Massachusetts’ Dave LeBlanc takes the great opportunity that the firefighters in Ogden have and looks at the vast educational opportunities, in our double-feature post.
Ogden, Utah has been presented with a unique training opportunity, one at which many would jump at the chance to have. The City is in the process of the redevelopment of a section of Town and there are over three dozen buildings that need to be torn down. The City is considering the savings associated with having the Fire Department burn these structures, rather than having to pay for the removal and disposal of all the debris.
38 Buildings To Burn: “Johnny Reb”
The Fire Department has received permission from the Department of air quality to burn the structures, now all that remains is for the final abatement of some of the hazards and the training opportunity of a career is ready to go.
Certainly there are hazards associated with live burn training. We have all read about Fire Departments that have killed or injured firemen by not following the standards. One training fire gone wrong that will always stick in my mind is Lairdsville, New York.
NIOSH FACE 200138 In the report linked here, you will read about how a Fire “Officer” put an untrained, new member of his Department in a building for a search and rescue exercise. Bradley Golden was supposed to be a victim in an exercise that not supposed to involve anything more than a couple of barrels of wood scrap being burned to create smoke. Unfortunately Alan Baird exercised a completely lack of judgment and set a couch on fire at the base of the stairs, trapped Bradley Golden and two others.
With every training opportunity we must evaluate the benefit of the training versus the risk associated with that training. Obviously we cannot remove all risk, although some would like to, but we are obligated to minimize those risks whenever we can. Live fire exercises are conducted everyday throughout this country in acquired structures. They can be conducted safely while giving firefighters realistic training. Often there is a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater after there is an injury or fatality.
Now back to Utah. While the Fire Department has been given permission to burn these 38 structures, the end goal is total destruction. There certainly is limited training value in 38 fires being fought from the outside, so what would your plan be?
There exists an opportunity here to drill on the basic, bread and butter fire. If the training fires are kept to one or two rooms, then there is an opportunity to drill multiple companies in different roles to provide the best experience to the firefighters.
There is also an opportunity to train in the things we usually can’t when only 1 acquired structure is involved. After using a structure for ventilation practice or overhaul, a fire can be set and companies can be drilled on 360 observations and reading smoke. These same buildings that are unsafe for interior operations can be used to practice defensive operations and proper deployment of master streams.
The Department estimates it can burn 3 buildings a day. Certainly there are budget and resource considerations. But this is also a great chance to involve Mutual Aid Departments and hopefully get everyone on the “same page”. It shouldn’t be unrealistic to have multiple fires in one day, with the finals burns taking place on a separate day.
Here is one plan. Companies arrive on Day 1 for hoseline and nozzle review, followed by ventilation and overhaul. Day 2 is search and rescue with fake smoke and firefighter survival techniques. Day 3 starts with a total building burn. Companies conduct 360 examinations and study the smoke that is produced during the burn. Day 3 then moves into 1 and 2 room fires putting all of the previous training together.
With this plan the Day 3 afternoon burns could be used for the next round of Day three morning burns. That way the interior operations could be conducted in buildings with no previous fire or overhaul damage. Some of the morning burns would also take place in structure where the ventilation and overhaul training had taken place. Combined this program the firemen a review of the basic skills before putting them into action and then practice all the pieces.
There are certainly other plans and ideas that could be put forth, but this plan give everyone a chance to review and practice the basics, and then put them to use in a controlled fashion. It also allows the members to observe some conditions at a “relaxed” pace. Something that is rarely able to be done.
Are there safety concerns with live fire exercises? Absolutely, but with 38 buildings to burn, the chances of things going wrong are much less. Why? Because the Department doesn’t have to try and get too much out of the building. Instead of three and 4 fires in one building, the Department can limit it to 1 or 2. The same building doesn’t have to be used for ventilation and overhaul and then live fire, so it isn’t in a weakened condition.
In the end this is just one example of how the live fire exercises could be set up. This is a unique opportunity for the community to accomplish their objective of clearing this neighbor at a reduced cause, while the Fire Department gets some valuable training.
Photographs courtesy Wayne Barrall/FITHP.net