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the use of the structure. Through this process, a house could be used
for multiple burns over several days, providing realistic fires and experiences for the students.
Most of these lessons are now attempted in either a class A or B
burn building along with a PowerPoint® presentation—or not at all.
While there is certainly value in these types of training buildings,
they do not create realistic conditions and can’t adequately serve as
a replacement or substitute for acquired structure live fire training.
Good instructors explain differences, but the actual tactics and acts of
the student register and resurface in our recognition primed decision
making minds. I have seen it 1,000 times. The water flow needed
to knock out the pallet fire in the corner consists of about a three to
four second flow followed by a loud, “OK, OK, shut it off. Don’t put
my fire out!” from the instructor who worked hard to get that bed of
coals for easy reload and reignition. Unfortunately, the student leaves
with that experience and then applies the same three to four seconds
of water on real fire in a real structure and it doesn’t work. The crew
gets stuck in the hallway calling for ventilation because it’s getting
“hot in here.” Meanwhile, a good 30 to 40 seconds of flow would
probably cool the environment and, dare I say, put the fire out.
LEARNING TO WALK
Is the lack of acquired structure training related to the spike in
injuries, deaths, and close calls over the past two decades? Does the
buzz about fire research and “new” discoveries come from the lack
of fire behavior training once gained in acquired structure training?
Does the military stop using live fire rounds in training after a training accident that resulted in a death or an injury of a trainee? No.
Are pilots allowed to fly passengers without ever flying a real plane?
No. Are surgeons allowed to operate on live patients without first
performing procedures on cadavers? No. Are firefighters allowed to
respond to and attack fires in structures without ever doing so in a
real structure? Yes.
I encourage all fire service leaders to identify or develop competent
acquired structure live fire instructors, find areas where you can take
advantage of acquired structure burns (even if it’s outside your
response area), and send as many of your members to this training as
often as you can. Some will say it is too risky, but they have no
problem sending the same individuals to real uncontrolled fires
without the experience they need to be competent and confident in
their abilities. I can’t guarantee that it won’t be without an injury here
or there, whether it be a sprain, break, or burn, but the risk is worth
it. Without our parents accepting the risk vs. benefit and understanding the extreme value in realistic learning, I guess we would never
have learned to walk. The little falls along the way were well worth it,
and eventually it made us capable of running, riding bikes, and a host
of other activities that were much riskier but reasonably managed by
the skills and lessons learned in the journey to walk.
David Rhodes is a 31-year fire service veteran. He is a chief elder for the Georgia
Smoke Diver Program, a member of the Fire Department Instructors Conference
(FDIC) International Executive Advisory Board, a hands-on training coordinator for
FDIC, an editorial advisor for Fire Engineering and the UL Fire Safety Research Institute, and an adjunct instructor for the Georgia Fire Academy. He is a Type III incident
commander for the Georgia Emergency Management-Metro Atlanta All Hazards
Incident Management Team and is a task force leader for the Georgia Search and
Rescue Team. He is president of Rhodes Consultants, Inc., which provides public
safety training, consulting, and promotional assessment centers.