Preventing Live Burn Accidents

Preventing Live Burn Accidents

There have been a number of articles written on training programs involving live burnings where fire service members were injured or killed. The possibility of such mishaps resulting from a live burn training exercise is of real concern. To help reduce the number of accidents that occur during these procedures we evaluated our methods and goals, and then initiated a plan for the safety of all involved.

We first decided that live burns were a valuable training exercise. We then determined how to maintain effective control of the situation, how to safeguard the students and instructors, and how to provide a positive learning experience.

In order to accomplish this, we concentrated on improving fireground structures and operations. We also established a systematic instructional approach by focusing on the goal of training the student. This involves meeting with the fire department officers who will participate in the burn drill.

Each officer will control a group of students and serve as their team leader. The chief officer will maintain complete control of the fire scene. This reinforces the officer’s position and role in the department. It also establishes a command and communications system. Group leaders are responsible and accountable for their group. Instructors lead the group during the actual training. We found that under this constant supervision students were at their assigned stations on time and were more easily accounted for.

Prior to the actual burning, the structure is used as a smokehouse for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) training. We use wet straw for smoke generation because it is slow burning. It also produces an acceptable level of decreased visibility with little heat build-up. This procedure reduces the possibility of loss of control or creation of a possible backdraft condition. In this practice, students are exposed to mild structural fire conditions and loss of visibility without a high degree of heat. Confidence builds in the student.

After the smoke drill, the building is laddered and the students are instructed on proper opening of a roof. A sufficient number of holes are made to ensure that no heated smoke is trapped in the enclosed attic or cockloft spaces. Again we eliminate the possibility of a backdraft or smoke explosion.

With vertical ventilation complete, students are led, in full protective equipment and with charged hose line, into a room adjoining the room to be “torched.” A back-up line is also positioned, and the entire room is ignited. Once the fire has achieved sufficient headway, the line is opened and advanced into the room.

During this exercise, the student practices forcible entry, cross ventilation, overhaul, salvage, and origin determination. The process provides more than expected. Many students and experienced firefighters observe with interest how the fire develops in the incipient stage and progresses through flashover into a full room involvement stage. Our objective is to allow the instructor complete control by ordering the line open at any time. We? have not had an occasion where the back-up line was ever needed for support or protection. *

At first we were afraid that the vertical ventilation drill would prevent adequate smoke and heat build up for a realistic exercise. On the contrary, the interior ceiling produces the desired effects, but in a controllable manner, as heat and smoke is manipulated by, overhauling practices. This effectively demonstrates the use of proper vertical ventilation through observation. We conducted this program at a number of burns and found the same desired results on every occasion.

The main advantage of this program is to expose the student to an adverse* but controllable environment and ta allow him to experience live fire con-’ ditions during training. Students should not be subjected to the “throw the babe in the water” technique but rather to a systematic process of confidence building and practical firefighting training. This program has received positive feedback from students and fire officers present. It provides excellent control and minimizes unsafe conditions. We feel our process greatly lessens the chance of injury and/or death, provides good practical knowledge, and reinforces the classroom lessons and fire department structure and organization.

Another key point we stress is that we have no specific safety officer. All group leaders and instructors are safety officers and all are responsible for correcting safety hazards.

We feel that firefighters are confronted with enough dangerous situations while they are on the job, and that our responsibility is to safely prepare them to face these hazards, not to scare them with a negative learning experience.

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