As a live fire training instructor, I get asked many times, which roles are nice to have, and which roles should be required as well as what training should these individuals have in their respective roles. Whether you are limited on staffing, training space, or time, it is important to understand which roles must be in place according to NFPA 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions. This article will breakdown the minimum positions that must be in place and provide a better understanding of their roles and qualifications.
There are many factors that influence the decision on the size of a burn cadre needed for live burns, and many training scenarios or objectives that may require the use of live fire. First, we must determine what these training objectives are. Some examples of targeted training scenarios include fire behavior or flashover recognition, vent over fire, VEIS, hose/nozzle management and techniques, or fire control, just to name a few. We also need to consider the various levels of complexity based on our audience: Is the training for a local college academy, recruit school, in-service training, or testing new equipment? Whichever matches your scenario, the right players must be in place for safe and effective training.
One of the most critical roles during live fire evolutions is the role of the safety officer, who shall be designated by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). The safety officer must be assigned for all training evolutions, regardless of the fuel package you are burning when students are entering an IDLH. The safety officer’s primary responsibility is to prevent and/or eliminate any unsafe acts or conditions. Therefore, they shall not be assigned any other duties that would distract them from monitoring the safety of the participants. Should the training evolution be complex, or when operating in multiple areas, the safety officer can designate an assistant that can carry out the duties of the safety officer. The assistant safety officer must be able to react quickly and be in direct communications with the designated safety officer. Although the safety officer can be any rank, they must have the ability to recognize and intervene if any unsafe situations arise. The safety officer must be trained on all aspects of the live fire simulator or structure and be familiar with the operation, all the safety features and shutoffs, and any evacuation alarms. The safety officer must be in direct communication with the instructor-in-charge and the ignition officer.
The instructor-in-charge (IIC) shall meet the minimum job requirements outlined for Fire Instructor II in NFPA 1041. The IIC is responsible for all activities and coordination on the live fire training ground and overall safety by ensuring full compliance with NFPA 1403. However, it is important to understand that many states and local jurisdictions may set their own requirements for their live fire instructors and may have stricter requirements and mandate additional training or certifications, in addition to years of experience. Preferably the live fire instructor has extensive knowledge and experience in the environment they will be teaching in. They should also be capable and competent to perform any of the duties required by the participants or other instructors with a solid a firefighting background and knowledge. Lastly, it is the responsibility of the IIC to maintain current knowledge of any standard updates, as well as staying current with issues or trends in the fire service.
The IIC shall assign additional instructors, if staffing permits, for the following assignments: one instructor to each functional crew, an instructor for each back up line, and an additional instructor for any other functional assignment or unusual circumstances, such as extreme weather or large groups of participants. A separate drill incident commander (Drill IC), also designated by the AHJ, can be assigned. The Drill IC does not have to have an in-depth knowledge on live fire exercises (1403) as the IIC, although recommended. However, the Drill IC should have knowledge of fireground incident command and coordinate all the functional assignments in the exercise. Whereas the IIC shall be in constant communication with the safety officer, ignition officer, and all other assigned live fire instructors, it is not required that the IIC and Drill IC be in communication, yet again, it is highly recommended.
Live fire instructors are required to meet all NFPA 1041 standards for Fire Instructor I. All instructors must have had the training and certifications for live fire training and are appointed by the AHJ. The instructors can be any rank but must be familiar with all aspects of the NFPA 1403 and have the ability to observe all assigned participants of the exercise, with an exceptional eye for safety. If specialized props, such as gas-fueled systems or flashover simulators are being used, the instructor shall have the training and working knowledge of the systems, operations and emergency systems like shut off valves. The functional crews assigned to an instructor, shall not exceed five students. Instructors should also be rotated through assignments and participate in rehab, as described in NFPA 1584. These instructors shall also be in communications with the IIC.
The final key roll for a live fire training exercise is the ignition officer. As with any assignment on the fire ground, no one should work independently but should work in minimum of pairs. The ignition officer shall be a member of the fire control team along with at least one other member to staff a charged hose line to manage any unwanted fires during ignition. The fire control team should meet the standards for Firefighter I in NFPA 1001. The ignition officer coordinates the decision to ignite the fire with the IIC and the safety officer, therefore must be in communications with these two positions. The ignition is never a student or the designated safety officer, and must always be able to recognize and communicate any adverse conditions along with any of the other member(s) of the fire control team.
In summary, live fire training should be treated like any other fireground operation. The added safety factor of having a controlled environment with additional instructors and safety personnel ensures the safety and positive learning environment for all participants. The top priority position for any live fire drill, must include a designated safety officer. Regardless of rank, this position must be able to recognize any unsafe conditions and have the authority to stop any evolution. Next, IIC should have the highest level of training on live fire training exercises as determined by the AHJ and NFPA 1403. Instructors are designated by the IIC to accompany any functional assignment or crew and be experienced in live fire training and meet Fire Instructor I standards. Lastly a fire control team with a designated ignition officer completes the minimum that should be on your live fire burn cadre. Trainees are also very important to have during these exercises. As we know, live fire training is hard on our bodies. A well developed succession plan is key to longevity and a successful live fire instructional program.