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Instructor Driven Fires

So the status tell us that the number of fires are down 53% since the 1970’s. I don’t have any numbers on the decrease in “acquired structure” fire control classes but I can speculate that it is probably down even lower than 53%. As a 1980’s product of a very robust adjunct instructor core for the State Fire Academy here in Georgia, I spent a several years teaching “structural fire control” classes a few times a month in acquired structures. These classes took me all over the state burning farm houses, schools, big houses, little houses, barns, you name it we probably held a class in it. These were 1403 compliant burns and the “old” instructors taught me how to get the absolute most number of training evolutions out each type of structure. There were pre-cut vent holes covered in tin with a snatch rope or chain so it could be opened from the ground. Doors were closed to prevent fire spread where we didn’t want it. Scuttle holes were opened and then covered for quick access to the attic and back up lines were prepositioned for quick access. Little did I know I was learning about flow path control, ventilation and fire behavior. I thought I was just helping teach a “live fire” class and that I shouldn’t stand between the fire and an open window or door and that when water was applied to fire the fire usually went out. I learned much more as an instructor than the students in our classes. All of this is attributed to the quality of instructors I was working with and the high number of classes we held that build up experience.

One of the first lessons I learned was that if the class was to be a positive learning experience the instructors had to know fire behavior, building construction and be able to communicate loud through a face piece. They also had to be able to bring the students together outside and go over play by play what happened and why. Just setting a house of fire and allowing students to “go in and get it” was not training, I was told, it was more like playing. Unfortunately, those light em’ and fight em’ instructors gave the acquired structural burns a bad name and in some states there were injuries and deaths. Despite this, the acquired structure is still a very – very - very valuable tool. Our instructors however must be experienced and educated to the point of explaining and demonstrating the differences in fuel loads and demonstrating the stages of fire growth, bi-directional flow, uni-directional flow, ventilation limited, and so on. We are slowly learning the names of things that we knew for years but didn’t necessarily know they had a name. This helps us communicate and explain what is happening better than I ever did back in the (The Police, Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, Devo) 80’s. 

The students experience has to reflect reality as close as possible. We can only use class A material in our live fire attack training so that has to be put in perspective. To do that may take demonstrations in old flashover chambers or in other training aids like the “doll houses” with non class A materials. If that can’t be accomplished then you have revert to videos.  Whatever the method, it needs to be hands on and very visual whenever possible. Remember, the instructor is the most important part of the training, not the facility, prop or the outline. The instructor has to have the experience, knowledge and skill to create an experience with a positive benefit (slide tray, experience, memory, understanding) that will help the student accurately size up future situations and apply the best tactic based on the resources available. When the instructor has these qualities and they control the training fire the result is understanding for an experience limited firefighter. You can’t table top or PowerPoint your way to success when it comes to firefighting. Support acquired structure live burns conducted by competent and qualified instructors! (note: I did not say certified)

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Comment by Jeremy Rebok on March 13, 2015 at 11:39am

Great article Chief! I have a problem with "instructors" who have no street experience, bailing on you during every real fire and finding a reason to stay on the outside. But having every certification offered allows them to maintain their state certifications. Unethical and criminal if you as me.

Comment by Paul Morley on March 12, 2015 at 12:17pm

Rhodie, I agree with everything you said.  Hopefully the meaning of your note will not be lost on the people requesting instructors.

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