Live-burn: Balancing realism and safety
Live fire training is both valuable and dangerous; follow the guidelines and exercise caution to keep trainees safe
It's probably difficult to overstate the value of live-fire training for both recruit firefighters and their more experienced counterparts. Yet as the tragic 2007 incident at the root of this story demonstrated, every fire carries the risk of severe injury and death, regardless of how, why or where it occurs.
As one of my first recruit instructors told a colleague who was having a rough day on the drill field: "The (training) fire doesn't care." This fact has critical implications for students and instructors who participate in live-fire training.
With any training evolution, instructors must strike a balance between realism and safety. If the training environment doesn't effectively simulate "real-world" conditions, then we run the long-term risk of putting ill-prepared firefighters on the street. If the environment is too dangerous, then we risk violating our duty to keep trainees safe from harm.
Finding this balance point can be particularly challenging when live fire is involved. I've worked in jurisdictions that used a variety of fuel arrangements, fuels, and structures to help provide a realistic interior firefighting environment. Honestly, I've had a few near misses in those settings as both an instructor and a student.
Through the years, multiple fire departments across the U.S. have experienced firefighter line-of-duty deaths and injuries during live-fire training. For this reason, it is vitally important that fire departments performing live-fire exercises follow strict safety measures, including those detailed in the National Fire Protections Association 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions.