Study of the Fire Service Training Environment: Safety, Fidelity, and Exposure

Study of the Fire Service Training Environment: Safety, Fidelity, and Exposure

Bridging the gap between the training ground and the fireground.
  • Overview
  • Findings
  • Updates
  • Resources


The Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) leads a three-year Technology Research and Development Project examining the fire service’s training environment. This study utilizes test methods from small-scale material tests to full-scale residential structure tests. In order to get the best understanding of the material and combustion properties of the training and realistic fuels utilized during this study, small-scale tests utilize the cone calorimeter, Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopic techniques, and gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy (GC/MS). These measurements are also made throughout the study to understand the impact of ventilation and water application on smoke content and resulting exposure to firefighters. The fuel loads used in all of the experiments are characterized for their burning characteristics and heat release rate under a calorimetry hood in UL’s Large Fire Laboratory. Another series of experiments is conducted under the calorimetry hood where training and realistic fuel loads are placed in a fire service training prop with different wall lining materials that are commonly used by the fire service. These experiments link the fire growth and exposure data from all of the previous experiments while different ventilation and suppression tactics are conducted with focus on the fidelity of the scenarios.

Additional experiments are conducted in a ranch style test fixture that was previously used for more than 50 horizontal, vertical, positive pressure and suppression experiments. Experiments in previous studies utilized “real” fuels. This series utilizes different training fuels with the same procedures used in the previous research experiments. This is to show the difference between training fuels and “real” fuels providing context for firefighters and fire instructors. The same comparison is made in a concrete fire training building. The same training fuels and “real” fuels are used to quantify and qualify the differences in fire dynamics with the different structure and different fuels. Finally a series of experiments examines different innovative training props and fuel loads that are being used in locations across the country. These props are characterized and evaluated for safety, fidelity and exposure utilizing the experimental methods and measurements used in all of the previous experiments to make the connections where applicable.

In summary, the four series of experiments included in this project that provide the source data needed to understand the differences between the training environment and actual fire incidents:

  • First, fuels commonly used in training as well as those often found in residential structure fires are characterized for heat release rate, burning characteristics, and products of combustion. The training fuels are then placed into a ranch style home previously utilized in research projects to better understand the impact of horizontal, vertical and positive pressure ventilation. The results are compared to the experiments previously conducted in this test fixture with furniture-based fuels primarily composed of synthetic materials and foam plastics. 
  • In the second series of experiments, training fuels are compared to furniture-based fuels in a concrete fire training building to examine the differences in fire dynamics and response to different ventilation and suppression tactics. 
  • The third series focuses on L-shaped training props, specifically the impact of different wall constructions on fire development and thermal exposures to instructors and students. 
  • Finally, a series of experiments is conducted utilizing innovative fire training configurations that are being used in the fire service to try to improve fire training fidelity without compromising safety.

This research study is needed to address the challenges associated with transferring proper knowledge and skills from the training ground to the fireground. Results from this project support the continued development of NFPA 1403: Standard on Live Fire Training.


The fire service is in the midst of revamping their tactics as they adapt to the changing fire environment identified though previous research studies. These tactical changes require an evaluation of the principles of fire service operations, specifically ventilation and suppression. Traditionally, these tactics are taught with both classroom and hands-on evolutions in fire department training buildings. The modern fire environment responds much differently to ventilation and fire control than once believed. Current firefighter training lacks the visual, hands-on piece that teaches recruits how their tactics can affect the fire behavior in a structure. Many fire departments are working to develop modern training scenarios, however lack the data to bridge the gap between current training facilities and the fire behavior in residential structures identified through research conducted over the last 10 years.

The increased understanding of fire behavior that has emerged from previous AFG-funded fire service training research has raised many questions about teaching these principles during hands-on training. When following current training standards, it can be challenging to produce thermal environments in training buildings and props that fully demonstrate the impact of firefighting tactics (i.e., ventilation and suppression) on ventilation-controlled fire behavior. Despite ongoing financial and time restrictions, training academies must continually produce firefighters who have a thorough understanding of fire dynamics and the ability to apply such knowledge to operations on the fireground. Firefighter training standards that constrain certain aspects of fuel packages (e.g., composition, size, etc.) and structures (e.g., geometry, materials, etc.) have been developed and continue to evolve in response to live-fire training incidents that resulted in serious firefighter injuries and/or fatalities. While these constraints help limit the hazard associated with fire training, they may also lead to scenarios that cause students to observe and internalize inaccurate concepts such as “ventilation always leads to cooling”, “ventilation always reduces the chance of flashover”, and “enter the fire room before flowing water”. It is imperative that fire instructors supply the proper context during live-fire training so that correct lessons are transmitted to the students, even if they aren’t directly experienced within the training fire environment.


  • Improve firefighter safety by increasing knowledge of fire behavior.
  • Bridge the gap between fire dynamics knowledge and the utilization of training buildings and props for hands-on training.
  • Characterize fuels commonly used in training and compare them to fuels found in the residential fire environment for both burning characteristics and potential firefighter exposure.
  • Better understand the concepts of fuel and ventilation limited fires and research how they can be visually taught during hands-on fire training.
  • Provide firefighters and fire instructors with an interactive training program that will provide context and a connection between the training environment and the fireground.

The purpose of the fire service training study is to improve fire service knowledge of fire dynamics and the impact of their tactics through a better understanding of how the safety, fidelity and exposure of the training ground relates to the fireground. This fire service training project expands on previous research studies (2008 DHS – Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction, 2010 DHS – Effectiveness of Fire Service Vertical Ventilation and Suppression Tactics, 2012 DHS – Effectiveness of Positive Pressure Ventilation and 2012 FDNY, NIST, UL Partnership – Governors Island Experiments) that examined fire dynamics and fire service tactics and improve firefighter hands-on training. The Fire Service Training Research work assists in the creation of thinking firefighters with a good foundation of fire dynamics from the beginning of their fire service careers that will impact their safety and effectiveness for many years.


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The data and visuals collected from these experiments provide firefighters and fire instructors with needed material and knowledge to bridge the gap between fire dynamics in the training environment and fire dynamics at actual emergencies. This improved context will enhance the limited hands-on training opportunities that firefighters receive. This should lead to better decision making on the fireground and more effective and efficient firefighting.

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Published: August 6, 2015