Maryland
Career Captain Dies from Complications of a Drowning Incident due to a Combination of Exhaustion, Hypothermia and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During Surf Rescue Training – Washington
Career Officer Injured During a Live Fire Evolution at a Training Academy Dies Two Days Later – Pennsylvania
Volunteer Fire Fighter / Rescue Diver Dies in Training Incident at a Quarry – Pennsylvania
Career Fire Fighter Drowns While Conducting Training Dive – New Hampshire
Live-Fire Exercise in Mobile Flashover Training Simulator Injures Five Career Fire Fighters – Maine
Live-Fire Training Exercise Claims the Life of One Recruit Fire Fighter and Injures Four Others– Florida
Volunteer Training/Safety Officer Dies from Injuries Received in Fall from Pick-Up Truck Following Training Exercise – Tennessee
Career Lieutenant and Fire Fighter Die in a Flashover During a Live-Fire Training Evolution – Florida
Career Fire Fighter Drowns During Final Dive of Training Course – Indiana
Volunteer Fire Fighter Dies and Two Others Are Injured During Live-Burn Training – New York
Volunteer Fire Fighter Drowns During Multi-Agency Dive-Rescue Exercise – Illinois
Fire Fighter/SCUBA Diver Dies During Training Evolution–Indiana
Volunteer Assistant Chief Dies During a Controlled-Burn Training Evolution–Delaware
Volunteer Fire Fighter Drowns During Dry-Suit Training Dive – North Carolina
Fire Fighter/Paramedic Drowns During an Underwater SCUBA Training Drill – Missouri
Fire Fighter (Captain) Dies After Fall From Ladder During a Training Exercise – California
Fire Suppression Technician Involved in Maze Training Incident–Texas
How we conduct our most realistic training is influenced by our own perceptions and beliefs of risk. In 1994, the U.S. Naval Academy faced the biggest cheating scandal of its time when two dozen midshipmen were expelled and another two dozen were given lesser penalties. In one interview the comment ‘you rate what you skate’ became an easy summary of the trouble in Annapolis. You are only as good, performance-wise as what you can get away with. This is something that should be easily apparent to the fire service. We all know of the member who ‘hangs back’ with the almost regular SCBA malfunction or the urgency to stay in the hall or downstairs ‘feeding line’. The opposite is found in the member who is always looking for a ‘salty’ lid, Bourkes melted to the point of throw away, and gear with obvious signs of burn damage. When we conduct live training, one of the main purposes should be to create and maintain a level of safety that allows the hang back guy to become more accustomed to the environment and get of his or her shell. We should also create the same for the salty member to reconsider his or her personal actions and learn how they impact the company and the fireground.
I am no ‘safety sally’ by any means. I’ve been there stoking fires in the burn building and the acquired house. In retrospect I know that some of my friends and I have created flameover and rollover conditions in order to ‘teach’ new members. A lot of this was done before the cry of ‘1403’. The only precautions we took were a vent hole in the roof, points of easily identifiable egress, a backup hoseline and nozzle team and that we used household furnishings and not flammable liquids. While we didn’t kill or injure anyone, we did make some good heat and in the process warped a few frontpieces from time to time. We also provided an environment as realistic to what we experienced, to the new members. We never taught anything contrary to Maryland’s Basic Fire and only added to it how our department specifically operated and what we persona
lly learned from experience. We made the training realistic, educational and fun.
In other words, we operated as safe and competent as we knew at the time, without an underlying effort to either intimidate a new member or exaggerate our own selves. We rated by what we skated.
Because of live fire burns that killed or injured members, departments nationwide are challenged to make the acquired building or academy burn building as realistic as possible. The same can be applied to other areas of training, such as dive rescue. The NFPA staff didn’t wake up one day years ago and said among them, “Let’s make it hard for fire departments to do live fire training.” It was actually us, firefighters, who operated in ways that caught the eye of ‘outsiders’.
As the weather gets warmer and we get out in the street more, make the training opportunities as realistic as possible, but try not to get anyone injured or killed. We will all suffer because of that somewhere down the line.
“Preventing Deaths and Injuries to Fire Fighters during Live-Fire Training in Acquired Structures” NIOSH Publication No. 2005-102:
“Firefighters’ live burn training gives adrenaline rush” Times Herald, November 2008
“An Ultimate Training Experience
The Most Ambitious “Live” Fire Burn Training Exercise in America” Firehouse.com, September 2001