High-Tech Training Tools for Firefighters

Chief training officers with any degree of awareness cannot ignore the writings of groups such as Compartment Fire Behavior Training (CFTB-US), UL, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the NYU-Poly Fire Research Group. These organizations, and many others, are offering some of the best online training for tactics for modern fires. These resources feature quick links to videos and are complemented with questions and testing to help ensure that the knowledge is entrenched and retained in viewers. Further, the programs are designed to meet the needs of both career and volunteer firefighters.

There’s no doubt we live in a technology-driven era. Fire research and the resulting recommendations are addressing the dramatic changes in tactics that have been driven by the building and construction industries. As chief commanders, instructors and training officers, we need to review our current curriculums and update our skill drills and our quality indicators (the criteria instructors use to measure and ensure a skill drill is done properly). We need to work with other officers to ensure that our standard operating procedures (SOPs) match the recommended tactics and direct the tasks that produce the safest, most effective outcomes.

Instituting the knowledge and implementing the recommendations from recent research does not mean abandoning what we know. Progressive instructors will use the technologies and recommendations to expand and enhance existing skills. As Steve Kerber from UL often states in his lectures, “As a whole, the fire service knows very well how to ventilate, but we do not know the what, where, when and why.” Fortunately, online training resources offer training officers the opportunity to present the “what, where, when and why” to their company officers and grassroots firefighters.

For those who have reviewed the recent reports from the UL ventilation studies, the most overt take-home message is this: Everything we do on the fireground has an impact on the flow path. While the phenomenon itself is nothing new, our level of knowledge about it certainly is. The synergistic effect of modern construction with a modern fuel load often leads to very dramatic and hostile fire dynamics. Air movement has always been one of the more abstract elements of the fireground. We rarely notice or detect changes in pressurization and interior air currents, or the impact of air movement, until we see or physically feel the result of the changes. Visual changes in smoke characteristics (volume, velocity, density, color) or a rapid rise in temperature felt through our protective fire gear signal the impending consequence of hostile conditions.

Fireground commanders with instilled wisdom or firefighters reacting on “gut instinct” may predict and react swiftly to dramatic changes and prevent a tragedy. But the changes can be rapid, volatile and deadly, especially to inexperienced or distracted commanders and firefighters. A moment’s missed action due to a change in smoke conditions or a change in temperature may lead to firefighters being caught in a flashover or a global collapse of the structure.

P.J. Norwood, the training officer and deputy chief at East Haven (Conn.) Fire Department, sees the new research as supporting tactics we already know, but tactics we rarely incorporate into our standard fireground strategies. “We all know and teach VES, but how many of us actually have it in our SOPs or consider it as a regular tactic?” he asks. More recent literature accentuates VES with isolation (VEIS) and closing the door, but this has always been a part of VES. “Recent research brings to light the added importance of isolation,” he adds.

While we often hear the phrase another “tool in the toolbox,” we need to realize that the fire service has a lot of tools—blitz attack, VEIS, foam and CAFS, to name a few. But like most craftsmen, we only use the tools we prefer. We have skills and tactics with which we are most comfortable and therefore use routinely. We utilize these skills because they have served us well in the past, but does that ensure they will serve us well in the modern fire environment? Again, the available online training can provide a fundamental foundation that allows your training officers to complement modern training technologies with field-based, hands-on training activities.

As a chief training officer, ask yourself, “Are there tactics we have that we’re not using due to skill level or comfort? Can we bring them to the forefront? Practice them? And see how they work to complement the new research?” Tools and skills that sit idle may fail to serve us when we need them. Rarely do we reach for every tool equally. But the new research suggests those “tools at the back of our toolbox” might merit the grasp, the perfecting of advanced techniques, and their incorporation into our SOPs

One indisputable fact is that the research from NIST, UL and many others is driven 100% by questions from fire departments, fireground commanders and firefighters who have an insatiable appetite for answers about the what, where, when and why related to their fallen brothers and sisters. The research was designed and conducted by firefighters for firefighters. Furthermore, these years of research were funded, and continue to be funded, in part by the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, along with support from administrators at UL and NIST who believe in their staff.

Whether old school, new school or no school, as a chief training officer, make it your duty to bring attention to the new training opportunities. Bring that attention with honor and gratitude and on behalf of those who brought us answers when firefighters asked the questions “why?”

Suggested Links
Polytechnic Institute of NYU

Underwriters Laboratory, Research and Training information

Compartment Fire Behavior Training, resource pages

County of Los Angeles, Training Service Section

National Institute of Standards and Technology