How Firefighter Training Works

Live Fire Training
Firefighter recruits prepare for training in Las Vegas, Nev.
Firefighter recruits prepare for training in Las Vegas, Nev.
Image courtesy Mike Weider

In order to survive, firefighters must be able to think critically and clearly and solve problems quickly, under extreme stress. This can be especially difficult in an actual fire, so training instructors conduct live fire training drills: they purposely set buildings on fire to give students opportunities to develop these skills. The overall goal of this behavioral training is to instill good habits in students through repeated exposure. Live fire training is conducted in burn buildings, which are structures, built or acquired, to be intentionally burned for firefighter training. Let's take a look at what a typical live fire training session looks like, according to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association).

An instructor gives a briefing of the day's activities, and students dress in their high-tech, multi-layered specialty clothing. These clothes can withstand temperatures up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, each student wears an SCBA, tacking on an extra 30 pounds.

Next, the students enter the burn building. One instructor goes before the students, and one trails behind. The students place themselves on the same side of the hose and distance themselves an arm's length from each other. Other students, who won't be operating the hose in the structure, prepare to move the hose line forward as the crew goes further into the structure. The crew gets down into a crawling position as they enter the burn area, making sure to keep the hose line between themselves and the flames. As the students approach the area they will attack, they take their positions on the line, one operating the nozzle, the others supporting.

An Army National Guard firefighter puts on his SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) and helmet.
Image courtesy Cpl. Benjamin Cossel / U.S. Army

The instructor gives the go-ahead and the students open the nozzle, attacking the flames. At the instructor’s command, the crew closes the nozzle positioned away from their bodies to avoid steam burns on exposed skin. Now the students rotate. The nozzle operator moves to the back of the line and everyone else moves forward. The crew repeats this process until everyone has a turn operating the nozzle. When they extinguish the fire, the crew leaves the structure quickly but safely, leaving only the nozzle operator and a back-up crew member behind. The two of them stay to make sure the fire doesn't re-ignite. When it's clear the fire is permanently extinguished, the crew works together to retract the hose line from the structure.

After the training drill, the instructor checks the students for injuries. Once everyone is checked out and accounted for, the instructor reviews the activity and provides constructive feedback.

Next, we'll look at the different types of burn building used in training and learn about firefighter ranks and volunteers.