Monday, May 2, 2011

Setting You Up For Failure

This week I'm attending the FIERO Fire PPE Symposium being held in Charlotte, thanks to my IAFF Local.  It's a 3 day affair that brings some of the latest technology in firefighter safety as well as various speakers from around the nation, both in the public and private sector.  I'm sure this in-depth symposium will provide me many opportunities to not only learn some cutting edge things, but also bring what I gain to you.

With that being said, one of the speakers brought up a good point that I can't shake from my mind, therefore I'm expelling it through blog.  In many places around the nation there are concrete burn buildings designed to be utilized by fire departments to train their members in the various tasks that firemen will be called to do.  The great thing about them is that they can be charged with smoke and burned thousands of times over without subjecting the students to danger of a hostile fire event such as a flashover or a backdraft.  This is good.  The problem comes with some instructors and how they direct the nozzleman to apply water to the fire during a fire attack.  With burn buildings that utilize Class A materials for the fuel (wooden pallets and straw) in the sets it is a general practice, at least from my experience, to direct the nozzleman to simply black the fire out and back the line out of the room.  This is bad.

I've been a live burn instructor for several years now.  The community college I teach for has one of the largest burn buildings in the nation.  I've seen hundreds of firefighters direct a nozzle on a burning set.  I've told almost every one of them to black the fire out and back the line out of the room.  I won't tell a new firefighter that anymore.

Here's why I've done it (along with many others):  When you have a large number of students and every one gets time on the nozzle, it's a pain in the butt to restart a soaking wet set.  It's easier to have them black the fire out with a few short blasts of water and then let it kick back up after the line exits the fire room.  I've done it because I was lazy, short on time, in a hurry to make sure all the students got their time on the nozzle, and dozens of other bullcrap excuses.

Here's why I won't do it again:  For me as an instructor to tell you to do something in training that will get you killed in a real scenario makes me not only a hypocrite, it makes me an ineffective instructor.  It goes against everything I believe in.  If I tell a rookie to put a few gallons of water on a fire in a controlled building that WILL NOT rapidly progress across a ceiling, rollover, and build to flashover, the I have set him/her up for failure on a true fire attack in an uncontrolled structure where the fire WILL rapidly progress across the ceiling, rollover, and build to flashover.  If I tell a rookie to black out a fire and back out because I'm being lazy, have I truly trained him/her?

It's not like what was said today was news to me.  I've done it numerous times, and even though I've spent time telling students in the critique, "In the real world, flow the nozzle until the fire is out, but for the purposes of this training we instructed you to black the fire down."  I can't sit here and write posts and say things like "Train until you can't get it wrong," but then train people to do things the wrong way.  That makes my credibility rating a big fat zero and I can't have that.  Whew, I feel better.


  1. So what is the balancing point when you are strapped for time? Do you make sure every student gets a chance on the nozzle or do teach it through and through to only those that you can get to?

    I wonder because I was taught, darken it and move out. Would I have learned more by maybe being 2nd on the line and see it being done completely? I have no clue...just thoughts running through my head.

  2. Leo, you make an excellent point and I'm working on the solution. Perhaps a smaller number of students could greatly impact the nozzle time, but that's a subject for another day. I'll let you know next week how I do it, I've got 3 scheduled burns so I'm gonna try a different approach. Thanks for reading!

  3. I agree that instructors are strapped for time. The instructor and the student need to realize that students are not going to learn everything at one time. The student should place him/her self in a position the next training evolution in a position to learn from a different perspective such as positons on an attack line and attend different training to provide that different aspect as much as possible. As a student place yourself in positions that you have never been in or in places that may challenge you also attend training as much as possible until you feel that you have the correct understanding of a function. As the instructor realize that you can offer only so much and the student has to take that extra step to get the "FULL EXPERIENCE".

  4. The post mainly pertained to FFI Certification training, but William brings up a good point. While I am bound by parameters set for me by the state I teach for when it comes to practical application of skills taught in a certification class, when it comes to non-certification training burns I have the luxury limiting the amount of runs so that only a few get nozzle time. When it comes to certification training, every student must operate the nozzle and backup position, however that does not have to be performed under live fire conditions, it can be done on the training grounds outside of the building, or in the building with no live fire. I totally agree with the point that it's up to the student to seek out as much training as possible to gain the full experience, so it might take multiple sessions for a person to get a sufficient amount of time on the pipe to understand that job function. When you think about it, the last fire you went to, I'm sure the IC didn't make sure everyone got a shot at the nozzle! Great post, thanks for the comment.

  5. First off right on brother,

    One thing you may consider and this is something we did in my training was use an adjustable gallanage nozzle and set it to the lowest setting. This will allow for more realism as the fire will not go right out.

    As for how to save time during the burns, good luck on that, my advice is to double the amount of burns, or split your class in half on burn days to ensure the students get optimum nozzle time.

    Great site man and great work.

  6. Robby O, I like the idea of selecting a lower flow for the nozzle. As far as splitting the class, most of our cert classes have between 30 to 50 students in them. While we have ample room in the building to run multiple scenarios simultaneously, it's tough for a lead instructor to get enough time with each student to give them everything they need when they are spread out in multiple stations, but class sizes are a problem that's above my pay grade. Thanks for the feedback guys, I'm loving it.