How to eliminate LODDs in fire service training

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By Sarah Calams
FireRescue1 and Fire Chief Staff

The International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Volunteer Fire Council met Monday to take a close look at how to keep firefighters safe during training drills.

This year’s International Fire and EMS Safety and Health Week theme is “train like you fight.” Fire departments are encouraged to focus on safety, health training and education during the week of June 15-21.

An IAFC webinar presented by Allan Rice, of the Alabama Fire College and Personnel Standards Commission, and Assistant Fire Chief Jeffrey Segal, with the Baltimore City Fire Department, focused on how to eliminate line-of-duty deaths and the lessons learned from past incidents to prevent them from happening in the future.

“We have to be very careful that we step people in from the shallow end and that we walk them into the deep end through a series of planned evolutions,” Rice said. “We have to avoid the temptation to throw people into the deep end to find out if they know how to swim.”

The North American Fire Training Directors’ presented these 10 rules of engagement for safe fire service training.

  • Rule 1: Have a clear purpose for the training exercise and use a training plan with defined outcomes and learning objectives. Review the plan with all participants before training beings.
  • Rule 2: Establish and maintain a clear chain of command during training. Designate a training incident commander/lead instructor. Don’t let participants pull rank and compromise safety.
  • Rule 3: Never allow freelancing during training. Require the use of staging and accountability systems.
  • Rule 4: Use only qualified instructors who possess both certification and experience in the subject they’re teaching.
  • Rule 5: Adhere to all national, state and local standards for conducting training.
  • Rule 6: Only conduct training under acceptable conditions. Don’t place participants in a realistic environment before they’re ready for it. Never use live victims during high-risk training.
  • Rule 7: Use all possible safety precautions during training, even if they exceed what’s possible during an actual emergency event. Never simulate a safety factor.
  • Rule 8: Require all participants to be medically cleared before they participate in strenuous training. Enforce appropriate rehabilitation and monitoring during and after training.
  • Rule 9: Make sure the training is appropriate for the skill level of all participants and that they know what’s expected of them.
  • Rule 10: Allow all participants to stop — without penalty — if they don’t understand their assignment or if they sense something unsafe during training. Stop, talk and decide on a safer approach. Everyone is a safety officer.

Real world example

Baltimore Fire Chief Jeffrey Segal presented a line-of-duty death report involving the case of 29-year-old firefighter recruit Racheal Wilson, who died during a live-fire training exercise.

“A line of duty death is preventable and unacceptable,” Chief Segal said. “We want to emphasize the lessons learned and that it doesn’t matter what size your department is. It can happen to you, and happened to us, if you’re not following training protocol.”

On Feb. 9, 2007 the Baltimore Fire Department was conducting a live-burn exercise with two engine teams. Engine 1, a four-person team, was led by an adjunct professor who was not certified. The first team was to make an initial attack into the building, past a fire on a second floor and extinguish a fire on the third floor.

Simultaneously, Engine 2 came through and attacked the fire on the second floor. However, the instructors responsible for this live burn set multiple fires — including a fire on the first floor that delayed the Engine 2 crew to meet the first engine crew.

“That delay, where all the fires started burning out of control, made a number of things go wrong,” Chief Segal said. “There was no communication, there was too much debris on all of the floors and there were just a lot of mistakes done on this incident. And, unfortunately, the mistakes were done by people we trusted.”

Lessons learned

The biggest and most important lesson learned as a result of firefighter recruit Wilson’s line-of-duty death was for the department to follow the proper standards and guidelines.

The Baltimore City Fire Department implemented the following after the line-of-duty death:

  • No longer train in acquired structures.
  • Have a paramedic on scene at all training exercises.
  • Ensure a committed, well-trained, and certified staff.
  • Maintain a culture mindset of safety.
  • Use a safety officer on every live burn.
  • Have an emergency services instructor supervisor.

“What we found was, we had a number of instructors and crew leaders without instructor training,” Robert McMillen, Emergency Services Instructor Supervisor with the Baltimore City Fire Department, said. “When things went bad, they reacted the way they would with a seasoned crew. When you’re dealing with recruits, they’re not going to react the same way.”

McMillen said that there were no back-up lines or red teams in place, there were multiple out-of-control fires and the instructors on-scene were not properly certified.

“We are now very cautious every step of the way,” Chief Segal said. “That way, we’re taking care of our recruits and making sure there are no more line-of-duty deaths. We’re also making sure that we don’t allow the recruits to put themselves in a bad situation as well.”

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