Questions about “the can”
Christopher A. Kozub
Middlesex County Fire Academy
Sayreville, New Jersey
I was truly amazed by “Survival Training in the Flashover Simulator” and “A Seat in `the Can` ” in the June 1995 issue. I take issue with a number of items in these articles.
Regarding minor burns and other physical injuries, our academy has a zero tolerance for injuries. Burns of any degree are unacceptable. While actual firefighting situations often are uncontrollable, physically or mentally injuring firefighters during training evolutions is rather prehistoric. In New Jersey, the Division of Fire Safety has developed and implemented a very effective fire instructor certification program. The first part is a 16-hour general safety class. On review of the material, no sections within this class or others that follow discuss acceptable injuries, particularly burns. In no way can I agree with the Rockland County Fire Training Center management regarding worthwhile minor injuries.
Presuming the training is conducted with no injuries, another very sensitive issue arises–the intentional destruction of personal protective equipment (PPE). From a videotape promoting the simulator to the ac-counts within Fire Engineering, it is obvious many training professionals feel the blatant destruction of PPE worth up to $1,000 is acceptable for a one-time shot in the can. I can comfortably say that many fire chiefs, commissioners, and business administrators would start a very vocal campaign to the county authorities if we were to begin damaging PPE at a rate that seems to be condoned by those using the simulator. The value of destroying SCBA face pieces and eye shields and melting parts of turnout gear–not to mention the degradation not readily visible–seems completely unacceptable. I was very surprised to see the NFPA`s required eye and face shields referred to as “firefighter add-ons.”
One justification of the simulator seems to be to counter the deficiencies of current live burn training props. Many training academies across the country have recently invested millions of dollars to switch exclusively to propane-fueled fire training buildings. While these state-of-the-art props serve an important role in training experienced firefighters, they do not show a new recruit true fire behavior. For years, the fire service has been using straw to create a Class A fire in training evolutions. Although the use of wood pallets, rubber tires, and gasoline is highly questionable at best, the use of straw produces the flame, heat, and dense smoke characteristic of a Class A fire. Conducted properly, these evolutions can demonstrate what “real” fire is like to new firefighters without damaging their PPE or health. Propane simulators, while not able to replicate the true products of combustion of a Class A fire, do not enable instructors to teach hands-on techniques in fighting electrical cabinet fires, cockloft fires, and kitchen fires–to name a few. An effective training program includes both types of props to be used in the appropriate levels of training.
With these two methods of simulating fires widely available to training academies, I still fail to see where the “can” fits in. The fire service seems to be devoting more time and energy than ever before to test the physical endurance of firefighters and their gear. As a group, we seem to have forgotten that a firefighter`s positive mental and emotional state during a life-threatening situation can be the best means of survival. Without proper and sufficient education and motivation of new and existing members of the fire service, all of these high-tech, hands-on training props are rendered useless. Fire instructors need to instill a respect for the hazards of this profession and not scare students by trying to toughen them up in a very dangerous environment.
True, flashovers can be extremely hazardous and oftentimes fatal and as instructors we need to teach students about the warning signs, but do we really want to see if they may or may not live through it in a training evolution? Similarly, gunshot wounds can be the most dangerous aspect of police work, but I do not know of any police training program that puts its students in a hail of live gunfire simply to show them what it is really like. I think we have begun crossing the line of legitimacy and have lost touch with our true mission: improving firefighters` skills and reducing, not increasing, their risk of personal injury.