26 May 2022


Firefighter Live Iteration Training Evolution

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Research Paper

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Many firefighters have been injured and some have lost their lives during live-training related activities. The high-risk, but necessary live-fire training is responsible for most of the injuries. Though there are standards to guide live-fire training, the standards do not have much information about the specific thermal environment encountered during training. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been making steps towards understanding the problem of live-fire training in an effort to set better standards. NIST studied 28 live-fire training evolutions conducted in seven different scenarios and concluded that mild thermal environment has a temperature range of 50C to 75C and heat fluxes around 1Kw/m2, whereas a severe thermal environment has a temperature range of 150C to 225C and heat fluxes of 3-6 Kw/m2. Despite the risks, live fire training is necessary. This research paper explores the live-fire iteration training and safety procedures to show how live-fire training accidents can be minimized. The paper will also address the challenges of live fire-training, particularly injuries and death through an analysis of a live fire-training incident that led to the death of a lieutenant and a career firefighter.


Firefighter training equips firefighters with skills to deal with fire, and sometimes non-fire related incidents. The nature of a firefighter job is very challenging, hence the need for rigorous training. However, the training itself exposes firefighters to injuries too. Another set of statistics by Edwards (2014) reported that between 1977 and 2010, there were 291 deaths during training. The number reduced to 108 deaths between 2001 and 2010 (Edwards, 2014). Seven firefighters in the U.S. lost their lives in live-fire training evolutions in 2000 and several others were injured (Madrzykowski, 2007). In 2013, over 7,500 firefighters were injured in training activities, especially in the high risk live-fire training. The live-fire training situation can be difficult to manage because firefighters sometimes find themselves in a thermal environment that they are not prepared for.

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It is worth noting that the number of injuries and deaths from live-fire training has reduced drastically in the recent years due to better training and safety procedures.

Acquired structure incident 

An article by the CDC (2003) gives a detailed description of the live-fire training incident where a lieutenant and a career firefighter lost their lives. On July 30, 2002, a male career Lieutenant and a 20-year old male career fire fighter lost their lives while engaging in a live-fire training evolution (CDC, 2003). During the live-fire evolution, a flashover occurred a few minutes after the fire had been lit in the structure while the two participants were in the process of performing a simulated search and rescue. The lieutenant and the fire fighter were badly injured, and were pronounced dead upon arriving at a local hospital.

The incident was investigated by three officers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Officers and the fire fighters in the incident were interviewed, and the department’s standard operating guidelines were also reviewed. Pictures, training records and reports from the state’s Fire Marshal’s Office were also used to create a comprehensive report on the incident. The report entailed a detailed description of the officers’ training, personal protective equipment, structure, fuel, weather and fire analysis of the live-fire incident (CDC, 2003).

Both victims had completed the necessary hours of training as required by NFPA and the state fire department. During the live-fire evolution incident, they were also wearing a full array of protective personal equipment. The structure used for the live-fire training was a vacant single-family, single-story, ordinary blocked building with a pitched-style roof (CDC, 2003). The building had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. The garage had been converted to a bedroom several years ago, and it was used as the burn room during the live-fire training. The victims were found in the burn room. The fuel used to generate fire consisted of five wooden pallets, a bale of straw and a twin-size urethane foam mattress. The weather conditions did not appear to be a factor in the incident as the wind was calm, and the air temperature was between 84 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit (CDC, 2002).

Most factors that are known to cause injuries during live-fire evolution training were analyzed and most of them checked off. The cause of death was found to be smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. The investigation team reported various probable causes of the fire accident. The first probable cause was the fuel used in the live-fire training. Different types of fuel have different burning characteristics depending on the quantity used. The quantity used should be the minimum necessary to generate controllable fire condition. The chapter 4 of NFPA 103 gives a detailed description of the different types of fuels to be used, and the need to control the quantity to avoid flashover. Materials in the burn room that can add to the fire must also be removed to avoid creation of uncontrollable situations. In the fire incident, there was a carpet, foam padding, hollow core wood doors and the mattress that added the fuel load and catalyzed the speed of fire development (CDC, 2003).

The source of fuel played an important role in the creation of the flashover, but there are other factors to be considered (Madrzykowski, 2007). The lives of the search and rescue (SAR) team in the live-fire evolution could have been saved if ventilation efforts were properly coordinated with the interior operations. In Chapter 10 of the NFPA 103, ventilation efforts must be properly coordinated with the rate of fire development. Ventilation improves the fire environment so that the SAR team can perform its duties. Buildings with proper ventilation must also be used for live-fire evolutions. Another probable cause is the location of designated path in the live-fire evolution structure. Exit paths should be free from obstructions, and fire should not be located in areas next to the exit paths. In the live-fire incident, the closet was right next to the only doorway out of the room, and as the fire increased, the SAR team was trapped as there was no way out of the burn room (CDC, 2003).

Effects of the Incident 

The most obvious consequence of the incident is the loss of two lives. According to Patel et al. (2006) fire occurs when combustible materials are combined with oxygen to release heat. The heat released during a fire incident can be hot, dry or moist, depending on the cause of the fire and the environment. The combination of hot air, radiant heat and endogenous hear produced by the body lead to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can be made worse by the restrictive protective gear; they impede body temperature control mechanism leading to thermal stress. Inhalation of toxic gas produced during the combustion was reported as another cause of death.

The incident also showed that even the most qualified firefighters are vulnerable to injuries in the line of duty even in a controlled room. This is a negative effect to the department, as it had to reassess its training, standard operating guidelines (SOG) and other factors that could have played a role in the escalation of the incident. Both victims were trained firefighters with a good track record. The lieutenant had attained the minimum NFPA Firefighter Level 1 and II (480 hours) certification, and also had the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) 1 certification. The lieutenant also had 40 hours of refresher training throughout his career. The career firefighter also had met the state’s fire department requirements, and had completed two tours of duty before the incident. The lieutenant instructed the career firefighter throughout the live-fire evolution, until the time they could not get out of the burn room.

Lastly, the incident could be interpreted as a sign of weakness with the institution’s standard operating guidelines and other relevant departments. The SAR team was trapped in the burn room because of the flashover and the fact that the ventilation team was not in a position to offer support. Evidently, the safety procedures available cannot cover everything, and sometimes disastrous accidents can occur even with skilled firefighters in a controlled environment. The live-fire training exercise followed almost every aspect of NFPA 1403 standards, and yet the accident occurred. Utmost caution must be exercised during live-fire training evolution. NFPA standards must be applied to the unique structure well to avoid out of control situations.

NFPA 1403 Standards 

The risk of injuries and death during live training has existed since the beginning of fire-fighting. However, the injuries and deaths from fires have been decreasing over the years due to better firefighting standards and technology. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Committee on Fire Service Training developed NFPA 1403 after the deaths of two firefighters during a live-fire training incident in 1982 (Madrzykowski, 2007). The purpose of NFPA 1403 is, “to provide a process for conducting live fire training evolutions to ensure that they are conducted in safe facilities and that the exposure to health and safety hazards for the fire fighters receiving training is minimized” ((NFPA 1403, Chapter 1).

NFPA 1403 standards acknowledge the fact that live-fire training is necessary for effective firefighter training. But it also provides the framework to train, guide and supervise instructors, training officers, chief officers and even the firefighters involved in the live-fire evolution exercise. In the past, students learning to become firefighters have died or some have been severely injured during live-fire training exercises because poor training and the need to make training drills appear ‘real’. Hence, NFPA 1403 standards were created to guide training instructors in maintaining the right level of professionalism that should be accorded to the dangerous live-fire evolution exercise (Cline, 2010).

NFPA1403 also ensures that the live-fire training exercise is safe and objective driven. NFPA 1403 is made up of nine chapters covering various aspects of the live-fire training exercise to provide the minimum requirements for live-fire conditions. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) has the ability to make more stringent rules, and this is encouraged because NFPA 1403 provides the minimum requirements only.

The Importance of live iteration training and the safety procedures that are required to mitigate risk 

NFPA 1403 and other safety procedures provide the framework for conducting safe live-fire training to avoid injuries and deaths. Live-fire training is risky, and without the proper standards and procedures, firefighters might apply personal knowledge that often leads to injuries. There are many other factors that can lead to injuries in live-fire training, for instance, lack of compliance with standards, poorly prepared instructors and poor structures. NFPA 1403 covers all the basis through its provisions to ensure that live-fire training is conducted in the safest way possible. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH, 2005) report, NFPA 1403 has tremendously reduced the risk of injuries and deaths. Before the creation of NFPA 1403, fatalities during live-fire exercises were quite common. In the acquired structure accident described earlier, two people died in the live-fire exercise because NFPA 1403 standards were not well customized to fit the situation. NFPA 1403 provides the minimum requirements, but it is the duty of the training officers to come up with better procedures to support the NFPA 1403 standards.

The safety standards also provide the necessary procedures for carrying out a live-fire evolution exercise. Live-fire exercise is dangerous, and the right procedure must be followed to maintain safety and ensure that trainees learn something from the exercise (Thornton & Wright, 2012). Before the exercise, the training officer must carry out a thorough site set-up. The site set-up is conducted to ensure that the structure is safe for live-fire training. The site set-up will also help the training officer and the different teams to conduct pre-burn planning, building preparation and standard operating procedures for the live-fire exercise. In the acquired structure incident described, the instructor in charge and other participants walked through the structure as the instructor gave the participants a preburn briefing (CDC, 2003). The instructor talked about the ingress and egress routes, the mannequin dressed in a fire fighter gear that would act as the simulated rescue victim, and the place where the live-fire would be built. The participants had a clear description of the structure before the exercise as per the guidelines to help them react accordingly during the live-fire drill.

Aside from providing the step to step guide for live-fire training, the safety procedures also help firefighters to be aware of the environmental hazards that they will come across in firefighting (Hancock et al., 2007). Firefighting environments are unique, whether it is a residential or a commercial structure. In residential environments, there is furniture, TV and other household appliances that can prevent firefighters from doing their work, cause the fire to spread faster or even cause physical harm to firefighters. In a live-fire evolution training, dealing with the hazards is part of the drill, but a preburn brief gives the firemen an idea of where these hazards are located. According to NIOSH (2005) a thorough site set up is not just about surveying the structure; instead the instructor must inspect the site for possible environmental hazards that could be harmful in the live-fire exercise. After a thorough analysis of the site, instructors are advised not to start fire near an exit area. This is the biggest mistake the lead to the death of the two firemen in the incident. While the firemen did not consider the fact that the fuel load used will generate a flashover, they made the fatal mistake of starting the fire in a closet right next to the door (CDC, 2003). Firefighters must be on the look out for the exit point as they try to extinguish fire and save victims, otherwise, they will become victims of the fire too.

Lastly, the live iteration training and safety procedures are necessary to provide firefighters with the most realistic and hands-on training (Willi et al., 2015). Firefighters go into a burning building to rescue victims and to extinguish the fire, without live-fire training, firefighters will not have the courage and skills to do their job. According to Fisher (2015) NFPA standards were created to provide firefighters with training in a realistic and controlled environment. NFPA safety procedures cover various aspects of live-fire training; the standard has a wide scope to cover all important details concerning live-fire incidences. It addresses all live-fire training evolutions from acquiring structures, type of fuel to exterior props (NFPA 1403).

Recommendations and Conclusion 

Live-fire training is deemed a necessary evil for firemen. Without live-fire training exercises, firefighters will only have theoretical knowledge, and this will not be enough to help them survive the challenges of their job. The acquired structure incident described in the research paper shows the effects of poor preburn planning and failure to follow safety standards religiously.

Compliance with NFPA, NIOSH and the state fire department regulations for live-fire training is necessary. Instructors in charge should not comply with certain rules and neglect others as they can have a negative impact on the outcome of the training exercise. For instance, in the live-fire incident that led to the deaths of a lieutenant and a career firefighter, most aspects of NFPA 1403 were followed, and yet the few steps that were missed drastically changed the course of the exercise. The burning characteristic of the fuel used in the live-fire incident was not taken into account, as well as the location of the fire. These factors are provided for in NFPA 1403 and NIOSH safety procedures, and total compliance of the standards would have led to a better outcome.

NFPA and other safety organizations are constantly revising the standards to deal with emerging risks. According to the CDC (2003), there is a need to adopt latest technology in live-fire training. Latest technology like PPE cameras and portable radios coated with fire-resistant materials are necessary to allow continuous communication during live-fire exercised. Thermal imaging cameras can assist firefighters to see through the blinding smoke and find their way out of a dangerous situation. Such cameras are equipped with wireless transmitters so that the instructor in charge and other participants can observe the entire process, and offer help if need be.

Apart from technology use, standard operating guidelines (SOGs) must take into consideration all the aspects of the facility, fuel, water supply and firefighter operation. Robust SOGs that take into considerations all the risks must be created, and the participants must be properly trained.

In conclusion, live-fire evolution training is a risky but a necessary exercise. The risk of a firefighter being trapped and the risk of a flashover are always present, thus NFPA, NIOSH and departmental safety procedures were created to minimize risk. The safety procedures are wide in scope, and they can be easily implemented with the right personnel and resources in place. Since the creation of NFPA 1403, deaths from live-fire evolution training were reduced by half. However, further research should be conducted on the role of fuel in live-fire training and real fire incidences to help firefighters cope with the precarious fire situations.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2003). Death in the Line of Duty: A summary of a NIOSH fire fighter fatality investigation. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200234.html 

Cline, D. (2010, May 12). Live Fire Training and NFPA 1403. Firehouse. Retrieved from: http://www.firehouse.com/blog/10459814/live-fire-training-and-nfpa-1403 

Edwards, S. (2014). Conducting Safe Live Fire Training Evolutions. Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute: University of Maryland.

Fisher, G. (2015, March 15). Live Fire Training - Conducting NFPA 1403-Compliant Live Burn Training in Acquired Structures. Fire Engineering. Retrieved from: http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/print/volume-168/issue- 3/features/conducting-nfpa-1403-compliant-live-burn-training-in-acquired- structures-p1.html 

Hancock, P. A., Ross, J.M., & Szalma, J.L. (2007) A meta-analysis of performance response under thermal stressors. Human Factors, 49 , 851-877.

Madrzykowski, D. (2007). Fatal training fires: fire analysis for the Fire Service . National Institute of Standards and Technology, Building and Fire Research Laboratory.

NFPA [2002a]. NFPA 1403, standard on live fire training evolutions. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association.

Patel, H. C., Rao, N. M., & Saha, A. (2006). Heat exposure effects among firefighters. Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine , 10 (3), 121.

Thornton, R.P. & Wright, L.J. (2012 ). Proceedings of Bushfire CRC & AFAC 2012 

Conference Research Forum. Perth Australia, Bushfire CRC.

Willi, J. M., Horn, G. P., & Madrzykowski, D. (2015). Characterizing a Firefighter’s Immediate Thermal Environment in Live-Fire Training Scenarios. Fire Technology , 52 (6), 1667-1696.

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