The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has investigated the fire conditions of two very different fire training incidents that resulted in the loss of life. One incident occurred in an acquired structure and the other occurred in a concrete training tower. In both cases, NIST conducted real scale fire experiments to gain insight into the thermal conditions that may have existed during the incidents.
The results of the experiments will be presented and discussed so that future incidents of this type can be avoided. This is one of many studies by NIST to assist the fire service in the practical understanding of fire dynamics. The research will provide a summary of each incident and a discussion of how the incidents were simulated with real scale fire experiments. In each incident, it appeared that extremely high heat conditions had occurred. The experiments examine the impact of fuel load, and the impact of the structure in terms of ventilation and heat transfer on the fire environment.
Since 2000, seven firefighters in the United States have lost their lives during “live-fire training evolutions” As a result of the deaths of two fire fighters in a “live-fire” training incident in 1982, The National Fire Protection Association’s Committee on Fire Service Training developed NFPA 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions 7. The purpose of NFPA 1403 is “to provide a process for conducting live fire training evolutions to ensure that they are conducted in safe facilities and that the exposure to health and safety hazards for the fire fighters receiving training is minimized.” With regard to structural fire training, the standard addresses acquired structures and training structures. The training structure is specifically designed for conducting live fire training evolutions on a repetitive basis, while the acquired structure requires additional inspection and preparation for the training evolutions.
NFPA 1403 requires that instructors and safety officers have knowledge of fire behavior. This is important because the standard has limitations on fuels that can be used for training. The directives given are qualitative and without further guidance. For example, “Fuel materials shall only be used in the amounts necessary to create the desired fire size” or “The fuel load shall be limited to avoid conditions that could cause an uncontrolled flashover or backdraft” . Typically, fire training officers, instructors and fire fighters are in need of assistance in making these types of assessments.
The purpose of the NIST fire fighter training research program that is being conducted at NIST with the support of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Fire Administration and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is to provide data and information to enable the required assessments. The examination of the following training fire fatalities will serve as a means to transfer the information to the fire service.