Arizona Live Burn MistakesThird Degree Burns and a Burnt Hoseline. Lessons Anyone?

Glaring inadequacies hurt us all when your training goes wrong.

FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation reported on the story that two Thatcher firefighters were injured during live burn training. It is not uncommon to have antagonistic training, of varying degrees both good and bad, where the students receive some injury. Not that injury should be expected, but that the performances during such training are physically demanding. Underlying in the story are many problems, none the least being lack of preparedness, crew integrity and lack of confidence in the leadership of the training.

In Arizona two firefighters were injured during a training exercise on 16 June. While injuries in this vocation are not unusual and if incurred during training the lessons should be scrutinized with the hope that the greatest corrections can be learned and done with nominal damages. Not so in the case of the Thatcher Fire Department’s recent live burn drill.

The news articles, including the original from the Eastern Arizona Courier, tell that during the course of a fire attack evolution, a crew went inside to extinguish a room of fire. As they advanced they found they were unable to do this task because “their hose had burned and became useless”.

How in the hell do you conduct a proper live fire training drill in 2012, after easily finding and learning about all the bad ones in the past that killed a firefighter, and still burn a hoseline? You can’t swing a dead cat without someone citing chapter and verse of NFPA 1403 and yet here we are in an age of bountiful access to resources like 1403 and more and you burn a hoseline through? What plausible excuse accounts for burning a hoseline? How does that happen? I’ll tell you – you enter the primary fire area with a dry line; you pass fire and it continues to grow behind you; portions of burning material fall on your hoseline. What else is there? Did mice with matches hang back behind the couch to ambush you? Did the trainers or instructors set this up as a type of ‘what are you going to do now?’ exercise? No, it’s simple – some form of flame came in contact with the hoseline and burnt it through – and through enough to render it unusable and the nozzle team had to back out.

Scratch that, not “nozzle team”, but crew since nozzle team should imply some form of competency among the individuals working together so that they would be aware of the very things that would cause your hoseline to be burned through.

As this crew of firefighters left the building one of them received burns to his hands and knees. He was eventually transported to a local hospital. While they were leaving, an officer with the group was unaware that the others had followed the hoseline out. Believing that they still might be inside he went back in to locate them. While he was looking for them a reported flashover occurred. I say reported because in my years since starting in the fire service, I’ve seen the definitions of flashover and other “rapid fire behavior” events (who came up with that term?) muddied as we learn more or suspect we learn more about fire. The officer left the structure initially receiving second-degree burns to his hand head and back. The local news added that the officer’s injuries were much more severe than first reported; third-degree burns with the skin grafting in the future.

So, we evidently have a poor accountability system in place and we can’t expect the crew to rely on a simple basic lesson such as following the hoseline out – wait, that’s right, the hoseline was burnt through – and an officer has to go inside the fire building while the fire is still progressing. You may be thinking about the backup hoseline or the safety team, as well you should, and the news story does include this important part of live burn training.

The safety team was in place with a hoseline but as the story reports, “by the time they realized there was a problem, a backup hose was of no use.” Are you serious? You are saying that in a minute’s time, according to the fire chief, a crew enters, finds their hoseline dead, backs out, and then an officer goes inside and gets burned – and your backup line was of no use? This is training, not an actual fire incident where you don’t get the chance to layout everything on the fireground nice and neat and make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. Blame it on the flashover, how fast a fire progresses and then let’s credit the training of the one now in the hospital for the situation not getting worse.

“"He kept his head and did what he was trained to do and was able to find his way out," Payne said.”He didn't panic. He kept his cool . . . There was a lot of stuff he could have done that could have got him in more trouble . . . When that room flashes over, there's not very many firefighters who survive it, so we feel like he was real fortunate in that (regard.)"

“"I'm just very relieved that the injuries were never life-threatening," [Mayor] Hinton said.”The fact that no one is permanently hurt, and Rob will be released soon, that's the best news."”

It appears that someone has bought into the abused form of “everyone goes home” since no one was killed, because hey, scars from third-degree burns don’t last forever. Sadly we have many in the fire service who live comfortably with this twisted, misunderstood belief in the real “EGH” that since they aren’t putting someone in the ground and giving a folded flag to a widow, we really don’t have a great deal to learn. We’ll chalk it up to our “training” and live comfortably that we didn’t kill anyone. Yet.

How does this example of a fire service education in need of overhaul progress? They lose the house and burn the neighbor’s trees, “After they re-engaged the fire, it had spread to the attic, and firefighters did their best stay in control and keep it from spreading. Even with the suppression efforts from the department's ladder truck, some fire managed to escape and burn a neighbor's trees. Payne said by the time the fire was under control, the structure was deemed unsafe for further training, and the decision was made to continue to burn the house.”

Personally, I think it is good nothing but the foundation is left, because if you can’t see the glaring problems in this training then you’re going to kill someone. I don’t believe I am exaggerating either. Take it from some of the firefighters there, according to the story.

“While some firefighters expressed their concern over what they deemed to be a lack of safety protocol at the scene, Payne said he is reserving his judgment until the department's investigation is complete.”

How screwed up is your training that your own guys are questioning it?

I sat on this for awhile, believing that it may be just a onetime fluke that all departments have. None of us is perfect and we certainly don’t have perfect training and perfect fireground.

Until I saw this. 1:05 “- weed out who is going to get claustrophobic and um, gonna try and turn their mask off or something.” The 3:15 mark and onward is notable too.

I don’t believe Chief Payne is insinuating that others would turn off the SCBA, but that panic might set in among the students. Still, is a live burn the place to test that reaction? Wouldn't you expect to work that out in SCBA training not involving live fire evolutions?

Just one day before our national Health and Safety Week two firefighters are burned during a live fire training evolution. The mistakes are glaring and while we see all types of fire service news and videos on the internet and their related critiques, this is one incident that needs noticing. There are many groups of individuals providing safe, realistic, antagonistic training and they take hits from others too scared and too ignorant to recognize the responsibilities taken because of live burns like this one in Thatcher.

This isn’t about wondering why in a video some engine company didn’t layout, or why it took so long to get water, or why they were on the roof and all the other anonymous expert questions and advice. This is about a training that injured two firefighters and the mistakes that can’t be ignored. Let’s hope that whatever investigation is done in Thatcher, the actual mistakes are identified and real change takes place.


Yeah, who am I kidding.


No, we're not the best fire service in the world.

Maybe we need to own up to that when we see stupid stuff like this.

Maybe our news should be different.

FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation's coverage, "Flashover Burns Arizona Captain during Live Burn Drill" has links to conducting proper live burn trainings. Read them, post them, use them. You're in it for the long haul if you're educating the next generation of firefighters.



Bill Carey is the daily news and blog manager for Elsevier Public Safety (FireRescue Magazine/Firefighter Nation, JEMS and LawOfficer sites.) Bill also manages the network and is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Maryland.

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  • Ric Jorge says:

    Great article Bill. Sadly this gives those against live fire training more ammo to support their argument.

  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    Ric, as you have said, few ruin it for many.   I look at the level of training you have created in Florida and think that it is stories like this that make things harder for you and so many others brothers.
    I remember back to Lairdsville, NY, where more misguided Firefighters failed to use their brains and some common sense and an 18 year non-scba qualified firefighter was killed in what was supposed to be a smoke only training event.  

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