It seems to be happening more and more, injuries and deaths during live fire training. Not for nothing but most, if not all, of the injuries — AND ALL OF THE DEATHS — are preventable, period! The knee-jerk reaction that comes after any injury or death during a training session is always the same – suspend all training and in some cases discontinue it completely. That is not the answer.
You know the saying…Firemen are their own worst enemies. Nothing could be further from the truth as it relates to live fire training. Why do we constantly make things more difficult than they really are…and, more importantly, why are we adding to the LODD numbers while trying to teach firefighters how NOT to become a LODD?
It just doesn’t make any sense, light and fight fires that we don’t see on the street. Sure, we get some tough fires on the street but they usually go defensive in a relatively short period of time if we don’t get a handle on them and then we’re on the outside looking in. For the occasional tough interior firefight that we encounter there is some true street-experience to be gained. Those chances are few and far between.
The problems on the fireground start way before we ever show up — with a lack of basic skill training and proficiency. In today’s fire service the next major problem area is responding (like maniacs). So we finally make it to the fireground only to botch the layout, fail to establish a sustained water supply, go Italian-style with the attack line (in front of the engine or in front of the entrance, your pick), try to blow the fire out, try to asphyxiate the fire (by not venting), or simply try and piss the fire off by not using enough water or the right-sized hand line. I’m sure you can come up with more of the basic skills that we routinely botch on the fireground.
Unfortunately, during all the bad performances we usually come out with no problems and then pat ourselves on the back thinking we did one hell of a job. Excuses are as common as you know what when something doesn’t work out the way it should have. The companies you run in with are never up to your performance standards and are always the first reason that you didn’t get the job done. Any of this sound familiar?
So, we head off to a vacant structure and decide we’ll do the same skills the same way and expect the same outcome. Using that mindset is like playing Russian Roulette, only one of our own may ultimately be on the losing end.
You see, live fire training is an invaluable part of training firefighters. For new firefighters it’s like drivers education for kids getting their license. For existing firefighters it’s like weekly practice for a professional sports team. In either case, you can only get better by learning the basics and then continually learning from experiences (and mistakes) gained through training (and sometimes on the street).
Live fire training is not an E-ticket carnival ride and until everyone who is involved with this type of training figures this out there will continue to be injuries and, unfortunately, fatalities. Here’s the catch: without live fire training there will also continue to be injuries and, unfortunately, fatalities. The only difference between continuing to run live fire training sessions incorrectly and not running them at all will be where the injury or fatality occurs — on the training ground or on the fireground. In all honesty, the training ground is the fireground during live fire training.
So let’s talk about aggressive live fire training designed to SAVE FIREFIGHTERS. It all starts with solid basic skills. Proper knowledge and understanding of water supply and of fireground hydraulics. Proper line selection (both size and length). Proper stretching, advancing and operating techniques of all hand lines. Proper forcible entry. Properly coordinating ventilation with the movement of the attack line. Proper and efficient search size up. Proper and efficient search (and rescue, if needed). Properly reading the fire and staying out of trouble. Knowing your SCBA inside and out. Properly communicating. Performing an ongoing size up of your (and the overall) situation. Preventing problems from occurring. And all of this without every starting a fire! Total proficiency working with your crew and members of other crews. Consistency in department operations from one person to the next, from one company to the next, from one officer to the next, from one chief to the next, from one shift to the next. Everybody on the same page. Everybody with a similar skill set.
Then, when you’ve got a solid grasp of these basics through repetitive training, practice them in simulated conditions. Once you’ve got them down practice them some more. Then, and only then, practice the same skills under live fire conditions. Don’t change things at this point — practice them the same way, every time, so you get better and better and better. Then, and here’s the important one, have the discipline to use the skills on the street — if you don’t then you haven’t trained enough!