NFPA 1403, Part 1: The basics of live fire training

This is the first of four related posts discussing some of the basic parameters of NFPA 1403 (Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions). This is not meant to serve as a replacement to reading and understanding the standard but meant to highlight some key areas of the standard. Please feel free to contact me at mvalocchi@valocchilaw.com or at 484-614-7407 if you need specific guidance for your department.

After a recent trip to the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, I took some time to reflect on the issue of live fire training. Training with live fire is an important part of firefighter education and development. While many firefighters and fire instructors debate the pros and cons of the NFPA's Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions (NFPA 1403), there is one key goal that is really outside of the realm of debate - we should not kill firefighters during live fire training.

Unfortunately, the PA State Fire Academy in Lewistown suffered a tragic loss in 2005 when 47-year old Altoona Fire Department Captain Robert Gallardy was killed during a basement fire exercise. Captain Gallardy was participating as an adjunct instructor when his SCBA face piece suffered a catastrophic failure likely caused by excessive heat in the burn room (Read the NIOSH Report Here). Because of events like this, those in fire department leadership positions should take heed of NFPA 1403 not primarily because of the possible legal implications but because of the possibility that you could kill one of your members.

NFPA 1403 covers a broad range of topics concerning live fire training including things like participant qualifications, instructor requirements, standards for different types of facilities (aquired structures, gas-fired structures, Class A burn buildings and exterior live fire props) as well as the specifics for actually conducting live fire trainings. I will briefly discuss two of the many topics: (1) When does NFPA 1403 actually apply and (2) Who can participate in live fire trainings?

When Does NFPA 1403 Apply?

The first thing to keep in mind is that NFPA 1403 is not a law. However, it is certainly a recognized standard that your department can, and will, be measured against in the event something goes south during live fire training. In Pennsylvania, you should also take into account the PA State Fire Academy's Live Fire Supression Policy No. 2006-02 Rev. 7/1/15. This provides another standard that is important to understand and have compliance with.

NFPA 1403 covers any firefighter who is engaged in firefighting operations in live fire conditions during training. See NFPA 1403 at 1.1.1. A training which involves "any unconfined open flame or device that can propagate fire to the building, structure, or other combustible materials" will trigger a department, company or training facility to comply with NFPA 1403. See NFPA 1403 at 3.3.15. There are clear areas where 1403 will apply, clear areas where it will not and then there are the grey areas. For example, it definitely applies in burn buildings when any type of fire (either class A or class B) is used. It would not, however, apply in structures where just a smoke machine is used to create smoke with no live fire.

Under the definition of live fire, using only a small burn barrel which is in tact with no combustible material around it, may not qualify as live fire training (although this is not definitive). However, it is fairly clear that scenarios using combustible material (such as wooden pallets and hay) in a large, metal shipping-type container would certainly qualify as live fire. These types of training props have become increasingly popular as they are relatively inexpensive and take up only a small space on a fire company's property. These containers create many unique safety hazards, one of which is limited egress. A major recommendation made by NIOSH after Captain Gallarady's death in Lewistown was that each burn room or compartment "should have a minimum of two means of escape." See Career Officer Injured During Live Fire Evolution at a Training Academy Dies Two Days Later - Pennsylvania, F2005-31, August 27, 2007.

If NFPA 1403 applies, who can participate?

Under NFPA 1403, any firefighter participating in live fire evolutions, the firefighter must meet the minimum job performance requirements of certain subjects from Firefighter I including safety, fire behavior, PPE, fire hose, ventilation and building construction. Therefore, the basic skills must be taught and a minimum level of proficiency attained prior to engaging in live fire training. This is not specifically saying that a certification is required but if you have firefighters without a Firefighter I (NFPA 1001) certification, you must be able to show that they meet the minimum standards set forth. For example, many Firefighter I programs will teach, practice and require proficiency in these skills prior to the live fire training done at the end of the program to be in compliance.

The next post will focus on what is required to be an Instructor for a live burn training.

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