Fighting fires is obviously dangerous, but the public often overlooks how dangerous it can be. From the past year:
- “member suffered a seizure during training, resulting in a very serious fall”
- “nearly fatal electrical shock during a training exercise”
- “firefighter trainee killed while participating in a live-fire exercise when he and two other firefighters were trapped on the second floor of an abandoned house”
- … and others include heat- and exertion-related deaths, accidental injuries, and more.
In the interest of improving firefighter health and safety, the U. S. Fire Administration tracks on-duty U.S. firefighter injuries and fatalities. They have documented 3340 on-duty firefighter deaths since 1990. That averages to about 123 on-duty firefighter deaths per year. Of those 3340 deaths, roughly 252 (or about 10 per year) have occurred during training exercises. Read more about the study.
The good news is that these aren’t static numbers. A quick glance at their latest report finds that on-duty firefighter deaths have dropped 30% (there were just 87 in 2017). But training deaths have risen slightly: In 2017 there were 12 on-duty training deaths—that’s 25% of all firefighter deaths for 2017.
Safely Improving Fire Fighter Training with Simulators
The U.S. armed forces are increasingly concerned about training injuries and deaths among soldiers. This naturally extends to concerns about the toxicity of both fires themselves and fire-fighting chemicals to units trained in fire suppression. They’ve long been early adopters of simulation-based training solutions, and firefighter training is no exception. The US Air Force notes that “Whether in training or on a live fire, [firefighters] are susceptible to various carcinogenic toxins …. To help reduce the inhalation of toxins, more and more fire departments are purchasing virtual reality equipment to provide a safer way to train their members.”
But civilian fire services have been slower to adopt this newest generation of simulation solutions. Phil Duczyminski, a firefighter training officer for City of Novi (Michigan) Fire Department, notes that simulations of all sorts have long been used by the fire service. As an example, he points to CPR dummies. These have been in use for half a century. Attempting to learn to do CPR on a training partner would be, at best, ineffective, and could easily lead to the trainee playing “victim” being severely injured or killed. Computer-based high-fidelity immersive training simulators are just the latest in a long line of fire simulation technologies.
“The real value that comes with the simulation,” Duczyminski notes, “is we don’t get as many fires as we did years ago, but the fires that we’re getting are far worse.”
The intensity of training has increased. So have the number of challenging possibilities you must train for (e.g., pump operation during inclement weather, panicked bystanders rushing around as you try and steer a firetruck into position, etc.).
“If you don’t have the personnel and training, and if the personnel aren’t properly prepared, the consequences are going to be far more damaging than they ever were. Simulation helps bridge that gap safely.”