Posts Tagged ‘live fire training’

“Flashover Training”

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

This week’s questions focus on training firefighters to recognize, prevent, and if necessary react appropriately to flashover conditions. Casey Lindsay of the Garland, Texas Fire Department sent an e-mail to a number of fire behavior instructors regarding how they conduct “flashover training”

One of the challenges we face in discussing fire behavior training, particularly live fire training is the result of variations in terminology. Differences exist in the way that live fire training props are described and in fire control techniques. For this discussion, CFBT-US defines the type of prop pictured below as a “split level demo cell”. This terminology is derived from the original purpose of this design as conceived by the Swedish Fire Service in the 1980s. The split level cell is intended for initial fire behavior training focused on observation of fire development. As used in the United States (and some other parts of the world) it is described as a “flashover simulator” or “flashover chamber”. This provides a disconnect in context as this prop is not intended and does not subject the participants in training to flashover conditions, but simply provides an opportunity to observe fire development through the growth stage and recognize some potential cues of impending flashover.


Note: The prop illustrated above is a Split level cell at the Palm Beach County Fire Training Center.

Container based props can be configured in a variety of ways for both demonstration and fire attack training. Most commonly single compartment cells are single level or split level design. Multiple compartment cells are arranged in a variety of ways with containers placed in an “L”, “H” or other configuration.

Do you currently teach firefighters that “Penciling control techniques can be used to give firefighters additional time to escape a flashover”?

We define penciling as an intermittent application using a straight stream as compared to pulsing which uses a fog pattern or painting which is a gentle application of water to hot surfaces. We do not teach penciling, pulsing, or painting as a technique to give firefighters additional time to escape flashover. We use gas cooling (short or long pulses) and coordination of fire attack and ventilation to control the environment and prevent or reduce the potential for firefighters to encounter flashover. However, long pulses (or continuous application) while withdrawing is taught as a method of self-protection if fire conditions exceed the capability of the crew engaged in fire attack.

In response to Casey’s questions, Jim Hester, with the United States Air Force (USAF) presents an alternative perspective:

No! We do not teach penciling or 3D Fog attack anymore. We did temporarily after receiving our training as instructors in the flashover trainer. We gave the technique an honest look and conducted research using Paul Grimwood’s theories. We decided there are too many variables. For example; what works in a room and contents [fire] will not work in heavy fire conditions inside a commercial. The last thing we want is someone penciling any fire, inside any structure, that requires constant water application until the fire is darkened down. That’s what we teach.  Open the nozzle for as long as it takes to get knock down and then shut the nozzle down. [It is as] simple as that. If you take that approach, even in the flashover trainer you will alleviate confusion or misapplication of your fire stream.

While I have a considerably different perspective, Jim raises several good points. I agree that there are many variables related to fire conditions and room geometry. If firefighters are trained in lock step manner that short pulses are used to control the temperature overhead, there will definitely be a challenge in transitioning from the container to a residential fire and even more so when confronted with a commercial fire. However, if firefighters are introduced to the container as a laboratory where small fires are used to develop understanding of nozzle technique, rather than a reflection of real world conditions, this presents less of an issue.

As Jim describes, fire conditions requiring constant application in a combination attack with coordinated tactical ventilation, may not be controlled by short pulses. However, when cooling hot smoke on approach to a shielded fire, constant application of water will likely result in over application and less tenable conditions (too much water may not be as bad as too little, but it presents its own problems).

Most firefighters, even those that advocate continuous application, recognize that a small fire in a trash can or smoldering fire in a upholstered chair or bed does not require a high flow rate and can easily be controlled and extinguished with a small amount of water. On the other hand, a fully developed fire in a large commercial compartment cannot be controlled by a low flow handline. To some extent this defines the continuum of offensive fire attack, small fires easily controlled by direct application of a small amount of water and large fires that are difficult to control without high flow handlines (or multiple smaller handlines). There is not a single answer to what is the best application for offensive fire attack. Shielded fires require control of the environment (e.g., cooling of the hot upper layer) to permit approach and application of direct or combination attack. Fires that are not shielded present a simpler challenge as water can be brought to bear on the seat of the fire with less difficulty.

Nozzle operators must be trained to read conditions and select nozzle technique (pulsed application to cool hot gases versus penciling or painting to cool hot surfaces) and fire control methods (gas cooling, direct attack, indirect attack, or combination attack) based on an assessment of both the building and fire conditions.

What flashover warning signs do you cover during the classroom portion of flashover training?

We frame this discussion in terms of the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators used in reading the fire (generally, not just in relation to flashover).


Building: Flashover can occur in all types of buildings. Consider compartmentation, fuel type, and configuration, ventilation profile, and thermal properties of the structure. Anticipate potential for increased ventilation (without coordinated fire control) to result in flashover when the fire is burning in a ventilation controlled regime (most fires beyond the incipient stage are ventilation controlled). Note that these indicators are not all read during the incident, but are considered as part of knowing the buildings in your response area and assessing the building as part of size-up.

Smoke: Increasing volume, darkening color and thickness (optical density), lowing of the level of the hot gas layer.

Air Track: Strong bi-directional (in at the bottom and out at the top of an opening), turbulent smoke discharge at openings, pulsing air track (may be an indicator of ventilation induced flashover or backdraft), and any air track that shows air movement with increasing velocity and turbulence.

Heat: Pronounced heat signature from the exterior (thermal imager), darkened windows, hot surfaces, hot interior temperatures, observation of pyrolysis, and feeling a rapid increase in temperature while working inside (note that this may not provide sufficient warning in and of itself as it is a late indicator).

Flame: Ignition of gases escaping from the fire compartment, flames at the ceiling level of the compartment, isolated flames in the upper layer (strong indicator of a ventilation controlled fire) and rollover (a late indicator).

How do you incorporate the thermal imaging camera into your flashover class?

We do not teach a “flashover” class. We incorporate learning about flashover (a single fire behavior phenomena) in the context of comprehensive training in practical fire dynamics, fire control, and ventilation (inclusive of tactical ventilation and tactical anti-ventilation). Thermal imagers (TI) are used in a variety of ways beginning with observation of small scale models (live fire), observation of fire development (with and without the TI) and observation of the effects of fire control and ventilation.

Do you allow students to operate the nozzle in the flashover chamber?

We use a sequence of evolutions and in the first, the students are simply observers watching fire development and to a lesser extent the effects of water application by the instructor. In this evolution, the instructor limits nozzle use and predominantly sets conditions by controlling ventilation. If necessary the instructor will cool the upper layer to prevent flames from extending over the heads of the participants or to reduce the burning rate of the fuel to extend the evolution. Students practice nozzle technique (short and long pulses, painting, and penciling) outside in a non-fire environment prior to application in a live fire context. After the initial demonstration burn, students develop proficiency by practicing their nozzle technique in a live fire context.

When working in a single level cell rather than a split level cell (commonly, but inaccurately referred to as a “flashover chamber” or “flashover simulator”) we expand on development of students proficiency in nozzle technique by having them practice cooling the upper layer while advancing and importantly, while retreating. In addition, students practice door entry procedures that integrate a tactical size-up, door control, and cooling hot gases at the entry point.

Do you maintain two-in/two-out during flashover chamber classes?

We comply with the provisions of NFPA 1403 and provide for two-in/two-out by staffing a Rapid Intervention Crew/Company during all live fire training.

What is your fuel of choice for the 4×8 sheets (OSB, Particleboard or Masonite)?

We have used a variety of fuel types, but commonly use particle board. OSB tends to burn quickly, but can be used if this characteristic is recognized. We have also used a low density fiberboard product (with less glue) which performs reasonably well. The key with fuel is understanding its characteristics and using the minimum quantity of fuel that will provide sufficient context for the training to be conducted. I recommend that instructors conduct test burns (without students) when evaluating fuel packages that will be used in a specific burn building or purpose built prop (such as a demo or attack cell).

Do you have benches or seating in the flashover chamber?

No, firefighters are expected to be in the same position that they would on the fireground, kneeling or in a tripod position. When we work in a demo cell (“flashover chamber”) with benches, we keep the students on the floor.

Do you teach any flashover survival techniques, other than retreat/evacuate?

We focus first on staying out of trouble by controlling the environment. Second, we teach firefighters the skill of retreating while operating the hoseline (generally long pulses to control flames overhead). There are not really any options other than control the fire of leave the environment (quickly)! This is similar to James Hester’s answer of continuous flow, with a sweeping motion (long pulses can be applied in a sweeping manner, particularly in a large compartment). It is important to understand that a short pulse is extremely short (as fast as you can open the nozzle) and a long pulse is anything else (from several seconds to near continuous application, depending on conditions).

Refer to the series of CFBT Blog on Battle Drills for additional discussion developing proficiency in reaction to deteriorating conditions.

Additional Thoughts

Our perspective is that discussion of flashover should be framed in the context of comprehensive fire behavior training, rather than as a “special” topic. Practical fire dynamics must be integrated into all types of structural firefighting training, in particular: Hose Handling, Fire Control, and Tactical Ventilation (but the list goes on). When working with charged hoselines, take the time to practice good nozzle technique as well as moving forward and backward (do not simply stand up and flow water when performing hose evolutions). In fire control training (live fire or not), practice door control, tactical size-up, and door entry procedures. When training on the task activity of tactical ventilation (e.g., taking glass or cutting roof openings), make the decision process explicit and consider the critical elements of coordination and anticipated outcome of you actions.


Plan on attending Wind Driven Fires in Private Dwellings at Fire Department Instructors Conference, Indianapolis, IN on Wednesday April 24, 2013 in Wabash 3. Representing Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue, Chief Ed Hartin will examine the application of NIST research on wind driven fires to fires in private dwellings. This workshop is a must if the wind blows where you fight fires!



Live Fire Training:
Important Questions

Monday, July 6th, 2009

In several recent posts (Training Fires and “Real” Fires and Live Fire Training in Purpose Built Structures, I emphasized that all live fire training is a simulation. Fidelity is the extent to which the simulation replicates reality.

Figure 1. Training in an Acquired Structure


Note: Ed Hartin Photo

The Questions

Some firefighters and fire officers subscribe to the belief that use of acquired structures with realistic fuel loading is the only way to develop the necessary competence and skills to operate safely and effectively on the fireground. However, current standards such as National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training (2007) places specific constraints on fuel types and loading. Some departments are faced with environmental constraints that preclude burning Class A fuel for structural live fire training and consequently use gas fired structures (or don’t conduct live fire training at all). Most departments who have access to purpose built structures and props for structural live fire training are limited to a single type of facility (due to economic constraints). This gives rise to an interesting set of questions:

  • What degree of simulation fidelity is necessary to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for safe and effective operation on the fireground?
  • What are the key elements of fidelity for various learning outcomes such as 1) developing understanding of fire development in a compartment, 2) dynamic risk assessment, inclusive of recognizing critical fire behavior indicators, 3) selecting appropriate fire control techniques, 4) developing competence and confidence when operating in a hazardous environment, 5) developing skill in nozzle operation and technique, 6) evaluating the effect of tactical operations.
  • Is live fire training the only or most effective simulation method for achieving these learning outcomes? If so, what type of simulation will safely provide the required degree of fidelity? If not, what other simulation method may be used in place of, or in addition to live fire training to provide the required degree of fidelity?

I believe that effective performance under stressful conditions requires substantial training in a realistic context. However, the answers to the preceding questions have not yet been determined. What we have is a great deal of strongly held opinion without supporting discipline or task specific evidence.

Dimensions of Fidelity

As discussed in Training Fires and “Real” Fires, fidelity can be examined in a number of different ways, but one simple approach is to consider physical and functional characteristics of the simulation. Physical fidelity is the extent to which the simulation looks and feels real. Functional fidelity is the extent to which the simulation works and reacts realistically.

Figure 2. Two-Dimensional Fidelity Matrix


However, this simple model provides limited guidance when examining questions related to live fire training. Here it is necessary to consider: What are the key elements of physical and functional fidelity necessary to support the specific learning outcomes intended from a given training evolution?

In A Handbook of Flight Simulation Fidelity Requirements for Human Factors Research, Rehman (1995) describes three purposes of aircraft flight simulation: 1) provide practice on specific skills, 2) reinforce acquisition and use of job-relevant knowledge, or 3) to evaluate a system or new concept. The fidelity requirements for each of these three purposes may be quite different. In addition, fidelity applies to the simulator itself, the participants, and related or events external to the simulator. In a flight simulator, each subsystem of the simulator (e.g., cockpit layout, audio, motion) has specific fidelity characteristics that must be considered as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Flight Simulator Subsystem Fidelity Characteristics


Note: Adapted from A Handbook of Flight Simulation Fidelity Requirements for Human Factors Research.

How might these concepts be applied to evaluating fidelity requirements for live fire training? Determining the answers to the questions posed in this post will require a significant research effort (and related funding). However, the first step in this process is to clarify, refine, and tightly focus the questions that this research needs to answer.

My next post will examine this interesting topic a bit further.

An Interesting Puzzle

Closely related to the topic of simulation fidelity, I was provided with an interesting puzzle by my friend Roy Reyes of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. He forwarded me the following photo (Figure 4) from a fire behavior instructor course that he had conducted in Valencia, Spain. His first question was what do you see in the photo?

Figure 4. Participants Conducting Fire Behavior Demonstration 2


Note: Roy Reyes Photo

The second question is a bit more specific, why are the flames in the hot gas layer in the center, and not across the entire width of the compartment?

The answer to this question provides an important learning opportunity related to how simulator and simulation design impact on fidelity and the importance of the instructor in establishing context.

I will come back to these questions in my next post!

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO


National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). (2007) NFPA 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions. Quincy, MA: Author.

Rehman, A. (1995). A handbook of flight simulation fidelity requirements for human factors research, Report Number DOT/FAA/CT-TN95/46. Retrieved July 6, 2009 from

Florida Live Fire Training Instructor (LFTI)

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Florida State Fire College’s Live Fire Training Instructor (LFTI) Course held at the Oregon Public Safety Academy. This delivery is part of an effort by the state’s Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) to evaluate options for improving safety during live fire training. DPSST and the Oregon Fire Instructor’s Association are evaluating curriculum and varied approaches to delivering training to assist fire service agencies safely and effectively deliver live fire training.

The Florida Experience

Deputy Chief Dave Casey, Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Department (former Chief of Fire Standards and Training, Florida State Fire Marshal) presented an overview of the origin and evolution of live fire instructor training in Florida.

On July 30, 2002 Lieutenant John Mickel and Firefighter Dallas Begg lost their lives in a live fire training exercise conducted in Poinciana, Florida (see Figure 1). LT Mickel and FF Begg were performing primary search ahead of the attack line during a live fire evolution in an acquired structure. Horizontal ventilation resulted in ventilation induced flashover while the search team was in the fire compartment. This training exercise was conducted in compliance with many of the provisions of NFPA 1403. However, instructors did not adequately assess the fire compartment in terms of potential fire behavior and the required fuel load to meet the desired learning outcomes for the evolution. For more information on this incident see the Florida State Fire Marshals Report and NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty Report F2002-34.

Figure 1. Acquired Structure-Poinciana, Florida


Note: Florida State Fire Marshal Photo

This incident resulted in considerable discussion of how to ensure that instructors delivering live fire training understood the provisions of NFPA 1403 and how to safely and effectively deliver live fire training. The Florida Live Fire Training Taskforce held its first meeting in June of 2004 and established the following mission:

This curriculum is intended to deliver a comprehensive live fire instructor training program, within a safe and controlled environment, in accordance with NFPA 1402, NFPA 1403 and NFPA 1500.

In May 2005, the Florida Legislature passed the LT. John Mickel & Dallas Begg Act, requiring certification to conduct live fire training in the state of Florida and was signed into law by the Governor in June of the same year. The first pilot delivery of the Live Fire Training Instructor course was held in January 2006.


Participants in this course must be certified instructors and must complete pre-course readings and a pre-test prior to attending the training program. The 40-hour course addresses the provisions of NFPA 1403 on a chapter by chapter basis:

  • Administration, Referenced Publications, & Definitions
  • Acquired Structures
  • Gas-Fired Live Fire Training Structures
  • Non-Gas-Fired Live Fire Training Structures
  • Exterior Props
  • Exterior Class B Fires
  • Records & Reports

This 40-hour course provides instructors with a detailed look at the standard and the opportunity to apply the standard in a variety of activities including development of live fire training plans, evaluation of acquired structures, and management of live fire training delivery.

Evaluation and Critique

The instructional staff delivering this program was extremely knowledgeable and provided the participants with a solid grounding in both the provisions of the standard and the rationale for the design of the course. In addition, considerable effort was extended to ensure that the participants understood the physiological impact of live fire training on the participants and importance of maintaining hydration and managing heat stress. This is critical as the majority of firefighters who die during live fire training suffer from heat stress, heart attack, or some other underlying medical cause.

While the LFTI course provided excellent information and is an essential element in training instructors to deliver live fire training, it does not go far enough. The LFTI course does not (yet) address the most critical issue which is the participants understanding (or lack thereof) of fire dynamics.

Emphasizing the value of NFPA 1403 in a videotaped interview (American Heat, September 2003) Dave Demers (who investigated the Boulder, Colorado firefighter live fire training fatalities that gave rise to the development of this standard) stated that with the standard “you don’t need to think, you simply need to follow directions”. While this perspective was not shared by the instructional staff delivering the LFTI course, it does point to a major disconnect between the standard, course content, and predominant cause of traumatic fatalities during live fire training.


The short term solution to ensuring live fire instructors have an understanding of and can apply NFPA 1403 and practical fire dynamics is to expand course content to include compartment fire behavior and related content that is applicable to other types of live fire training (e.g., exterior props and Class B fires). However, this knowledge is required by more than instructors. The long term solution is to expand the level of knowledge required by firefighters and fire officers across the board. This will likely require revision of the applicable professional qualifications standards and related curriculum (no small task from a political perspective).


I would like to extend my thanks to Florida State Fire Academy instructional staff Susan Schell, Joe Garda, Dave Casey, Dan Godfrey, and Richie Leitz for their delivery of the LFTI and ongoing efforts in support of firefighter safety.


Tuesday is another milestone in my career. Effective June 30, 2009, I will no longer be employed by Gresham Fire & Emergency Services. Due to severe fiscal constraints, the entire Training, Safety, & EMS Division is being eliminated. Lieutenant Chris Baird previously went to the line as a company officer and EMS Coordinator John Stouffer and I are being laid off. Fortunately I had six months notice and have been working towards transition to a new role in a different organization (yet to be determined).

While many would approach being laid off a bit differently, I chose to have the department’s traditional coffee and cake send off (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Chief Lewis Presents Ed’s Badges


Note: Photo by Lieutenant Chris Baird

This is not a dead end, but simply a fork in the road. Stay tuned for news of the next chapter in the adventure!


American Heat (2003, September). Live Fire Training Fatalities.

Florida State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire Standards and Training. (2002). Incident Investigation of Two Firefighters Deaths During a Training Fire; Poinciana, Florida; July 30, 2002. Retrieved June 28, 2009 from

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). (2007) NFPA 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions. Quincy, MA: Author.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2003) Death in the line of duty report F2002-34. Retrieved June 28, 2009 from

Live Fire Training
Purpose Built Structures

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

In their article Realistic Live Burn Training You Can Afford published in the May 2009 issue of Fire Engineering, Kriss Garcia and Reinhard Kauffmann extolled the advantages of constructing a panelized wood frame structure lined with several layers of 5/8″ sheetrock (see Figure 1) as an alternative to other types of structural live fire training props and facilities. I have to admit; I am intrigued by the potential advantages of this prop for demonstration of the influence of horizontal ventilation (both natural and positive pressure) and tactical training in fire attack operations. However, I am not convinced that this prop is universally superior to other types of purpose built structures used for live fire training. Choice of live fire training facilities needs to consider a range of factors including intended learning outcomes, cost (both initial and life-cycle), and environmental considerations and constraints.

Figure 1. Build and Burn Single Family Dwelling


Photo provided by Kriss Garcia (

Response to Garcia and Kauffmann

The most important factor to consider in design, selection, and use of live fire training props and facilities is that all live fire training is a simulation. The fire is real, but the fuel load and conditions are managed to create a specific effect (unlike in the “real world”). This does not necessarily mean that the training is ineffective, simply that each evolution is intended to provide the participants with a specific opportunity to learn and develop skills.

Having conducted a substantial number of live fire training exercises in purpose built props and acquired structures, I have found that each has its advantages. Kriss and Reinhard are particularly critical of props constructed from steel containers. They state that these type of props do not provide a realistic context for showing fire development or honing fire tactical skills. I would respectfully disagree with several caveats. 1) A single compartment prop (such as a demonstration or attack cell) is not designed or intended for tactical training. This type of prop is designed to provide a safe and effective environment to demonstrate fundamental fire development in a compartment and the opportunity for learners to practice nozzle technique. 2) Multi-compartment container-based props do provide a reasonable context for tactical training with interior doors, obstructions, potential for varied fire location, etc. However, as with all other types of prop using Class A fuel (including the build and burn structure), the fuel load and configuration is considerably different than in an actual dwelling or commercial structure. Kriss also points to the severe fire conditions and damage to both equipment and participants when working in container based props. This is the result of inappropriate use, not a defect in the type of prop used. Conditions are set and controlled by the instructors.

I have greater agreement with Kriss’s and Reinhard’s observations on high-tech gas fired props in that they often fail to replicate key fire behavior indicators and may not respond appropriately to ventilation and application of water, providing poor feedback to the learners on their performance.

I also agree with many of Kriss’s and Reinhard’s observations on acquired structures. However, their example illustrating “unpredictable fire behavior” due to medium density fiberboard that had been plastered over, resulting in ignition of pyrolysis products behind the attack crew is inaccurate. This fire behavior was entirely predictable, but unanticipated (the big difference here is that unanticipated fire behavior is simply the result of a lack of information on the part of the instructors, not by random action by the fire). Kriss states that when working with acquired structures, you need to strictly adhere to the requirements of NFPA 1403. This may be a bit misleading in that this standard applies to all live fire training (including use of the build and burn structure).

Kriss and Reinhard make a good case for the ideal live fire training structure. However, it is critical to also give some thought to the intended purpose of the building or prop. Single compartment props (regardless of what they are constructed out of) may be a tremendous tool for practicing door entry and nozzle technique much like a putting green or driving range when practicing golf. The putting green and driving range are useful tools in developing specific skills, but they are not the game of golf. The ideal live fire training prop is designed to provide a means to safely, effectively, and efficiently achieve specified learning outcomes. Much the same as there is no single tactic that will solve all problems presented on the fireground, there is no single type of live fire training prop that provides the ideal context for all types of live fire training evolutions. Again, it is critical to remember that all live fire training is a simulation. The key is to provide an adequate degree of physical and functional fidelity (look real enough and behaves real enough) to achieve the intended learning outcomes.

Intended Use and Learning Outcomes

Pilots in the United States Air Force follow an exacting course of study which includes classroom instruction, simulation, and flight instruction in trainer aircraft such as theT6 and T38 before progression to more advanced aircraft such as the F22 Raptor. Each simulator and aircraft used in this progression is intended to provide the pilot with a specific learning context. After transition to high performance aircraft, pilots continue to use simulators to practice skills that may be too high risk to perform in flight.

Figure 2. T6, T38, & F22 Aircraft


The same concept can be applied to live fire training. Observing fire development and the effect of water application may require a somewhat different context than evolutions involving door entry procedures and integration of fire control and tactical ventilation. In an ideal world, fire service agencies would have access to various types of live fire training props, each suited to providing the best context for specific levels of training and learning outcomes. Container based props and burn buildings may be simple or complex dependent on their intended purpose and learning outcomes that they are designed to support (see Figures 3-5)

Figure 3. Split Level Cell, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue


Note: This prop was constructed by Fire Training Structures, LLC and is most effective for demonstrating compartment fire behavior.

Figure 4. Large Volume Container, Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, Sand, Sweden


Note: This prop was constructed on site and is designed to demonstrate fire behavior and the impact of tactical operations in large compartments such as found in commercial buildings.

Figure 5. Large Masonry Burn Building, British Fire Service College


Note: This is one of many live fire training facilities at the college (including container based props and other masonry burn buildings). This building provides an industrial context for advanced firefighter training.

However, for most of us it is not a perfect world. Fire departments faced with limited fiscal resources are often limited in their options for live fire training. If they are fortunate, they have or have access to a purpose built structure that provides a safe and effective environment for a variety of types of live fire training. Each of these types of structures has limitations. The major problem encountered is when instructors and learners believe that the purpose built structure is intended to fully replicate a realistic fire environment as encountered during emergency incidents. It cannot, much the same as a flight simulator cannot fully replicate flying a high performance aircraft. However, it can replicate critical elements of context that help develop knowledge, skill, and a high level of proficiency.

Instructors must 1) identify the intended learning outcomes and critical elements of context necessary to develop learner proficiency to ensure participant safety and 2) recognize both the capabilities and limitations of the props and facilities available.

Other Considerations

Fire departments often face a more difficult challenge than determining what type of prop or facility is most effective or how to best use available facilities. The cost of live fire training is a major concern and unfortunately is often a major determining factor in the availability and type of live fire training conducted. The initial cost for purpose built props and facilities can be a large hurdle with simple commercially built props and structures costing from $40,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even more for a commercial fire simulator as illustrated in Figure 5). However, initial cost of the prop or facility is the tip of the iceberg. Ongoing costs include fuel, maintenance, as well as instructor and student costs.

While somewhat beyond the scope of this post, environmental considerations and restrictions can also have a significant impact on both design and operation of live fire training facilities and can also have a significant impact on initial and ongoing cost.

The Way Forward

In general, there has not been a concerted and scientifically based effort to determine the critical elements of context required for live fire training. As discussed in Training Fires and Real Fires, live fire training must look real enough (physical fidelity) and react realistically to tactical operations (functional fidelity). However, we have not defined to what extent this is necessary to develop critical skills.

The variety of props, structures, and facilities available for live fire training is substantial, as is the difference in initial, ongoing, and life-cycle cost. While some work has been done comparing these various options, it is often left to individual departments to sort this out without a consistent framework or methodology.

Subsequent posts will examine these two issues in a bit more depth.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO


Garcia, K. & Kaufmann, R. (2009, 2009). Realistic live-burn training you can afford. Fire Engineering, 162(5), 89-93.

Live Fire Training Fatalities

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Most of the provisions outlined in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, deal with mitigating the risk of traumatic injury or fatality. The standard addresses training prerequisites, but does not speak to medical and physical capacity prerequisites. The standard does specify that:

  • The instructor-in-charge is responsible for provision of rest, and rehabilitation (inclusive of medical evaluation)
  • Emergency medical services must be available on-site, and
  • The instructor-in-charge is responsible for overall fireground activiey to ensure correct [emphasis added] levels of safety.

While the emphasis on live fire training safety has been placed on traumatic injuries and fatalities, this is not the predominant cause of live fire training line of duty deaths. Between 1994 and 2003, 65% of live fire training related fatalities resulted from physiological stress and heart attack (Grimwood, Hartin, McDonough, & Raffel, 2005)


NIOSH recently released Death in the Line of Duty Reports 2008-30 and 2008-36, both of which examined incidents in which firefighters lost their lives during or immediately after live fire training. It is easy to glance at these reports and think that this is just another heart attack with the same recommendations as all the other report. However, I encourage you to stop, read these two reports, and give some thought to what this information means to you on a personal level.

NIOSH Report 2008-30

On August 9, 2008; Captain Sean Whiten (Age 47) was leading a team of students during live fire training in a purpose built burn building. After completing an interior attack, Captain Whiten complained of being tired but otherwise had no complaints. Medical evaluation conducted as part of the rehabilitation process showed elevated pulse and blood pressure, but this was consistent with participation in a strenuous training activity.

After rehab, Captain Whiten was relaxing by his vehicle when he went into cardiac arrest. Instructors and students began CPR and applied a automatic external defibrillator prior to the arrival of an advanced life support ambulance. Paramedics initiated advanced live support procedures and transported Captain Whiten to the hospital where resuscitation efforts continued until he was pronounced dead by the attending physician.

An autopsy conducted by a forensic pathologist discovered that Captain Whiten suffered from coronary artery disease and had ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) and cardiomegaly, conditions which increase the risk of sudden cardiac death. The Captain also had mild elevation of his carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) level, but it is unclear if this had any influence on his heart attack and sudden cardiac death. The Captain’s risk factors for CAD included male gender, age over 45, high blood cholesterol, and obesity. However, he had been cleared by his primary care physician to engage in a fire department physical ability test.

NIOSH Report 2008-36

On July 6, 2008 Firefighter Rufus Brinson (Age 50) was teaching a class involving live fire training at a local community college. After several evolutions under high ambient temperature 34.4o C (94o F) and high relative humidity (58%), including a search drill conducted using hot smoke in a purpose built burn building, Firefighter Brinson indicated that he was not feeling well and took a break in the air conditioned cab of the engine. Another instructor took over teaching for the next evolution while Firefighter Brinson operated the pump. While refilling the apparatus tank after the final evolution, he collapsed next to the apparatus.

An instructor initiated CPR and requested an ambulance. The ambulance was staffed with intermediate level emergency medical technicians who requested response of a paramedic level unit. Transport was initiated prior to the arrival of paramedics who met the ambulance enroute to the hospital and initiated advanced life support procedures. Resuscitation efforts continued at the hospital until Firefighter Brinson was pronounced dead by the attending physician.

An autopsy conducted by the medical examiner listed congestive heart failure as the cause of death and severe coronary atherosclerotic disease and hypertensive heart disease as contributing factors. Firefighter Brinson was also found to have left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) and cardiomegaly. Risk factors for CAD included male gender, age over 45, smoking, overweight (but not obese), and limited aerobic exercise. Firefighter Brinson had not had a medical exam by a physician in seven years.

Common NIOSH Recommendations

While both of these reports contains unique recommendations based on the circumstances involved, there are also several common recommendations:

Provide pre-placement and annual medical evaluations to fire fighters consistent with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, to determine their medical ability to perform duties without presenting a significant risk to the safety and health of themselves or others.

Incorporate exercise stress tests following standard medical guidelines into a Fire Department medical evaluation program.

Ensure fire fighters are cleared for return to duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of fire fighting, the personal protective equipment used by fire fighters, and the various components of NFPA 1582.

Phase in a comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and improve cardiovascular capacity.

Perform an annual physical performance (physical ability) evaluation to ensure fire fighters are physically capable of performing the essential job tasks of structural fire fighting.

Provide fire fighters with medical clearance to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) as part of a Fire Department medical evaluation program.

These recommendations are no surprise. It is commonly known that firefighting is a physiologically stressful activity and that working in a high ambient temperature environment increases that stress substantially. Firefighters must be well and fit in order to safely and effectively operate in realistic training and on the fireground.


Who is responsible for ensuring that firefighters are medically and physically capable of engaging in firefighting operations? On one hand, you can make a reasonable argument that it is the fire department’s (employer’s) responsibility. One of the foundations of occupational safety and health regulation is the employer’s responsibility to provide a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm. However, is this solely the employer’s responsibility?

In examining this issue, I will put things in a personal context. I am a male, over 50, have a family history of heart disease, and last ago was diagnosed with hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol). While not grossly overweight, over the last 10 or 12 years my body mass index had crept up and outside the optimum. In addition, my work schedule and graduate studies had negatively impacted my workout schedule and reduced my aerobic exercise considerably. When I had my annual medical physical as a hazmat technician, the occupational medicine physician indicated that I should talk with my primary care physician about my cholesterol level lose some weight, and get more aerobic exercise. Several weeks later, I sat with my dad (a retired fire chief) as he died from congestive heart failure (at age 92). He had retired due to a heart attack the year I started my fire service career. The time that I spent with him over the last week of his life gave me a great deal to think about.

While my employer should (and does) provide medical physicals, respirator qualification, physical ability assessment, and the facilities and time to work out, I am the one responsible for action. Since last summer, I have lost 15.9 kg (35 pounds), substantially improved my aerobic fitness, and reduced my cholesterol to near optimal level. While I had not noticed the degradation in my physical capacity (other than to figure that I was getting old), I have noticed a significant improvement. I feel better on a day-to-day basis and find myself less fatigued when delivering live fire training.

Fire service organizations have a responsibility to their members to provide medical/physical assessment and wellness/fitness programs. However, each of us also has a responsibility to ensure that we are medically and physically qualified for the work we are doing. Take care of yourself and look out for the people you work with!


National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). (2007). Standard on live fire training evolutions. Quincy, MA: Author.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2008). Death in the line of duty (Report Number 2008-30). Retrieved June 4, 2009, from

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2008). Death in the line of duty (Report Number 2008-36). Retrieved June 4, 2009, from

Grimwood, P., Hartin, E., McDonough, J., & Raffel, S. (2005). 3D firefighting: Training, techniques, and tactics. Stillwater, OK: Fire Protection Publications.

Training Fires and “Real” Fires

Monday, May 4th, 2009

The theme for the 2009 meeting Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) Compartment Firefighting Special Interest Group (SIG) in Sydney, Australia was Finding the Common Ground. The 15 participants represented 12 fire service organizations from Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK, Spain, Croatia, China, Canada, and the United States.

Figure 1. 2009 IFE Compartment Firefighting SIG Participants


Understanding & Application

The dominant common theme identified by the participants is the need for firefighters and fire officers to have a solid understanding of fire dynamics and the ability to apply that knowledge in an operational context. Achieving this goal cannot be accomplished simply by delivering a course or training program, it requires a fundamental shift in perspective and ongoing effort to support individual and organizational learning.

Simply achieving knowledge of fire dynamics and skill in task and tactical activity is necessary but not sufficient. Achieving increased safety and effectiveness requires that firefighters and fire officers effectively apply this knowledge on the fireground. Facilitating this transfer from training to operational context is a challenge is a significant challenge.

Dr. Stefan Svensson of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency posed the question: How do we get learners to understand the differences between training fires and “real fires”. This is an interesting question in that training conducted in a container, burn building, or acquired structure is in fact a “real fire”, but has considerably different characteristics than a fire occurring in a house, apartment, or commercial building. Improperly designed training may provide the learner with an inaccurate perspective on the fire environment which can lead to disastrous consequences. The challenge is managing risk while developing a realistic understanding of fire behavior.

What is the Difference?

Compartment fires in the training environment differ from those encountered during emergency operations differ on the basis of compartment characteristics, fuel, ventilation profile, heat release rate, and time scale. In addition to differences related to fire dynamics, firefighters and fire officers also encounter psychological stress resulting from a sense of urgency, organizational and community expectations (particularly in situations where persons are reported to be trapped in the building).

Other than acquired buildings, structures used for fire training are generally designed and built for repetitive use and not for regular human habitation. Structural characteristics that make a durable live fire training facility are considerably different than most if not all other structures in the built environment. Density, thermal conductivity, and specific heat of training structures can be considerably different than a dwelling or commercial structure, which has a significant impact on fire behavior.

The ventilation profile of a purpose built prop or burn building is also likely to have significantly different compartmentation and ventilation profile than a typical residential or commercial structure. Live fire training facilities often (but not always) are designed with burn compartments. This speeds fire development and minimizes both initial and ongoing cost. However, fire behavior and the impact of fire control tactics can be considerably different in a large area and/or high ceiling compartment. Many modern structures are designed with open floor plans that are challenging to duplicate in the training environment. Energy efficient structures limit ventilation (air exchange), while training structures are often quite leaky, particularly after extensive use. This can have a significant influence on development of a ventilation controlled burning regime and influence of ventilation on the concentration of gas phase fuel in smoke. Failure of glass windows in ordinary structures should be anticipated, as this changes the ventilation profile and resulting fire behavior. Training structures on the other hand provide a more consistent ventilation profile as durable (e.g., metal) windows do not present the same potential for failure.

While structural characteristics, compartmentation, and ventilation differ between typical structures in the built environment and those used for live fire training, one of the most significant differences lies in the types, quantity, and configuration of fuel.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training is fairly explicit regarding fuel characteristics and loading for live fire training evolutions. Most of these provisions can be tied directly to incidents in which participants in live fire training exercises lost their lives. Unfortunately, there are not the same provisions in fire and building codes. Fuel load is considerably higher in most residential and commercial occupancies than is typically used in live fire training, even in advanced tactical evolutions.

Together these differences provide considerably different fire dynamics between the training and operational environments. How much and in what ways does this impact on the effectiveness of compartment fire behavior training (CFBT)?


As discussed, CFBT, even when conducted in an acquired structure does not completely replicate fire conditions encountered in an operational context. All CFBT involves simulation. The extent to which a simulation reflects reality is referred to as fidelity:

The degree to which a model or simulation reproduces the state and behavior of a real world object or the perception of a real world object, feature, condition, or chosen standard in a measurable or perceivable manner; a measure of the realism of a model or simulation; faithfulness… 2. The methods, metrics, and descriptions of models or simulations used to compare those models or simulations to their real world referents or to other simulations in such terms as accuracy, scope, resolution, level of detail, level of abstraction and repeatability. (Northam, n.d.)

CFBT can involve a wide range of simulations, from the use of photos and video, non-fire exercises, small scale props such as doll’s houses, single and multi-compartment props, and burn buildings, and acquired structures. Each provides differing degrees of fidelity.

Fidelity can be described in a number of different ways. One fairly simple approach is to examine physical and functional fidelity (see Figure 2). Physical fidelity is the extent to which the simulation looks and feels real. Functional fidelity is based on the extent to which the simulation works and reacts realistically.

Figure 2. Two-Dimensional Fidelity Matrix


Note: Adapted from Fidelity Versus Cost and its Effect on Modeling & Simulation (Duncan, 2007)

While describing fidelity of a simulation as low, moderate, or high, this is likely to be inadequate. A more useful description of fidelity includes both qualitative and quantitative measures on multiple dimensions. But what measures and what dimension? In a compartment firefighting simulation, key elements of physical fidelity will likely include fire behavior indicators such as Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame (B-SAHF). Important aspects of physical fidelity would include the characteristics of doors and windows (e.g., opening mechanism), hose and nozzles, and influence of tactics such as gas and surface cooling on fire behavior.

On the surface it makes sense that increased fidelity would result in increased effectiveness and transfer of knowledge and skill. However, it is important to remember that “All models are wrong, but some models are useful” (Box & Draper, 1987, p. 424). The importance the various aspects of fidelity depend on the intended learning outcome of the simulation. In fact, a simulation that focuses on critical contextual elements may be more effective than one that more fully replicates reality.

Figure 3. Door Entry Drill


For example, teaching the mechanics and sequence of door entry procedures (see Figure 3) might be more effectively accomplished using a standard door without smoke and flame than under more realistic live fire conditions. On the other hand, reading fire behavior indicators at the door and effectively predicting interior conditions is likely to require substantively different elements of context. However, at this point, we simply have unsupported opinion and in some cases anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of current training practices. The key to this puzzle is to clearly define the intended learning outcomes and identify the critical elements of context that are required.

Questions Remain

The IFE Compartment Firefighting SIG identified the need for a greater emphasis on fire behavior training at all levels (e.g., entry level firefighters, incumbent firefighters, and fire officer) as well as ongoing professional development and skills maintenance. However, a number of interesting questions remain, including:

  • What are the most effective methods of developing firefighters understanding of compartment fire behavior?
  • What is necessary to effectively facilitate transfer of this knowledge from training to the operational context?
  • What level of fidelity is necessary in live fire training do develop and maintain critical skills?
  • How can technological simulation (computer or video based) simulation be used to augment live fire training to maintain proficiency?
  • To what extent might non-live fire simulation (e.g., CFBT for the Wii) be used to develop compartment firefighting competencies?

Professor David Morgan of Portland State University observes that “A successful research project requires two things: Meaningful research questions and appropriate means to answer those questions” (Morgan, 2005, p. 1-2). One of the greatest potential benefits resulting from collaboration between members of the IFE Compartment Firefighting SIG is the integration of the skills of academics and practitioners, scientists and firefighters. During the 2009 workshop, SIG member Steve Kerber from Underwriters Laboratory (formerly with the National Institute for Standards and Technology) emphasized the importance of scientists and engineers doing research with, not simply for the fire service. This has the potential to not only identify meaningful questions, but also to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to answer them.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO


Northam, G. (n.d.). Simulation fidelity – Getting in touch with reality. Retrieved May 2, 2009 from

Box, G. & Draper, N. (1987). Empirical model-building and response surfaces. San Francisco: Wiley.

Duncan, J. (2007). Fidelity versus cost and its effect on modeling & simulation. Paper presented at Twelfth International Command and Control Research and Technology Symposium (12th ICCRTS), 19-21 June 2007, Newport, RI.

Morgan, D. (2005). Introduction [to integrated methods] (Unpublished Manuscript). Portland, OR: Portland State University.

Live Fire Training Part 2:
Remember Rachael Wilson

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

25 Years Later

Firefighters Scott Smith and William Duran died as a result of flashover during a search and rescue drill in Boulder, Colorado on January 26, 1982 (Demers Associates, 1982, August). This incident has particular significance in that it was one of the major influences in the development of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1403 Live Fire Training Evolutions in Structures (NFPA, 1986). 25 years after the deaths of the two firefighters in Boulder, rapid fire progress during live fire training claimed the life of Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice Rachael Wilson in Baltimore, Maryland (Shimer, 2007; NIOSH, 2008)

What makes this even more tragic is that unlike the incident in Boulder, for the last 20 years the fire service has had a national consensus standard that defines minimum acceptable practice for live fire training.

Training Exercise on South Calverton Road

Information on the incident that resulted in the death of Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice Rachael Wilson was drawn from the Independent Investigation Report: Baltimore City Fire Department Live Fire Training Exercise 145 South Calverton Road February 9, 2007 (Shimer, 2007) and NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty Report F2007-09 (NIOSH, 2008).

On February 9, 2007 twenty-two members of Baltimore City Fire Department Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice Class 19 were participating in live fire training in an acquired structure. The objectives of this training exercise included practice in fire attack, primary search, forcible entry, and ventilation. The building used for this training exercise was a three story, single family row house of ordinary (masonry and wood joist) construction. The building was of somewhat unusual design with the front (A Side) of the building constructed at an angle (parallel to the street) resulting in a trapezoidal floor plan as illustrated in Figure 1. The third floor was considerably smaller than the first two floors with third floor windows on Side C looking out over the second floor roof. The building had previously been used for training and ceilings and portions of the walls on the second and third floors had been opened up during ventilation and forcible entry practice.

Five instructors assigned to the Training Academy and six adjunct instructors were responsible for managing the live fire training exercise and providing instruction. Lieutenant Crest (Training Academy staff) served as Incident Commander and Division Chief Hyde served as the Safety Officer. Two instructors were assigned as the ignition team and others were assigned to supervise assigned crews of Firefighter Paramedic Apprentices. An engine and truck from the Training Academy were positioned on the A Side of the building. The engine was supplied by a hydrant through a single large diameter hoseline.

The plan for the training exercise called for eight separate fuel packages on Floors 2 (two fuel packages) and 3 (six fuel packages) to be ignited. Each fuel package consisted of one or three pallets and excelsior (soft shredded wood packing material). Crews would be assigned to fire attack on floors two and three while other crews performed forcible entry (in support of fire attack) primary search, ventilation. The trainees were divided into five companies, designated Engine 1 (fire attack on Floor 3), Engine 2 (fire attack on Floor 2), Truck 1 (placement of ladders and then search and rescue), Truck 2 (assist with forcible entry on Side C), and Truck 3 (vertical ventilation). While the Incident Commander outlined the plan for the instructors, the trainees were not provided with a walkthrough of the building or safety briefing prior to the start of the live fire exercise.

The Incident Commander (Lieutenant Crest) accompanied the ignition team into the building and supervised ignition of the fires on Floors 3 and 2. While none of the instructors indicated doing so, a fire was also lit in debris (three mattresses, automobile tire, upholstered chair, and other combustible materials) located just inside the doorway on Floor 1 Side C.

Fire Attack

The crew designated Engine 1 consisted of Emergency Vehicle Driver Wenger (Instructor) and Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice Wilson (nozzle), Paramedic Cisneros (2nd on the line), and Firefighter Paramedic Apprentices Perez, and Lichtenberg. Engine 1 was tasked with fire attack on Floor 3. None of the crew from Engine 1 was equipped with a portable radio and received their orders face-to-face from Command. When the instructor questioned passing the fire on Floor 2, Command indicated that another line would be coming in right behind them and to go directly to Floor 3. Engine 1 entered from Side A with a 1-3/4″ (45 mm) hoseline and proceeded up the interior stairwell. None of the members of this crew indicated seeing fire on Floor 1 at the time they made entry.

Figure 1. Baltimore Floor Plan.


Note: Adapted from City of Baltimore. Independent investigation report: The Baltimore city fire department live fire training exercise 145 South Calverton Road February 9, 2007, (Shimmer, 2007, pp. 13)

Upon reaching Floor 2, Engine 1 encountered severe fire conditions and the instructor did not feel comfortable proceeding to Floor 3 without controlling the fire on Floor 2. He instructed Apprentice Wilson to open the nozzle and put water on the fire. In the process of doing so, she fell and the instructor took over the nozzle. He (the instructor) knocked the fire down to the point where he felt that his crew could advance to Floor 3 (bud did not completely control or extinguish the fire on Floor 2). At this point he returned the nozzle to Wilson. Wilson and Cisneros and the instructor proceeded to Floor 3 while Perez, and Lichtenberg remained in the stairwell pulling hose.

Trapped Above the Fire

After reaching Floor 3, Cisneros (2nd on the line behind Wilson) advised the instructor that Floor 2 was well involved. He instructed her to go into the stairwell and pull up additional hose. She felt intense heat on her legs and advised the instructor that she needed to get out of the building. The instructor climbed through the egress window (see Figure 2) and assisted Cisneros out the window and onto the second floor roof. At this point, Wilson was maintaining a position at the egress window (located at the top of the stairwell) with the nozzle.

Figure 2. Baltimore Cross Section of Floor 3


Note: Adapted from City of Baltimore. Independent investigation report: The Baltimore city fire department live fire training exercise 145 South Calverton Road February 9, 2007, (Shimmer, 2007, pp. 13 & 21-27)

While Engine 1 was making their way to Floor 3, Engine 2 entered from Side C with a 1-3/4″ (45 mm) hoseline, intending to proceeding to Floor 2 as ordered, but encountered a significant fire on Floor 1 with flames beginning to roll across the ceiling. Engine 2 attacked the fire on Floor 1 (which delayed their advancement to Floor 2).

Perez and Lichtenberg (members of Engine 1’s crew pulling hose in the stairwell) felt a rush of air followed by flames rapidly extending up the stairwell from Floor 2 to Floor 3. They moved to the top of the stairs and observed Wilson trying to climb through the egress window. Wilson warned them to get out of the building. Heeding her warning, they proceeded down the stairway with the hoseline and controlled the fire on Floor 2 sufficiently to permit them to exit the building, meeting the crew of Engine 2 who were making their way to Floor 2.

Wilson advised Wenger (instructor with Engine 1) that she needed to get out. She had dropped the nozzle (still operating) and was trying to climb out the window. Wenger tried unsuccessfully to pull her out the window (note the height of the window sill in Figure 2). Wenger asked Wilson if she could help him get her out the window. She replied that she could not and that she was burning up. Wenger lost his grip on Wilson and she fell back into the building. Regaining his grip he pulled her partially out the window again, noticing that her breathing apparatus facepiece was partially displaced. Wenger called for help (shouting as he had no radio). Three members of Truck 3 who were working on the third floor roof dropped down to the second floor roof to assist, but were unable to pull Wilson from the window.

Emergency Vehicle Driver Hiebler (instructor with Engine 2) heard a commotion on Floor 3. He ordered one of his crew to accompany him to Floor 3 with the hoseline and the others to remain in place on Floor 2. Reaching Floor 3, they observed Wilson at the window and Wenger (instructor from Engine 1) working from the second floor roof trying unsuccessfully to pull her out the window. Concerned about the fire on Floor 3, Hiebler instructed the trainee to extinguish the fire while he assisted in getting Wilson out the window.

Wilson was unconscious, pulseless and apnic when she was removed from Floor 3. Her breathing apparatus and protective clothing was removed and cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was initiated while she was on the second floor roof. At the Incident Commander’s direction she was moved up to the third floor roof so that she could be brought down an aerial ladder that had been placed to the roof from Side A. Prior to being brought down from the third floor roof, Wilson was packaged on a backboard and placed in a stokes basket. On reaching the ground advanced life support medical care was initiated and Wilson was transported to the local trauma center where she was pronounced dead. Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice Rachael Wilson died as a result of thermal injuries and asphyxia.

The Aftermath

The initial investigation of this incident was conducted by the Baltimore City Fire Department, Baltimore City Police Department Arson Unit, and United States Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. Subsequently, Mayor Sheila Dixon commissioned an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Rachael Wilson lead by Deputy Chief Chris Shimer of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. This investigation concluded that there were in excess of 50 deviations from accepted practice as defined by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions (2002). In addition, the investigators identified significant issues related to the organizational culture of the Baltimore City Fire Department that resulted in a lack of accountability compliance with accepted safety practices (Shimer, 2007)

The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation cited the Baltimore City Fire Department for 33 safety violations and singled out the fire officers who served as Incident Commander and Safety Officer for the haphazard planning and execution of this live fire training exercise (Linskey, 2007a)

The Baltimore City Fire Department fired Training Division Chief Kenneth Hyde who was the Safety Officer and senior fire officer present at the fatal incident. Citing negligence and incompetence in their roles as Incident Commander (Crest) and supervisor of the rapid intervention team (Broyles) during this incident (Linskey, 2007b) Lieutenants Joseph Crest and Barry Broyles were also terminated.

Following votes of no confidence from the Baltimore City Firefighters and Fire Officers unions and continuing criticism, Fire Chief William Goodwin resigned in November 2007, ten months after the death of Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice Rachael Wilson (Fritze & Reddy, 2007)

Now What?

Rachael Wilson’s death was the result of a complex web of contributing factors. It is easy to say that failure to comply with the provisions of standards and regulations regarding live fire training was the problem. But it is more complex than that. It is essential that we examine our organizational culture and training practices on an ongoing basis and ask hard questions regarding the safety and effectiveness of what we do.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO


Demers Associates. (1982, August) Two die in smoke training drill. Fire Service Today, 17-63.

Fritze, J. & Reddy, S. (2007) City’s fire chief resigns. Retrived June 5, 2008 from

Linsky, A. (2007c) Baltimore fire department cited in cadet’s death. Retrieved June 4, 2008 from

Linsky, A. (2007d) City dismisses two more fire officials. Retrieved June 4, 2008 from

National Fire Protection Association. (1986). Standard on live fire training evolutions in structures. Quincy, MA: Author.

National Fire Protection Association. (2002). Standard on live fire training. Quincy, MA: Author.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2002). Death in the line of duty, F2007-09. Retrieved February 19, 2009 from

Shimer, R. (2007) Independent investigation report: Baltimore city fire department live fire training exercise 145 South Calverton Road February 9, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2009 from

Live Fire Training:
Remember Rachael Wilson

Monday, February 16th, 2009

This is the first of a series of posts that will examine the events and circumstances surrounding the death of a Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice in Baltimore Maryland in 2007. Unfortunately many of the factors involved in this incident are not unique, but are common to many live fire training fatalities that have occurred over more than 25 years.

Last Monday marked the second anniversary of the death of Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice Rachael Wilson. The death of this young mother in Baltimore, Maryland during live fire training on February 9, 2007 raised many questions.


The investigations conducted by the Baltimore City Fire Department, an independent commission appointed by the Mayor of Baltimore (Shimer, 2007), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2008) determined that this training exercise was not conducted in compliance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training in Structures (2002). But does this answer the question of how this happened or why Rachael Wilson died? I contend that lack of compliance with existing standards provides only a partial answer.

Historical Perspective

It is unknown exactly when fire service agencies began the practice of live fire training to develop and maintain skill in interior firefighting operations. However, it is likely that firefighter fatalities have occurred during this type of training activity since its inception

Two Firefighters Die in Fire Training Flashover – On January 26, two firefighters died from burns and smoke inhalation during a search and rescue drill held in a vacant single story building (Demers Associates, 1982, August).

Two Firefighters Die in Fire Training Flashover On July 30, two firefighters died from burns and smoke inhalation during a search and rescue drill held in a vacant single story building (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2003)

At first glance, the only difference between these two incidents is the month and day of occurrence. However, a major difference between these two tragic events is that the first occurred in Boulder, Colorado in 1982 while the second occurred 20 years later in Kissimmee, Florida in 2002. Five years later a similar story is repeated with the death of Firefighter Paramedic Apprentice Rachael Wilson.

This comparison provides a dramatic example of the limited impact that existing live fire training policy has had on the safety of individuals participating in this essential training activity. This observation is not to minimize the important guidance provided by NFPA 1403 (2007), but to point to several limitations in the scope of this standard and examining this critical type of training activity simply from a reactive, rules based approach.

A fire in a structure presents complex and dynamic challenges. Firefighters are faced with the need to protect the lives of the building occupants as well as their own while controlling the fire and protecting the uninvolved areas of the structure and its contents. Structure fires develop quickly requiring decision-making and action under extreme time pressure. These conditions require a high level of situational awareness and decision-making skill that is dependent on recognition of complex patterns of information presented by the fire environment (Klein, 1999; Klein, Orasanu, Calderwood, & Zsambok, 1995).

Firefighters learn their craft through a mix of classroom and hands-on training. A majority of skills training is performed out of context (i.e. no smoke or fire) or in a simulated fire environment (i.e. using non-toxic smoke). However, this alone does not prepare firefighters to operate in the heat and smoke encountered in an actual structure fire nor to develop critical decision-making skills. Developing this type of expertise requires live fire training!

Live fire training presents the same types of hazards encountered during emergency response operations. However, as a planned activity, training requires a higher standard of care to ensure the safety of participants. This is consistent with standard risk management practices in firefighting operations outlined by Chief Alan Brunacini (2002).

  • We will risk our lives a lot, in a calculated manner to save savable lives.
  • We will risk our lives a little, in a calculated manner to save savable property.
  • We will not risk our lives at all for lives or property that are already lost.

This perspective on risk management is commonly accepted throughout the fire service in the United States. Live fire training parallels the second element of the risk management profile: We will risk our lives a little in a calculated manner to develop competence in structural firefighting operations.

NFPA 1403

In 1986, the National Fire Protection Association first published NFPA 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training. This important standard has been updated and revised five times since its inception. Often, revisions reflect the conditions and actions surrounding the deaths of firefighters during live fire training since the last revision.

Detailed review of the latest revision of NFPA 1403 (National Fire Protection Association, 2007) shows little substantive change in areas that potentially have the most impact on firefighter safety. The 2007 edition of this standard prohibits location of fires in designated exit paths (a reasonable idea) and increases emphasis on the responsibility of the instructor-in-charge, stating: “It shall be the responsibility of the instructor-in-charge to coordinate overall acquired structure (or training structure) fireground activities to ensure correct levels of safety.” While this too is a reasonable idea, what exactly is the “correct level of safety” and how is the instructor-in-charge to coordinate this effort?

NFPA 1403 (National Fire Protection Association, 2007) places specific emphasis on addressing unsafe acts and conditions directly connected to accidents that have occurred during live fire training (e.g., removal of low density fiberboard, prohibiting the use of flammable liquids except under specific conditions, prohibiting fires in exit paths and use of live victims). However, it does not explicitly address the primary causal factor influencing traumatic fatalities during live fire training. Most firefighters who die from traumatic injuries during live fire training die as a result of human error, often on the part of the individuals charged with ensuring their safety, the instructors. Reducing the risk of error requires both technical proficiency and competence in leadership, communication, and teamwork (i.e., crew resource management).

Learning from the Past

Unfortunately many firefighters and fire officers have not heard of Firefighters Scott Smith and William Duran (Boulder Fire Department), Lieutenant John Mickel and Firefighter Dallas Begg (Osceola County Fire-Rescue), and Rachael Wilson (Baltimore City Fire Department).

In each of the incidents that resulted in firefighter fatalities during live fire training, those involved did not intend for it to happen. The purpose of live fire training is to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to safely and effectively engage in firefighting operations. Firefighters Scott Smith and William Duran died before the development of national consensus standards on safe practices for live fire training. In other cases the instructors and other participants were unaware of the standard or lacked detailed knowledge of how it should be applied. But in each case where firefighters were caught by rapid fire progress, they did not understand fire behavior and practical fire dynamics.

Subsequent posts will examine the incident in which Rachael Wilson lost her life, the lessons that can be learned from live fire training fatalities, and action steps we can take to reduce the risk to participants while conducting realistic and effective live fire training.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO


Brunacini, A. (2002). Fire command (2nd ed.). Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association.

Demers Associates. (1982, August) Two die in smoke training drill. Fire Service Today, 17-63.

Klein, G. A. (1999). Sources of power. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Klein, G. A., Orasanu, J., Calderwood, R., & Zsambok, C., E. (Eds.). (1995). Decision making in action: Models and methods. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

National Fire Protection Association. (2002). Standard on live fire training. Quincy, MA: Author.

National Fire Protection Association. (2007). Standard on live fire training. Quincy, MA: Author.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2003). Death in the line of duty (Report Number F2002-34). Retrieved February 16, 2009, from

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2008). Death in the line of duty (Report Number F2007-09). Retrieved February 16, 2009, from

Shimer, R. (2007) Independent investigation report: Baltimore city fire department live fire training exercise 145 South Calverton Road February 9, 2007. Baltimore, MD: City of Baltimore.