By Ray McCormack
We have near-miss reports. We have LODD reports. We even have accident reports, but the last category doesn't get much play. Accidents happen and firefighters get hurt. Many say accidents are preventable, but only if you have the wisdom to see the fault beforehand. That's what we try to do when it comes to training--eliminate accidents that hurt firefighters, especially at live-fire events. Not everyone is successful, not everyone is as aware as they should be, and someone always pays a price.
Sometimes the price is steep; a job or title is taken away and it usually coincides with the level of injury sustained or the lack of injury prevention put forth. Sometimes it is the injury itself that is the price paid. A recent example of firefighters injured and people fired concerns a live-fire training event that happened last year. The video, now posted on the Web, shows how flames filled the room two firefighters were in. They escaped death by bailing out of a window. I was not there. Most of the people who will read this were not there. So, what do we do? How do we learn from this?
This was a training event.
The training involved live fire.
The training involved positive-pressure fans.
The training went bad and fast.
Training is the one world where we should aim to make sure that no catastrophic events occur. We have all the time in the world to make it a safe environment. As safe as possible, that means closely examining every element and taking a fresh look at all burn sets and how they will develop. Live-fire events are guided by NFPA 1403. It is the standard you will be judged against if injuries occur; that's the way it works. You can do as you like, but if it comes to litigation, that will be the rule book you answer to.
So how come the fire service doesn't erect Web sites and pour grant money over preventing training injuries? Maybe we find it more enjoyable to discuss the almost event instead of facing the reality of real training injuries.
It's not about finger pointing, it's about finding the root cause and how the dominos fell. Many times, especially with live-fire training injury, you might see are the nozzle firefighter sustaining a minor burn. People jumping out of windows, however, is a bit more critical. In the first example, the firefighter may have gone to deep to quickly or the fire moved a bit faster than they thought, or a piece of gear showed some skin. but at least they had the protection of a charged handline. The firefighters who jumped out the window did not appear to be similarly protected.
Are you placing firefighters at live-burn events in a position which will force them to bail out a window? No, not if the drill is laid out correctly. When we watch a video such as the aforementioned one, even if we were not physically there, we all know some huge mistakes were made. There are some "nevers" at a live burn when it comes to avoiding preventable injuries.
One is to never let anyone ahead of the safety line or attack hoseline.
Another is to never allow anyone to be past the fire room or allow anyone just to hang out inside the building without a hoseline. Not hard to figure out, yet not always done.
The biggest problem with live-burn injuries and past tragedies is that the trust was broken, the trust between student and instructor.
You must decide for yourself what level of commitment you bring to the table. I believe we must bring the highest level of training possible to these events. Much ado about nothing?
Keep Fire in Your Life
RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine. For more on Urban Firefighter, visit http://www.fireengineering.com/urbanfirefighter.html.
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