The Power of NFPA 1403; Protecting Our Most Valuable Training

In the fire service we tend to line up on either side of an issue then dig in, fight the good fight, and ensure our position prevails. In the last century nothing was more controversial than nozzles. All I needed to do was proclaim an absolute preference for a solid bore (or a fog) nozzle at the firehouse kitchen table and sit back and watch the fireworks. The passion of arguments around weapon selection showed that we cared and cared deeply about our preference.

As time goes on, arguments and passion prevail, and subjects change. Helmet design, true hose diameter, vertical ventilation, positive pressure attack, or flow path are all fuses that spark firehouse kitchen table fireworks today. These debates are healthy and often end with the agreement that more tools in the toolbox are better than less, and training is the key to success.

We all learned oxidation is the process that causes rust, flame, or conflagration in our basic fire behavior course. The speed of oxidation defines the amount of light and heat we observe on a continuum from imperceptible change to instantaneous detonation. The kitchen table discussions of helmet or weapon selection can be related to flaming combustion in most fire houses.  If you want to see the conversation transition to detonation, just add four simple numbers: 1, 4, 0, 3.

So, what’s the big deal? NFPA 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions was written in the blood of Smith & Duran who died in a training fire in Boulder Colorado on January 26, 1982. The standard is designed to prevent this from ever happening again. The sad news is training LODDs didn’t cease with NFPA issuing the standard in 1986. Things have improved dramatically; however, preventable deaths still occur in live fire training.

Some argue the standard should be dubbed the ‘Fire Training Officers Employment Act of 1986’ because it requires so many positions to be staffed when conducting live fire training. Terms in the standard such as ‘one instructor assigned to each functional group’ or a hose line being ‘available’ are argued daily in training offices. Does a company officer who possesses Fire Instructor I certification, working as part of a crew, meet the intent of an ‘instructor’ with this functional group? Is an unstaffed hose line outside the burn building ‘available’?

The bottom line is NFPA 1403 was created to protect our ability to do live fire training. An unconfined flame is the most dangerous and most toxic tool we have in our arsenal to train our firefighters. Misapplied and misinterpreted, 1403 is a threat to not only our budgets, but our lives. Understood, supported with policy, and judiciously executed, 1403 is our most valuable training tool.    

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