As summer heads into full bloom, so do its temperatures. Our working environment is affected by the summer’s heat and humidity. In particular, live training evolutions need to be monitored and structured like an actual event with the proper firefighter-safety precautions in place.
The realistic setting of live training, whether it’s at an acquired structure or a burn building, is very beneficial in keeping our skills honed. We must be certain that this type of training advantage is not marred by firefighter injuries resulting from avoidable heat-related problems.
The following reports from the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System address training in weather-related high temperatures and remind both the students and instructors of the signs of overexertion and how to prevent it.
Report 10-0001219 highlights that hydration is a constant process:
“We were participating in live fire training in a training facility in June with the outside air temperature at 90 degrees. After entering the building and searching the first floor, there was a lot of fire and heat. The crew of two proceeded to the second floor for another search. Second floor access was gained through an interior stairway that was also used as a heat and smoke corridor for the second floor.
“After the search was complete, the crew was to go the training tower portion of the same structure and find a downed firefighter and perform an SCBA bottle swap.
“One firefighter on the crew does not remember entering the tower and searching for the downed firefighter, nor does he remember the bottle swap that he mostly performed. Both firefighters exited the building under their own power but were treated and transported to the hospital for heat exhaustion. One firefighter lost the rest of the 24-hour shift from work and the other lost the remainder of the 24-hour shift and the next 24 hour shift of a 48-hour set.”
Report 10-0001209 demonstrates the need for an effective rehab:
“The department’s training division was conducting multi-company burn structure sessions on a hot, clear day where the temperature was approximately 90 degrees. Due to the need to rotate the crews and get the companies back in service, scenarios were being rushed through. My crew was awaiting our turn to rotate through the scenarios.
“A crew that was finishing up was given the last scenario after back-to-back trips into the burn room of the structure with little rehab. They were next assigned a task of proceeding to the fourth floor for downed firefighter rescue, in a smoke filled environment. When they reached the fourth floor, they were observed to be disoriented, confused and not understanding directions. It was determined at that time to terminate the exercise.
“The firefighters were brought down and their gear stripped immediately. Both firefighters were extremely diaphoretic and suffering from heat exhaustion. They were treated with aggressive cooling, IV fluids and transported to the nearest hospital for treatments. Both firefighters remained out of work for the rest of the shift and returned to work the following week.”
Report 08-0000328 is an interesting consideration:
“During live fire training with multiple participants, instructors became overheated to the point of exhaustion. Signs and symptoms of the instructors did not present until it was too late for recovery without medical intervention.”
These reports have led to lessons learned that may be appropriate for departments that conduct live training evolutions during hot and humid days:
- Perform a risk/benefit analysis, gauging the weather’s heat index versus the benefit of the live training.
- Set up a rehab system and area during all live training exercises.
- Watch the behavior of both students and instructors during strenuous evolutions as part of situational awareness.
- Ensure that instructors also rotate through the rehab system.
- Hydrate before, during and after all physical activities.
The Near-Miss Reporting System website is an excellent tool for finding examples of incidents or lessons learned from training events and learning how they affect the safety of our firefighters. The powerful search feature is easy to use and provides a wealth of knowledge.
John C. Woulfe III is the assistant director of the IAFC’s National Programs and Consulting Services.