By Author(s): Keith Padgett 
Published Saturday, May 19, 2012
When was the last time you were at a working structure fire? When was the last time you wore all of your bunker gear, including your SCBA? When was the last time you responded to a fire with more than 50% involvement? When was the last time you worked the nozzle?
Walk into any firehouse and ask the firefighters those four questions, and you’ll quickly see that they may not respond to a lot of structure fires, especially those requiring interior attack. But without experience, how do you hone your skills? The answer is training—in particular, live-fire training in acquired structures
Acquired Structure Training Basics
An acquired structure is a building that has been donated by the property owner for the purpose of conducting live-fire training evolutions. Unlike a “burn building,” which is specifically designed for live-fire training evolutions on a repetitive basis, an acquired structure offers a unique training experience that cannot be replicated; this is why we use them when the opportunity presents itself.
Acquired structure training is the most dangerous form of live-fire training and, as such, we must take extreme precautionary measures to ensure the safety of everyone involved. These precautions are covered extensively in NFPA 1403: Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions.
One of the most important items is to ensure that all firefighters involved in the live-fire evolutions meet the training requirements of Fire Fighter I, which addresses topics such as safety, fire behavior, portable extinguishers, personal protective equipment, ladders, fire hose, overhaul, water supply, ventilation and forcible entry.
Once it is established that all fire personnel involved have the required minimum training, the structure must be prepared for live-fire evolutions.
Paperwork: Ensure that all permits and permissions have been secured from all environmental agencies and the property owner. Ownership of the property should be determined by the department and confirmed through tax records. NFPA 1403 states that “a signed statement by the property owner of insurance cancellation should be obtained prior to the acceptance of the property.”
Property Walkthrough: Take time to meet with the owner a few days before the evolution. Walk throughout the structure’s interior and around the exterior, discussing exactly what will happen during the training, how it will be conducted and the desired outcomes. This not only builds a solid relationship but also clarifies the expectations of both the property owner and the fire department.
Hazardous Materials: This structure will become your training ground for at least one day and maybe more. As such, it should remain safe and clear of all debris that may cause unsafe conditions. Any hazardous materials should be removed, and all utilities should be disconnected and secured. Asbestos is common in many older houses, and should be removed by a professional recovery company, which will provide an “asbestos-free” letter on the property.
Pre-burn Briefing: Conducting a pre-burn briefing allows all firefighters involved to view the layout of the acquired structure. In this session, all exits should also be identified. One easy way to accomplish this: During the walkthrough, use a fluorescent orange spray paint to identify exits at the floor level. These exits should be marked with arrows pointing out of the building.
Water Flow: The instructor in charge will determine the required water flow. Separate water sources should be used to supply fire attack and back-up lines. The minimum fire flow requirements are specified in NFPA 1403. For additional information about flow requirements, see NFPA 1142: Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Firefighting.
Fuel Materials: The instructor must identify and clear any fuel material introduced for the training, and no flammable or combustible liquids should be introduced into the structure at any point during the evolutions. Further, fuel loads should be kept to the minimum to avoid any uncontrolled fire problems, such as a flashover or backdraft.
Safety Officer: NFPA 1403 states that “a designated safety officer shall be established in every live-fire training evolution. This safety officer shall have the authority to stop any unsafe acts at any point during the training.” The safety officer should be very familiar with fire behavior and building construction so that they can identify any structural integrity issues or unforeseen fire control concerns. They should also establish solid fireground communications to ensure that the incident commander remains aware of all the events, both interior and exterior.
Search and Rescue: When conducting search and rescue operations, do not use an actual person as the “victim”; only use manikins or homemade hose dummies.
One-Fire Training: There should never be a two-room fire attack scenario in an acquired structure. In other words, there should only be one fire in the structure at a time. For example, if you are working in a two-story structure, never start a fire on the first floor and another fire on the second floor.
Acquired structure live-fire training is integral to the fire service. It provides a great learning environment for all levels of experience. However, it does come with inherent risks, so those in charge must take responsibility for ensuring the safety of everyone involved.
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