Blue Flower

As firefighting is dangerous by definition, nobody should be misled by being provided some minimum training and then thrown in a real fire. Minimum training often does not challenge the student enough and then tends to create an illusion of “skills easily mastered”. A life-threatening environment of a real fire is not a place to discover that you were deadly wrong.

Because of that I profess that any new skills that you learn or ideas that you come up with, should be perfected to the level of muscle memory before you even try to use them in actual combat. Train often, train a lot, train realistically so that you and the others around you are certain that the same stuff will work in the real fire.

All primary search training should be done in a safe environment. Why? Because firefighters have been killed in training, especially in training that involved live fire. All of these deaths were perfectly preventable.

So how do we achieve that safe training environment? Here is the list:

  1. In primary search training, atmosphere should always be free of any IDLH factors. Inexperienced students will remove their masks or deplete their SCBA bottles, so the air around them should always be perfectly breathable.
  2. Zero visibility should be attained by obscuring masks, never by burning fuel to generate smoke. Obscuring masks is the best training safety standard – the students can’t see anything, while instructor ensuring their safety can. Sometimes obscuring masks is not practical – this happens when you need to practice TIC or firefighter locator system skills. In those cases use a theatrical smoke machine, but understand that while this smoke is safe to breathe for a healthy person, the instructor’s ability to see is also reduced, which affects his/her capability to ensure the students’ safety and give instructional feedback.
  3. Above all, you should never use any forms of combustion during primary search training, including combat scenarios. It simply does not give any benefits while subjecting students and instructors to the unreasonable risk. I am not saying that you should abandon live burn training, I am saying that live burns should be reserved for comprehensive drills designed for already trained teams. These drills should include both fire suppression and primary search, and teams conducting searches should already have completed all three stages of primary search training – that it lecture, blindfolded practice and blindfolded combat scenarios. Skills during live burns should never be acquired, only reinforced.
  4. Your training environment for blindfolded practice sessions and combat scenarios should be free of any exposed sharp objects, live electrical circuits (with exception of overhead lighting), reachable glass surfaces and actual or potential vertical gradients presenting a risk of falling.
  5. Each team being trained should be at all times accompanied by a dedicated instructor previously trained in primary search teaching. This is done to ensure that blindfolded team can be stopped from doing anything unsafe and can be given a valuable instructional feedback.
  6. You should have a safety officer instructor assigned and you should have a lesson plan prepared. The lesson plan should include the hazard analysis and mitigation.

When you meet all these requirements, now you can start a process of preparing you search team for combat. Anything new should be tried, tested and mastered in this safe environment before you even think about using it in actual fires.

If you hear “We train at the fires” or “We are too busy fighting fires to spend time training”, collect your paperwork and transfer as far away from these people as you can, while you can. These attitudes kill firefighters.

At this point we have finished learning about ten fundamental principles of conducting and teaching the primary search. Now let's take a look at the big picture to see how primary search fits within the rest of the firefighting disciplines!

Next: A bigger picture