Live-fire training in spotlight at FDIC

Training deaths are seen by many as the most preventable type of fatality in the fire service.

And the death two months ago of Baltimore cadet Racheal Wilson has put the issue, particularly live-fire training, firmly in the spotlight.

The pros and cons of the exercises were discussed by two figures during a session at the FDIC Thursday.

Ted Nee, retired deputy chief with the Albuquerque, N.M., Fire Department, argued the risks of injury and death outweighed any possible benefits.

But Dominic Colletti, a volunteer firefighter and former assistant fire chief with the Humane Fire Company in Royersford, Pa., insisted live-fire training, when done correctly, was the most effective way to teach specific skills needed on the fireground.

"There's lots of things that can be improved in the way live-fire training is conducted," admitted Colletti. "Live-fire training malpractices are unacceptable.”

He warned against what he saw as a trend of departments moving away from live-fire training, particularly in acquired structures.

"We now have people that are not qualified to protect themselves or to do the job," Colletti said.

The risks involved in live-fire training, he said, could be turned into calculated ones.

Statistics reveal there was a 31 percent decrease in incidents involving structures between 1987 and 2001.

It means today's firefighters are less knowledgeable about the range of dangers involved in structure fires, said Colletti, making live-fire training all the more essential.

According to NFPA statistics, 14 firefighters died between 1996 and 2005 while participating in live-fire training.

And, over a 14-year period from 1987, about 470 firefighters were injured from burns every year in training.

These figures, Nee said, supported arguments against live-fire training. He claimed live-fire training could actually hamper decision-making on the fireground.

"Until we can fix some of the problems, we need to quit burning acquired structures," Nee added, before raising doubt over the standard of some trainers.

"Who ends up in the training division?" he said. “It should be the best, and in some departments it is. But some people end up in training that have no business there.

"There are pockets of excellence out there, but there's just way too much other stuff. We have to be better than we are today."

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