By Brian P. Kazmierzak
Each year, 10 percent of our firefighter injuries and 10 percent of our firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) occur during training, and 115 have died in training since 2003. Ever since I was promoted to training officer, this is one statistic that has always bothered me. What’s worse, it never goes down–it has been the same for the past decade or longer. This year, the International Fire & EMS Safety and Health Week Motto is “Train Like You Fight!” Its two missions are safety on the training ground and reduction of training-related injuries and death, and increasing awareness of the importance of adequate training to prepare for safe fireground operations.
I am happy to see the fire and EMS community has brought this training and injury issue to the forefront of the fire service. The first thing we must do as training officers is to focus on safety to create that mindset in the fire service being our #1 goal at all times–to return home, no matter what we are doing. In addition, we must focus on attitude, as it is usually attitude that gets us in trouble. We must also focus on drill ground skills, academic skills, and physical fitness as part of our training routine. As a fire service, we must strive to prevent future training-related firefighter injuries and deaths, and hold ourselves to the same standards we expect from other professions.
This article will look at the following items involving training safety.
- Safety mindset in training
- Key training safety aspects
- Hands-on training safety
- Live fire training safety
- How safety in training leads to a safer fireground
SAFETY MINDSET IN TRAINING
For the safety mindset in training aspect there are for things we must look at: Attitude, drill ground skills, academic performance, and physical fitness. Each of these can affect firefighter safety in different ways and all are just as dangerous in the end. Although we need realistic scenarios, they cannot be so real that the safety element is removed. Our work is inherently dangerous–I understand that–and to train on our work, there are dangers we are going to face. But we can help reduce a lot of these dangers by having a plan, following the plan, wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE), teaching skills properly, and making safety a priority in everything we do. In addition we can never let shortcuts take place as these will eventually lead to injury or death, whether it’s on the training ground or on scene because of the way we were trained.
Attitudes form, change, and shape behavior. We all know as firefighters that a bad attitude in the firehouse or on the training ground is contagious and can plague both the instructor and student alike. We must not let attitudes become irresponsible or reckless, because when they do, they not only hurt the learning environment, but they can physically endanger us as well. Sometimes the attitude may be because the firefighter is fearful of the situation they are about to face; other times it maybe because of ego or jealousy that another firefighter can do it better, or that they think they do not have to prove their skills in front of their brother or sister firefighters.
Another attitude issue is inconsiderate or uncooperative firefighters. They may be intolerant or impatient because they would rather be at the firehouse riding the recliner of rage, or doing anything other than training. It takes a strong instructor to overcome attitude issues in training, but if training is truly supported at all levels of the organization, then the instructor should feel empowered to deal with the issues head on and make a difference.
A bad attitude in training will only add to issues on the fireground later on. One other attitude is the student who is afraid of failure. Although they are not competent at the skills, they will attempt it anyway because in their mind they don’t want to fail in front of their peers. This is also dangerous, as they can easily get themselves into a situation they may not easily be able to get out of.
Lastly, one of the scariest forms of attitude in training are cases where an instructor will use training as hazing or punishment. Not only is this just plain wrong, but it’s dangerous and can lead to both physical and mental injury. An instructor using hazing as a training technique should be immediately removed from the training environment.
DRILL GROUND SKILLS
Drill ground skills may be one of the most important places that we as an instructor can make a difference with firefighter safety and reducing injury and death. While teaching new instructors, there is almost no emphasis put on instructing skills or how to properly evaluate skills. This is somewhere the fire service has really dropped the ball and needs to spend more time during instructor training. The other issue with drill ground skills comes from the firefighters. Has the firefighter been sufficiently informed of the training? Have we demonstrated the task we want performed, and were they capable of interpreting the training and being convinced of its need? Basically, have we taught not only the how, but also the why? This is critical when instructing today’s Millennial students. Lastly, are we adhering to the manufacturer’s recommendations for the tools and equipment we are using during training? Does the student understand how to operate the tool safely and under what conditions it is to be or not to be used? Without proper skills in training, we cannot adequately train our firefighters, but we must do it safely and properly along with evaluating the student to ensure safe fireground use. One way to measure skill proficiency can be found at:
An additional consideration is how drill ground skills are delivered. I am a true believer that drill ground skills should be delivered in a crawl-walk-run mentality, but a lot of instructors forget the crawl and walk portions of skill drills. Forgetting the crawl and walk portion and starting a student off running sets the student up for failure as well as potential injury. The student should be able to observe the task, run through the task dry, run through the task at half speed, and then run through the task at full speed. This ensures the student fully understands the task and is capable of performing it.
One thing most instructors forget about when it comes to training safely is the academic aspect of training. Does the firefighter we are instructing have the requisite knowledge for the skill/task at hand? In addition, is that firefighter capable of making decisive actions while conducting the skill, especially if something were to go wrong? Has the firefighter studied to department’s standard operating guidelines (SOGs) to know how this skill pertains to fireground operations?
Lastly, does the firefighter understand the use of the Incident Command System (ICS), accountability, and how these elements impact everything? ICS and accountability should be incorporated both on the drill ground and fireground. Often we will say as instructors we are not as nearly concerned with the test scores and classroom training as we are with the skills, but we need to remember the classroom training has a direct correlation to the drill ground.
Although most of us consider physical fitness to be a key part to a firefighter’s health and wellness, it also is a key part of drill ground skills and safety in training. Is the firefighter that has been tasked with a skill able to complete the task based on their height, weight, aerobic capacity, or overall strength? There have been plenty of career-ending injuries of firefighters who have fallen from a ladder with a dummy in their arms, or injured knees or shoulders in the Denver or Nance drill while trying to lift a much larger member.
Something else that is often overlooked in the physical fitness aspect of the job is whether the firefighter affected by any medical conditions, allergies, or are illnesses. Many members will come to work sick, or will not share their medical conditions and possibly not even know they have a medical condition to be concern about. This is especially true in departments that do not require National Fire Protection Association Standard 1582 physicals. Lastly, something rarely acknowledged as an issue is substance abuse. Is the member physically and mentally capable of performing or are they under the influence? Does your department have a drug testing policy? How would you handle a member that seems to be under the influence of some unknown substance at training? Remember, even prescribed drugs can be abused or cause a member to not be able to function properly.
LIVE FIRE TRAINING
On January 26, 1982, the Boulder (CO) Fire Department experienced the LODDs of Scott Smith and William Duran, which resulted from a live-fire training tragedy. Lieutenant Daniel Cutler also was seriously burned in that event. This incident was instrumental in the development of NFPA 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions. How many of today’s firefighters know about the Boulder training disaster or that it provided the impetus for NFPA 1403? How many fire departments follow NFPA 1403? Judging from recent events, it would appear that the answers to these questions would be “a very low number.” Thirty-two years later, we have had 16 additional LODDs during live fire training and hundreds of injuries.
NFPA 1403 has evolved in to an all-encompassing live-fire training standard. Instructors must realize how serious and dangerous this training is. Are you and your department really following NFPA 1403? Are you aware that a chief officer has been jailed for his involvement in a LODD during a live-fire training exercise? Does that change how you or your department will treat training fires in acquired structures?
When your department conducts a live-fire training exercise, what is the drill’s objective? Many would say search, fire attack, vent, or firefighter rescue. However, if you look at the live-fire training tragedies over the years, most of them occurred when the exercise was attempting to accomplish more than one objective. The focus of live-fire training should be fire attack, not search or any other goal. Why? Because we lose track of accountability, we become complacent, and firefighters die. Remember, if we put out the fire, usually our problems go away. However, in live fire training, we tend to allow the fire to grow a little bigger than normal; we watch it and we let firefighters get deeper into the building, allowing conditions to rapidly change and cause firefighter deaths. In the fires mentioned above, the exercises were designed to meet more than one objective.
TRAINING JOB SAFETY ANALYSIS
One of the ways training can be made safer is through the use of a training job safety analysis. Job safety analysis are used widely in other industries and as the fire service we should consider using them for any live skill drill we do, but definitely for the high-risk drills such as live fire training, operations on a roof, bailouts, etc. To properly use a training job safety analysis we must be able to define the following:
- Identify level of required PPE for each participant.
- List basic steps required to safely complete evolution.
- Identify potential accidents or hazards.
- Determine recommended safe procedures.
- Create monitoring strategies and controls
A sample drill safety plan/job safety analysis can be found at:
As instructors, we need to take the lead on safety. We need to make it our #1 priority, and include it in everything we do. Safety briefings should take place before any training with key safety items highlighted, as well as escape plans, accountability, command, etc. In addition, as instructors we need to show the students safety matters through our actions. We need to do things correctly, wear all of our PPE, and take a look at what our helmet and gear looks like. Remember, we make an impression on these firefighters. I used to think it was cool to have the melted blackened helmet. Why? Because when I was a young firefighter, that was what my instructors’ helmets looked like. We are the example–make sure you set the right one and live the safety message.
REHAB AND MEDICAL MONITORING
One of the best ways to ensure safety on the training ground is through the use of rehab and medical monitoring on the training ground. Proper rehab is essential to both our short- and long-term safety. Do you have a rehab program? Do you use it at training as well as the fireground? Is your rehab program NFPA 1584-compliant? Rehab needs to be addressed at all training on the drill ground, and its more than just water and Gatorade. We need to be doing some sort of medical monitoring as well, especially at live fire training evolutions, that includes monitoring baseline as well as post-training vital signs and assessments.
Instructors must empower safety at all levels and give everyone the job of being the safety officer on the drill ground. We must make sure all members are responsible for their own safety and all personnel working with them. All members must be responsible for identifying and reporting unsafe conditions. If it looks or feels unsafe–don’t do it. Any member is allowed to say no to unsafe conditions using the Stop-Talk-Decide principle. In this approach, you stop the drill, talk about the issues, and decide how to proceed. In addition, command officers shall not allow unsafe practices and stop them immediately, no matter who is doing them, whether it be a firefighter or an instructor.
DO YOU HAVE A PLAN?
Does your department have a policy regarding safety in these training issues? If the answer is no, these are definitely items that need to be addressed in policy statements. A lot of potential injuries or conflict on the training ground can be avoided by having a policy and plan to address these situations.
- Temperature extremes
- Technical rescue drills
- Non-fire department personnel participation
- Medical screening prior to drill
- Equipment used for training
- Minimum instructor qualifications
- Live fire training
Sample Training Policy: http://www.thetrainingofficer.com/news/fullstory/newsid/159619
Here are some scenarios to consider if you were the training officer or instructor in charge:
- When would you cancel a practical training session?
- When would you request/assign extra instructors?
- When would you reduce assigned levels of PPE?
This article cover a lot of different ways we can be safer on the drill ground and make safety a part of everything we do. Here are some tips for all of us to take back to the training ground to try to decrease firefighter injury and death during training.
- Have a plan and a policy
- Let others know the plan
- Follow the plan (or adjust as necessary)
- Make sure skills are done properly or are remediated
- Its training, not hazing…no stupid surprises
- Pay particular attention to live fire training
- Make sure to rehab (that includes instructors)
In a 2011 article, Chief Billy Goldfeder asked, “Who is Training Your Firefighters?” He asked these important questions:
- What is the focus, goals, and objectives of the training program?
- Are they teaching your firefighters operations based on recognized national standards?
- Do they test and certify the attendees at the conclusion of the training?
- Are they teaching what you want taught and performed on your fireground, or are they teaching what they do at their own fireground? Make sure what they teach matches what your department does or what you want done.
- Are they asking you–well before they arrive to do your training–for copies of YOUR SOGs so that they can teach based on your operational guidelines? Are they following that up with discussions with you to ensure they are delivering what you expect?
- Are the instructors certified and/or qualified to teach what they are teaching? Are they instructors at their own fire departments?
- Who “owns” any problems that may occur during the training? That includes firefighter injury, death, personnel matters, or related issues.
- Are all of the instructors “clean” and adhering to your fire department’s standard of substance-free operations?
- Have all of the instructors successfully passed current police background checks?
Brian P. Kazmierzak, EFO, CTO is the division chief of training for the Penn Twp. Fire Dept. in Mishawaka, Indiana. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from Southern Illinois University and serves as the director of operations for www.FireFighterCloseCalls.com and the Webmaster for www.ModernFireBehavior.com. Brian was the recipient of the 2006 F.O.O.L.S. International Dana Hannon Instructor of the Year Award, the 2008 Indiana Fire Chiefs Training Officer of the Year Award Recipient, and the 2011 International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI)/Fire Engineering George D. Post Fire Instructor of the Year. In addition, Brian completed the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program in 2006. He is a CPSE credentialed Chief Training Officer, serves as a Director at Large for the ISFSI, and is on the UL FSRI PPV Research Study Panel.