Training Evolutions: The Crucial “C”s


Firefighter injuries or deaths can occur at a training evolution if you do not take precautions. I am a young and persistent fire instructor who doesn’t want to let any of the past misfortunes and mistakes happen again. It is important to provide realistic training scenarios, but it is more important to ensure that everyone gets to work their next shift. Whether instructing in technical rescue procedures or old school firefighting techniques at a fire academy, in a volunteer department, or in a paid department, the instructor must be Competent, have Control of the situation, and use the incident Command system (ICS)—the crucial “C”s.

The needs and demands of our communities have changed throughout the years, leading us to the all-hazards approach of today. In the 1970s, many of us added emergency medical services (EMS). In the 1980s, hazardous materials issues became more prevalent. In the 1990s, technical rescue was the new focus, and weapons of mass destruction have been the hazards of primary concern in the 21st century. Every fire service duty requires that firefighters be trained and operationally ready.


Your competence as an instructor is an important aspect of every hands-on training evolution. As training progresses from basic to advanced, students must attain an increased level of knowledge and competence. For example, professional firefighter cadets first learn about personal protective equipment and then learn how to use the equipment while searching structures and operating on ladders. This is all before being tested in a smoke-filled, low-visibility, and heated environment. Today’s students have the most technically advanced gear available, but usually it is not the quality of gear but the quality or lack of training that causes problems.

The instructor’s task is to ensure that students understand the objectives presented to them before presenting additional information that may overwhelm them. Also, students should be fully aware of any academic and personal prerequisites for a class. For example, they should know they should not have beards and that they need two SCBA bottles for participation in a live-fire training evolution in a nongas-fired training facility.

Table 1 presents learning domains with student behaviors that should be anticipated at each level of knowledge retention. These domains are commonly found in instructor books and serve as a template to show how students progress through the learning process. The cognitive (knowledge) section is usually obtained in the classroom, the psychomotor (skills) section is usually obtained on the training ground, and the affective (attitude) section is usually obtained from the inner person. Teaching students how to have heart, be motivated, and show passion for their role in the fire service is difficult. Lead by example, and they will see the way.

In addition to preparing our students and fellow firefighters for the training evolution, we must prepare the training site. Acquired structures provide added “training value,” but they also increase the instructor’s workload. This type of training evolution demands instructor competence. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, 2007 edition, has strict requirements relative to structural integrity, construction type, location, water supply, access, available audience, utilities, and weather hazards that will affect the training. You must obtain owner documentation, permits, notifications, and proof of insurance cancellation before conducting a burn in an acquired structure. You must inspect the building for asbestos and remove any hazardous materials. Often, the owner of the structure will pay for the permits (air quality, water runoff, water usage, burning, traffic), inspections, and the required cleanup. Fire departments sometimes assist with some of these expenses and provide firefighter labor to prep the structure. Removing shingles, carpeting, and wood paneling; covering holes in floors and walls; removing flammable liquids and furnishings; eliminating or stabilizing the chimney; reinforcing stairs; and other necessary tasks are time consuming. Also, a qualified person must determine the rate of heat release the structure and its contents will produce so that instructors and students are not endangered by unexpected conditions. The value of the training firefighters receive in a properly planned structure burn greatly outweighs the money and personnel effort expended.

Instructors must be competent in their dealings with students, fire service professionals, governmental regulatory agencies, and community donors. Good communication skills with students, the host department of the training session, and community donors will make it more safe, organized, and educational. Understanding and abiding by the rules of governmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency are important aspects of instructor competence.


Remember your days at the fire academy and early years on the job? You were pushed, prodded, and taunted into being aggressive interior firefighting machines. In many situations, every intelligent human was running out of the burning building while we entered and pushed ourselves to maximum physical and mental limits. We risked losing a battle to combustibility, toxicity, and weakening construction when proper control was not mandated. Ensure personal protective equipment is worn, and be aware of unsafe or changing conditions.

In times of reduced staffing, increased call volumes, and fewer fires, it is important to fully understand fire behavior and building construction. Teaching these topics to our students will help them to understand the risks and benefits of controlling unnecessary aggressive behaviors, such as freelancing, single firefighter attack lines, and being in the way of backdrafts and flashovers.

As the number of structure fires continues to decrease, we must instill in our students and fellow firefighters risk-management objectives. What is the nozzle firefighter going to do when fire blows out over his head as he opens the door to a room? Is he going to calmly knock the fire down from the hallway, knock it down in the doorway and risk being burned by steam, or crawl in past the fire and risk being trapped before he can knock down the fire?

Table 2 shows the risk vs. benefits of operations we respond to often and those we respond to rarely. We will risk a lot to save a lot but will risk little to save little. We will risk our lives to save other human lives but risk little to save property. (The type and frequency of incidents will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.)

As you prepare for a training evolution, consider the problems and hazards involved. As an example, use caution when preparing for an evolution that depicts a scenario associated with high risk but will produce low benefit. Control the amount of risk during training, but also train as if you were operating at a real emergency scene. In a real event, our minds and bodies will revert to the techniques we learned in training. This calls to mind a story about a police officer who was found gunned down. His pocket was full of shell casings. During the stressful shootout, the officer reverted back to training he obtained at the shooting range, which included picking up every spent shell casing. This ultimately allowed the criminal to gain the upper hand.


The ICS is an all-risk/all-hazard system that works at emergencies or nonemergency situations. Command at training evolutions is essential to the safety of instructors and students, but it is often overlooked because of the nonemergency nature expected by all involved. Many times, students show up at the training ground, want to play, and figure on going home without incident. This carefree mentality is called “complacency,” which can get you hurt or killed. You must use the ICS during the operational periods of the training. The ICS improves many aspects of rescue, suppression, and EMS procedures, including communications, accountability, and rapid intervention. These factors are cited as weaknesses time and time again in all types of incidents that end in firefighter injury or death.


Following are some guidelines for conducting a live-fire training evolution.

  • Plan the evolution according to NFPA 1403.
  • Staff each of the following positions with competent instructors.
    — Safety officer.This position is authorized to control any action that has the potential to create an unsafe condition.
    — Lead instructor. In addition to expending much time and effort planning the evolution, on the day of training, the lead instructor determines the number of lines needed before each evolution, assigns instructors to specific functional groups, and ensures emergency medical services are on-site.
    — Water supply.You will need two engines, two pump operators, and two independent water supplies. Two different hydrants must supply the engines; or, set up to draft from a pond to minimize the possibility that the attack and backup lines will not simultaneously lose their water supply.
    — Ignition officer. The officer should have a charged hoseline and lights the controlled burn. He coordinates the lighting process with the lead instructor and the safety officer. The ignition officer must not operate alone.

The instructors are responsible for monitoring, accounting for, and instructing the students during the training. Strictly adhere to a five-to-one student ratio. All student companies must have an assigned instructor—attack, backup, and so on.

At training evolutions, the lead instructor/incident commander (IC) must perform the duties of the position as if it were a real emergency. Assign higher-ranking officers who have the experience and training to manage emergencies to the training evolutions. These officers must manage the training evolutions as if they were real emergencies. It is frightening for a fire instructor to take a crew inside an acquired-structure training fire when the IC and the safety officer want to participate in the lighting process. Even good interior firefighter instructors need competent people on the outside watching their backs and managing the evolution. This example of the IC and safety officer participating in interior operations takes “mobile command” or managing by wandering around to an unsafe level.

Instructors should direct students in how to demobilize after the training evolution. You must secure the training site and leave it in a reasonably safe manner before the last crews leave; also, be sure to clean, repair, and reload equipment so it is ready for future emergencies or training.


A competent instructor ensures realistic and safe training, controls unsatisfactory behaviors, preaches situational awareness, and uses the incident management system at training evolutions. Train as you likely will operate on the emergency scene. However, instructors should also be able to employ innovation and be adaptable when warranted. Don’t end up like the police officer with a pocket full of shell casings.


1. Table 1 adapted from the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Handbook, B. Bloom, 1956. Longman, New York, N.Y.

PAUL HASENMEIER has been a firefighter since 2000 for the City of Huron (OH) Fire Division. He is a paramedic, a fire inspector, a SCUBA diver, and an instructor. He has an associate degree in fire science, has gained knowledge in numerous technical rescue disciplines, and is a member of Ohio’s Region 1 Urban Search and Rescue team. He is a contributing author to Fire Engineering and School Bus Fleet magazines. Hasenmeier has presented at the Fire Department Instructors Conference, the New York Fire Chiefs Conference, the Ohio Fire Chiefs Conference, and other regional training events.

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