Live Fire Training – Conducting NFPA 1403-Compliant Live Burn Training in Acquired Structures

By Greg Fisher

For decades, the fire service has sanctioned behavior that has endangered the lives of many when it comes to live fire training in acquired structures. I have been involved in live fire training since the late 1970s and, unfortunately, have been party to some of those behaviors, but I have learned from the mistakes. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, did not exist at the time; and, fortunately, none of those evolutions resulted in the injury or death of a firefighter. We read in fire service publications of firefighters being injured or killed while participating in live fire training in buildings that were never designed for burning. Often, these drills lack preparation in being compliant with NFPA standards and are taught by instructors with the “paper” but little experience. Far too early in the evolutions, someone in charge calls it a good day once the helmet gets dirty while everyone else does the hard work protecting the exposures, picking up hose, and cleaning up the mess.

On the other hand, we see departments with the training, experience, and resources to perform live burns in an acquired structure, but they choose not to because of the potential push back from “bean counters” and politicians, the required administrative work, the potential liability, and the planning and preparation—or they just bought a DVD that shows how to fight fire.

“The purpose of … NFPA 1403, Live Fire Training Evolutions … is to provide a process for conducting live fire training evolutions to ensure they are conducted in safe facilities and that the exposure to health and safety hazards for the fire fighters receiving the training is minimized.” (NFPA 1403, Chapter 1)

Regardless of the circumstances, unless the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) forbids open burning, the time and resources to execute live burn training pay off in immeasurable ways. Situations we have read about where an injury occurred because of a damaged hoseline, a live victim was used for a rescue scenario, a building deflagrated because of the use of a noncompliant fuel, and a room flashed because “gasoline paneling” was left on the walls would all be distant memories.

“Live fire training is intended to provide the safest and best experience possible under both realistic and controlled circumstances.” (NFPA 1403, Chapter 1)

This part of the article deals with the “ducks in a row” component of planning a live burn: What do we need to do to facilitate a training prop with limited use but maximum value? Starting with the procurement of property, some communities have found that their urban renewal or new green space projects can save demolition and solid waste disposal costs by involving the fire department. In the rural areas, demolition by fire of the old family house could gain additional acreage for planting, thus more income and less land tax. Even though this is a “win-win” for the farmer and the fire department, various environmental, historical, permitting, or financial issues keep property owners from approaching their fire protection districts to dispose of these buildings or vice versa. (Some states prohibit live burns of any kind, and that is unfortunate.)

Live Burn Training Bryant Krizik
Photos by Bryant Krizik.

The Groundwork

Paperwork. The house is yours to burn. The contractor has the housing development ready to go, but the old place has to be burned down by the end of the month. The paperwork required varies with the AHJ; whether the feds, state, county, parish, city, or village, it has to get done. Looking into it well ahead of time will make the turnaround more rapid when a property becomes available. For example, you will need a permit from the state environmental protection agency. The permit often is approved if the property passes an inspection for asbestos or lead paint. They should not be present; if they once were present, the situation should have been remediated.

Some jurisdictions require environmentally certified contractors; others will allow the owner-occupants to remove the materials. In many cases, if the property is owned by the municipality or other governmental body, the costs for inspection, removal, and disposal can climb dramatically. The better the relationships built by the fire service with the rural population and the municipal internal customers, contractors, and builders, the greater the cooperation and investment you’re likely to receive for these buildings and training opportunities.

In some cases, historical preservation groups or agencies must sign off on the permitting processes. The purpose may be to seek funding for restoring the property or simply to be able to photograph or archive examples of historically significant architecture or architectural features. Occasionally, this may allow preservation groups to remove window and door trim, judge’s panels, wainscotings, light fixtures, and built-in cabinets. Be sure to coordinate efforts with these groups, since more often than not, removing those items in balloon-frame homes renders the areas noncompliant for burns because of openings into void spaces. If you are given the house under these conditions, work with the big box lumber stores or vendors to procure damaged lumber, drywall, and material to cover up the openings to allow for a safe and compliant training session.

Obtaining or verifying the environmental paperwork will keep the department out of harm’s way as well. Even though departments are typically not the building owners, they often share the liability for cleanup if the lead paint, asbestos, vinyl siding, and roofing materials have not been properly disposed of. Each AHJ is different, but asbestos removal is universal because of federal regulations.

Depending on the jurisdiction and ownership of the property, when the property owner does the legwork, the workload for the fire service personnel planning the exercise is often lightened. This may not be possible in all AHJs; however, where it is, the property owner bears the permitting and inspection fees. This has been a deal killer for some, since it involves a cost borne by the owner who wants to get this done as cheaply as possible. In many instances, the property owner has been able to “write off” these costs as well as a nominal value for the property as a donation to the local fire department.

Before the fire department ignites the first fire, other documentation is required. A legal description of the property is often a part of the permitting process and could be a part of a document that verifies ownership. Verification through local or county governmental bodies is recommended; this prevents the organization from getting in the middle of estate or family ownership battles. Departments have inadvertently burned down the object of a family feud or even the wrong building because ownership was not verified. It is embarrassing for sure, and it could also be costly to the department.

After obtaining written permission from the owner or designee, the department should obtain documents releasing the fire department of liability, canceling fire insurance, and perhaps a rider for liability during the training period. In addition, if the owner is seeking tax considerations, there should also be a thank-you letter to the owner on the department’s letterhead for donating the property to the department for training purposes. Word the letter so that the value is established by the owner. Examples of some of these documents can be found in sections of NFPA 1403, but it should be standard practice for the department’s attorney, the owner’s insurance carrier, and the chief to review these documents.

Transportation, Traffic. Contact the agencies with whom you normally interact. Regardless of the property’s location, consult with the law enforcement and emergency dispatch agencies to determine if there are any issues related to traffic control or smoke hazards that will affect interstate or busy highway traffic. Arrange for officers to direct traffic where needed or to secure the scene so that traffic is limited to those involved in the training. Consult these agencies also regarding the scheduling dates: Avoid holiday traffic or sporting event weekends, for example, and determine the best traffic patterns for rural water shuttles if they are required.

Public works, fire police, road commissions, and departments of transportation may need a “heads-up” as well to assist in traffic control or place barricades. Working with the transportation folks may reveal that the water supply plan is slated for roads not constructed to handle large volumes of heavy fire apparatus. They may also be able to assist with vehicle staging and parking plans.

Water. Contact water departments, owners of static water supplies, and departments whose tankers or tenders will be needed. (Water supply is addressed later in the article. It is mentioned here so that it is not a last-minute request.)

Other Mutual Aid. Contact other mutual aid-companies early as well. Although they may not be supplying the secondary source of water, smaller departments often need time to prepare their newer staff members to meet the prerequisite competencies for participating in a live burn.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Plan a detailed EMS component. We must be proactive in rehabilitating and treating firefighters who may become injured in a well-controlled environment.

In previous editions of the NFPA standard, basic life support services were required to be on site. This left room for interpretation and a potentially dangerous situation, when the department’s only two emergency medical technicians-basic (EMT-Bs) were on the attack and backup crews. It also did not specify the need for immediate transport capability. NFPA 1584, Standard on the Rehabilitation Process for Members During Emergency Operations and Training Exercises, 2015 edition; NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program; and continual research on the effects of heat stress have cited the need for a more definitive EMS process at live burns.

Safe live fire training is inherently risky even in the most controlled environment. In a relatively recent live-subject, heat-stress research of firefighters of all ages, 100 percent of the firefighters studied from all over the state were found to be dehydrated prior to starting the research. Caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, foods high in sodium, and other factors contribute to the potential dangerous outcome associated with fighting fire.

If the host department does not include EMS or EMS transport as a part of its mission, it must arrange for an on-site ambulance. Plan ahead with these providers so they can develop a rapport for being included in future responses and allow for potential continuing education units for EMS if training objectives are built into the training day. EMS gets to experience the effects of interior firefighting on members before the real thing kicks in. They prepare for and operate the rehabilitation group and are able to do some real-world monitoring of the effects of the conditions as they affect the firefighting staff.

Notifications. Once the date for the live burn has been established, notify neighbors directly adjacent to the property; nearby airports and heliports; convalescent centers and healthcare facilities; and railroads of the date and time of the burn. Take every precaution to minimize the possibility of hazardous results for the community.

Although this segment on preparing for a live burn concludes here, it is by no way all-inclusive. Some agencies, organizations, and personnel were not referenced. Take inventory of your own AHJ, find out who needs to know and be a part of the event, and determine whom you would like to participate.

Live Burn Training

Preparing the Staff

A crucial component of the live-burn evolution—the staff—must be fully prepared before members can take part in a live fire evolution. Acquired structures aren’t as readily available as they once were. In the early 1980s, prior to NFPA 1403 and the need for permits from the EPA, burning 20 to 25 houses a year with the state fire academy was not uncommon. Taking advantage of the time the volunteer or paid-on call firefighter committed to the day, it was customary to do some mask familiarization and place students in the “fire behavior demo” simply to get the new student some exposure. The “exposure” is now a legal consideration for the instructors. Tort immunity for the fire service is being whittled away in most states. The student should have more than a 15-minute introduction to donning and doffing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) before being allowed in a live fire environment, even if it is only a fire behavior lesson with multiple exits from the burn room.

With the volunteer setting and so many competing demands on their time, it’s difficult to cover all these subjects before an acquired structure presents itself. Avoid the temptation to allow the untrained recruit to be involved in that live burn. Even in a compliant burn setup, there’s just too much that can turn bad rapidly. NFPA 1403, Section 4.3, calls for the students to meet the job performance requirements of NFPA 1001, Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications, as they relate to the following subject areas: safety, fire behavior, portable extinguishers, personal protective equipment (PPE), ladders, fire hose, appliances and streams, overhaul, water supply, ventilation, forcible entry, and building construction. Take the time to enhance the skills they will use most. To some, the priorities may differ, but hose, ladders, and breathing apparatus skills typically make or break most fire situations whether on calls or in training. Even in small departments with precious few hours spent in training, the required subject areas can be covered in the three to six months it may take to get all the paperwork and other live burn arrangements covered.

Displaying 1/6 Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Next>
View Article as Single page

More Fire Engineering Issue Articles
Fire Engineering Archives

No posts to display