Article and photos by Michael Gurr
Many in today's fire service do not understand what National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, is or what it means. Before explaining what it is, let's go back and find out why this standard came about. As with most fire service safety standards, this standard was in response to the deaths of two firefighters who were killed in a training accident in 1982. A committee was formed and NFPA 1403 was developed to establish safe practices for live-fire training evolutions. The first edition was issued in 1986; the standard was updated in 1992 and again in 2002 and 2007, the most recent edition. The 2007 edition has revisions pertaining to requirements for live-fire training structures, exterior props, and Class B fires.
So what does all this mean? It means that the days of lighting up cars and burning dumpsters behind the firehouse in the name of training are over. It means that going into an abandoned building and doing live-fire drills is not going to happen unless you follow the standard exactly as it is written. If you do not follow the standard, you could face criminal and civil liability.
Surprisingly, many still do not know about these standards. Every year some of our brothers and sisters are killed during live-fire training evolutions. Most of these training deaths were preventable. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports on firefighter fatalities make you cringe when you see how the training evolutions that killed these firefighters were set up and conducted. I am guilty, as are most member of the fire service who have been around for some time, of conducting live-fire drills that did not prioritize safety and common sense. Gasoline bombs, truck tires, diesel fuel, asphalt shingles, mattresses, and rooms overloaded with pallets and hay are just some of the old-school mistakes that took place on a regular basis. Yes, we survived, but some did not. We were lucky. We need to learn from the past and count our blessings that we got through these events without injury or death.
Although NFPA 1403 may seem a little intimidating at first, it is well-written. It is formatted in an easy-to-read style and is consistent in its order, chapter by chapter. To conduct live-fire training evolutions in Florida, you need to be an Instructor I and hold the Live Fire Training Instructor I (LFTI -1) certificate. The 40-hour LFTI-1 class teaches you how to read and understand the NFPA 1403 standard. During this class, students go out to an acquired structure to see if it meets NFPA 1403 criteria. Most acquired structures need modifications, and students learn first hand how to make the building compliant. Acquired structures may necessitate extensive modification, and you must decide if you are willing to do what it takes to make the structure compliant. Students also go over the requirements for live-burns in Fire Service Training Center burn buildings, exterior props, and exterior Class B fires.
NFPA 1403 COMPONENTS
NFPA 1403 is broken down into ( ninechapters and has five annexes:
- Chapter 1: Administration
- Chapter 2: Referenced Publications
- Chapter 3: Definitions
- Chapter 4: Acquired Structures
- Chapter 5: Gas-Fired Live Fire Training Structures
- Chapter 6: Non-Gas-Fired Live Fire Training Structures
- Chapter 7: Exterior Props
- Chapter 8: Exterior Class B Fires
- Chapter 9: Reports and Records
- Annex A: Explanatory Material
- Annex B: Live Fire Evolution Sample Checklist
- Annex C: Responsibilities of Personnel
- Annex D: Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Training
- Annex E: Informational References
NFPA 1403 states the minimum requirements that must be met before you can light a match. It explains where and how to burn And gives clear-cut definitions and terminology so that there can be no misunderstandings. The intent of the article is not to teach all the material covered in a 40-hour class but to show you that rules and laws are in place to follow so that everyone can have the best possible chance of going home after our next live-fire training evolution.
A quick review of the standard chapters demonstrates that live-fire training is no joke. As instructors, we are to take this matter seriously and remember that we have other people's lives in our hands. As a result of this standard and several lawsuits, many fire departments are now relying on local fire training centers to provide live-fire training for their crews. These facilities have fixed structures and props staffed by certified instructors who have experience with live-fire training. There are pros and cons to both types of structures (gas-fired vs. non-gas-fired). Below are some photos from a gas-fired live-fire training structure.
This room simulates a fire in a couch. You can see how the Hollywood smoke differs from Class A smoke. Most times, the smoke burns up when the flames are activated. This type of fire scenario is great for advancing hoselines and for nozzle-control exercises.
Photo 2 shows a fire in a bedroom. The instructor-operator has some leeway on the amount of fire he can display as he works the buttons on the pendant. The flames do not go away until the sensors feel that they have received enough water to put out the fire.
This bedroom is set up with an additional feature that can simulate a rollover or flashover across the ceiling. It is a great effect that draws your attention upward as the fire rolls out. This rollover lasts only a few seconds, until you drive it away with your hose stream.Click to enlarge
Another shot of the rollover coming out and going across the ceiling. This fire looks impressive as it shoots out. As you can see, the heat of the flames has consumed all of the Hollywood smoke.
This photo shows the instructor-operator control pendant, which controls the amount of fire and smoke that comes out from the prop. Every room contains an emergency stop button that automatically shuts off the fuel to the prop, kicks on the house lights, and activates the exhaust fan (seen below).
There are many advantages to doing live-fire training evolutions in a gas-fired structure. Safety is number one. There are redundant built-in safety features that sometimes require an automatic cool-down period if interior temperatures get too hot. These props are great for hoseline advancement, nozzle control, and search and rescue training. You can also stage multiple fires simultaneously in these facilities because they were built with all the added safety features. There are many other types of simulated fires that you can simulate in these types of buildings: warehouse fires, kitchen fires, and electrical panel box fires, to name a few. This type of facility is also great for the instructor since the Instructor does not get "beat up." There is minimal heat, almost no prep work, and no breakdown of equipment.
On the con side, these fires are not realistic. The smoke is light in color and burns up rapidly with heat from the flames. The fires don't go out until you hit the sensor with a certain amount of water. There is very little heat exposure; it's like being near a campfire. Sometimes the computers get fussy, and you cannot get the rollover to activate; or the exhaust fans may kick on prematurely before the evolution is completed. Firefighter recruits must see a Class A fire in addition to this type of simulated fire so they will not be caught off guard by the heavy black smoke and high heat that comes from actual structure fires once they get on the job.
Non-gas-fired live-fire training structures are made to take high heat; most are made from concrete or from metal connex shipping containers. These fires are made with Class A materials, usually consisting of wood pallets and hay/straw. These fires produce heavy smoke and moderate to high heat.
In this photo from inside the flashover can, you can see the heavy dark smoke starting to bank down. One of the Instructors working the vent (handle) and a safety officer are present. The students are given the silver liners (jiffy pops) to protect their helmets from heat damage. Students are taught to look up through the smoke for signs of impending flashover, tongues and snakes of fire, rollover, black fire (angry dark smoke), and vent point ignition.
This is an exterior shot of the flashover can. The fire box is the elevated section on the left. You can see the heat line going from the fire box past the vent to the rear of the can. These cans last only a few years before they rust out. A good welder can give these cans an extra year or two. This is a great tool for students to see rollover and to experience a good amount of smoke and heat.
Students observe conditions before they attack the fire in the can. The fire in the free-burning stage. Several connex cans are put together to form "L" and "T" shapes, simulating a house or building layout. An upper level is also attached with an interior staircase. Each student rotates through the nozzle position several times before the fire is brought under control and then extinguished.
Crews enter the can and perform search and rescue and fire attack. Crews must work together to be successful. Search teams must be quick and methodical because it gets pretty hot near the fire box area of the can. Hose teams must spread out along the line and move hose around doors and turns, otherwise they will get hung up and not make it to the seat of the fire.
As you can see in the above photo, smoke from Class A fires is much darker and does not burn off like the Hollywood smoke. Students are laddering the second floor to perform a search. Searching the area above the fire gets very hot; most times, the upstairs windows must be opened and vented before crews can enter.Click to enlarge
This exterior prop shows crews advancing on a liquid petroleum tank fire. Crews cool down the vapor space with straight streams and switch to a wide fog to protect crew members as they get closer to the fire in an attempt to shut the fuel source off at the valve.
This is a typical Class B fuel fire prop. Portable fire extinguishers are used to control these fires. This gives firefighter recruits and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members confidence in putting out a fire of a decent size with a minimum of extinguishing agent.
An advantage of a Class A burn is that you know for certain that your people have been exposed to heavy smoke with decent heat conditions. There will be no surprises for them when they hit the streets. When you train with Class A materials (real smoke and fire), everyone involved experiences a gut check because you know if you make a mistake, there could be real consequences for your actions. The downside to training with Class A materials is that it takes time and energy to prepare. Instructor timing relative to crew entry and rotations is key once the evolution begins.. Finally, cleanup and rebuilding of props limit how many evolutions you can do in one day.
There are a number of pros and cons for gas-fired and non-gas-fired live-burn structures. Overall, NFPA 1403 has made this essential training much safer. There should be no more excuses and, hopefully, no more deaths associated with live-fire training evolutions.
1. NFPA . NFPA 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association
Michael Gurr, a member of the fire service for 17 years, is a lieutenant with Pompano Beach (FL) Fire Rescue. He is also the Florida South East regional director of The Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He has been an Instructor I for three years at the Coral Springs (FL) Fire Academy.
Subject: Firefighter training, live burn, live fire training, NFPA 1403