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Live fire training is essential to the health and safety of your department and your community. You never know how a firefighter will react inside a burning building. The smoke and fumes generated by modern building materials can disorient even the most experienced firefighters. That's why training in a safe and controlled live fire environment is essential for the safety of your firefighters and your community.

"Why Train" reviews the benefits of training and reinforces common training exercises, as well as offers several resources for more in-depth training practices and procedure guidelines.


The value of live fire training is difficult to calculate because it's impossible to put a value on human life. Saving lives and avoiding injury are the reasons fire departments invest in Fire Facilities' steel training towers. There is simply no substitute for live firefighting experience under safe, controlled conditions. Firefighting professionals agree that live fire training can:

  • Reduce the number of injuries and deaths of firefighters and civilians
  • Reduce property damage
  • Increase fire department efficiency and morale
  • Improve training capability of fire department
  • Improve public image of the fire department
  • Improve volunteer department recruitment and retention
  • Contribute to a continuation of an effective volunteer fire service
  • Reduce lost time injuries and compensation claims
  • Reduce property loss and business interruption resulting from fire


We want you to get the most out of your training tower. These guidelines illustrate basic recommendations for safe use of Fire Facilities' training towers. They do not replace education and training in firefighting fundamentals or standard safety requirements. We suggest referring to the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) guidelines for the standard in safe fire training.

  • Reduce the number of injuries and deaths of firefighters and civilians
  • Reduce property damage
  • Increase fire department efficiency and morale
  • Improve training capability of fire department
  • Improve public image of the fire department
  • Improve volunteer department recruitment and retention
  • Contribute to a continuation of an effective volunteer fire service
  • Reduce lost time injuries and compensation claims
  • Reduce property loss and business interruption resulting from fire

Burn Rooms

Temperature | Dynamics | Fuel


The key to conducting safe live fire training is to control the maximum temperature. Fire Facilities' WestecTM insulated burn rooms are designed to withstand a maximum temperature of 1850°F*. Corner burn areas, meant to produce a secondary fire, support a maximum temperature of 600°F. Planned temperatures should be targeted at 900°F in a full burn room, while a corner burn area should be targeted at 400°F to 500°F. Maintaining a safe margin below the maximum temperature will provide a safe burn environment for firefighters and prolong the life of the training tower.

*For firefighter safety, we do not recommend training at temperatures in excess of 1200°F.

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Compartment fires that exist in closed burn rooms present unique dynamics. When fuel inside a burn room is consumed, a layer of hot, unburned fuel, carbon monoxide, and other gases accumulate at the ceiling. As more fuel continues to burn, the volume of this gas mixture thickens and the temperature increases. Countering this heat is the cooler air at the ceiling that is pushed down. This cycle of air movement, which slows the heating effect, is called air entrainment. The effect of air entrainment is reduced when the fire is located in a corner. Therefore, corner fire temperatures must be monitored very closely, or when possible, the seat of the fire should be kept out of a corner.

As the fire continues to burn, both the volume of gas and temperature increase. At 1128°F, carbon monoxide reaches its ignition point and can create a flashover condition. This may even occur at a lower temperature depending on the actual composition of the gas layer. Flashover can produce an instantaneous release of a tremendous amount of heat. The intensity of a flashover cannot be controlled and must be avoided. The safety of firefighters inside a compartment at flashover is extremely compromised.

To maintain an adequate temperature in burn rooms and corner burn areas, a reliable temperature-monitoring device must be utilized. All Fire Facilities' towers are furnished with the Scout Temperature Monitoring System. A safety or training officer must be responsible for monitoring the pyrometer to control the intensity of the fire, the smoke produced, and the temperature.

Officers must understand procedures to create smoke, control and fuel fires, circulate both smoke and heat, and ventilate the structure on demand. They must also determine the location of the seat of the fire within the burn room. Careful consideration must be given to ensure all means of exit are clear and the ability to move the fire for subsequent exercises is viable while also keeping the fire's edge at least twelve inches from all walls.

A thermocouple should be located directly above the seat of the fire since the temperature will decrease as the distance from the seat of the fire increases. The most accurate indication of the maximum temperature will be achieved with this thermocouple positioning. Additional thermocouples can be installed in a burn room to accommodate the location of fires in various areas. Additional care must also be given to the size of the fire in a corner burn area. The flames must be confined to the insulated area, assuring that they do not lap up on the unprotected steel.

Ventilation exercises should be monitored so areas do not become overheated prior to venting the area. If the temperature becomes too hot, automatic means such as opening windows or activating an exhaust fan must be initiated. If it is anticipated that the timing of a scenario may be delayed, it is advised to start with a small fire to prevent dangerous heat build-up. It is easier to add more fuel to the fire to bring it back up than it is to attempt releasing the heat while trying to preserve some heat and smoke for the exercise.

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Two of the four fuel classes are, in part, appropriate for use in live fire training. While the fuel classification categorizes the types accurately, there are several considerations when choosing the fuel types, state, and load. When determining the type of fuel to use, it is important to note that a burn room insulated with Westec will build up heat more rapidly than a conventionally insulated structure. To dissipate the heat, leave doors open to the rest of the tower or use a ventilation fan.

Class A

Class A fuels include wood, paper, rubber, and plastic. Wood and paper products can be used in the training towers, however, rubber and plastic are NOT appropriate. This rules out the use of upholstered furniture and the like. Particular species of wood have the potential to develop more heat than others. The rate at which the heat may be given off is also affected by the material's surface-to-mass ratio. Small pieces of wood have a higher surface-to-mass ratio than larger pieces, thereby, producing a larger surface area for burning. An example of this is an oak log versus oak kindling. The log has immense BTU potential but the kindling has a much higher surface-to-mass ratio and will release heat at a faster rate.

When determining the fuel load, the fuel size is as much a part of the decision as the fuel type. The use of kindling and paper products to start a fire is a proper procedure, however, the use of a large volume of kindling or paper as fuel will develop heat so rapidly that it will be difficult or even impossible to control. To provide good smoke coverage, it is advisable to keep the fuel dry. After the fuel has begun burning efficiently, cover it with damp straw or hay. This will provide a dense smoke that will be adequate throughout the scenario.

Class B

Class B fuels such as liquids, greases, and gases have different considerations and requirements. While greases are not appropriate fuels, gases, and in some cases liquids can be used. There are a number of manufacturers that construct props for these fuels. The prop's design should always include controls that limit the maximum temperature the burn room can achieve, and sensors that monitor the volume of unburned fuel in the air.

Fire Facilities' burn rooms are compatible with commercially available props that can either be installed during or after construction. The most important factor in selecting a system is to make certain that the manufacturer produces safe and reliable props that are protected against power failures, gas build-up, or other unforeseen events. Since Class B fuels used in commercial props burn clean, smoke is normally added with a smoke generator. Generators burn a special liquid that is safe to use in confined spaces.

Class C and Class D

Class C fuels, being live electrical, and Class D fuels, including combustible metals, are not acceptable as fuel sources in a burn room. Electrical devices can, however, be simulated with Class B props. A Class B prop is constructed to simulate an electric motor, meter, or other specialized device, and is fueled with Class B fuels.

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The basic guidelines for training are outlined in the NFPA Standards. These standards cover most areas of training and must be used as a basis for the safe operation of a training facility. The publication that covers live fire training is NFPA 1403, “Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions.” This is the mandatory guide for all live fire training. Safety and training officers must read, understand, and implement these recommendations.

The primary goal in the design of fire training towers is to achieve maximum safety. This industry holds many potential dangers for those who participate, forcing safety and training officers to make educated decisions relating to risk management. The level of acceptable risk must be determined not only by location, but by the activity and experience level of the participants. A scenario that is low risk for an experienced firefighter may have an unacceptable risk level for someone with less experience. These guidelines present the most basic safety issues. The remaining safety procedures are left to the discretion of individual training units.

Training standards, as published by the NFPA as well as any state or local standards, have typically been refined over time and should be accepted as the basis of a training unit's plan. It should be understood that these are minimum standards and training units are responsible for adapting these standards to fit their particular scenarios.

Training conducted in a Fire Facilities' training tower must include safety precautions specific to that tower. First and foremost, an individual must be appointed safety officer. This person should not have any other duties during a burn so he can commit undivided attention to safety without distraction. This safety officer must observe the entire scenario from a safety aspect only. The actual training, organization, and all other duties must be delegated to others.

The safety officer must have absolute control over the way training proceeds and has unquestioned authority relating to whether an exercise continues or halts. If the training officer observes an unsafe situation, the entire scenario must be discontinued and the tower evacuated. Once everyone is out of the tower, the problem can be discussed and solved. Everyone involved in the program must understand and accept this procedure.

Prior to beginning a scenario, the safety officer must inspect the tower to assure that all doors and window shutters are unlocked and obstructions that hamper egress from the building are eliminated. The slide bolt locks that are standard on Fire Facilities' burn room doors and shutters are in the unlocked position. This should be done anytime training is done inside the tower.

The safety officer should inspect the burn room, temperature monitoring system, and any sprinkler or ventilation systems to assure all are in proper working order. The fuel load should also be examined to confirm that only proper types of fuels are being used and the size of the load is reasonable for the scenario planned and proportionate to the experience level of the trainees. A check of the perimeter of the building should also be made to confirm there are no obstructions near doors that would hamper escape and that no materials stored near the tower are at risk of catching fire. In addition, all vehicles must be kept at a safe distance from the training area. Once the fire is ignited, the safety officer's only function is to monitor the temperature and condition of the fire. Equipment and procedures must be in place to deal with extreme temperatures.

Extinguishing Agents

Foams may be safely used inside Fire Facilities' training towers. However, Class A and Class B foams are mildly corrosive so the foam and residue must be flushed from the building. All wall and floor surfaces must be rinsed with clear water, making sure the rinse water is flushed completely off all decks. Contact the foam manufacturer for recommendations for use of their product in this application.

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Training Exercises


Fire Facilities' training towers may be laddered at any point. The flat profile siding makes it convenient and safe to position ladders where needed. Since the siding and trim used in the towers are 18-gauge steel and designed for this use, there should be no concern for damage or overloading. Railings may be used to tie-off ladders to keep them from sliding but are not designed to support the full weight of ladders.

Roof Laddering

A roof ladder may be used on many of the sloped roofs on Fire Facilities' towers. Depending on the slope of the roof, the peak may hold the ladder hooks without modification, however, an optional hook retaining bracket may be necessary to allow for use of other ladders and hooking at various locations on the roof surface. Since hooks vary on roof ladders, and tower roof slopes are custom to each tower, each ladder should be tested prior to training to assure hooks will snug-in on the peak and hook properly.

Roof Penetration

The roof chop-out curbs provided on many Fire Facilities' towers afford an easy means for instructing the proper methods of ventilating a roof surface. The furnished curb allows the installation of standard joist hangers, replaceable roof joists, and plywood sheathing. Penetrations can be accomplished with an axe or power equipment, safely and realistically. Training can include precautions in not cutting roof joists, the establishment and importance of wind direction, and the need to identify any overhead obstacles.

Most of the roof chop-out props on Fire Facilities' towers include ceiling framing that permits the installation of a piece of drywall on the ceiling plane. This allows for work with a pike pole after the roof surface has been breached. The roof sheathing, roof joists, and drywall can be quickly and economically replaced for successive exercises.

Hose Advancement

The many configurations of Fire Facilities' towers provide the opportunity for various scenarios which replicate “real world” conditions. It is important that the training officer first considers the actual conditions he wants to train for, then analyzes the potential methods for duplicating these conditions in the tower.

The NFPA recommends all training be carried out above grade. This makes basement advancement difficult to set up, but not impossible. Assuming the burn room is on the first floor, firefighters should start their attack from the second level. An exterior stairway makes this easier and more realistic. This will provide all special conditions associated with fighting a basement fire while remaining within NFPA guidelines.

Fire Department Connection and Riser System

Most of Fire Facilities' towers are available with a riser (standpipe) system. This enables the training officer to plan exercises that entail the transport of hose to the upper floors and hook up to the F.D.C. at that floor. Proper connection, hose laying in the stairwell, and deployment can be demonstrated in this scenario.

The hose bundles that are normally carried on the apparatus are also tested for completeness, condition, and practicality during this phase. The firefighter will transport the bundle to the required floor, check the outlet, and make the proper connection prior to the attack. Afterward, draining the hose while deployed on the stairs can be demonstrated.

Search and Rescue

Search and rescue exercises may be carried out in conjunction with live fire, artificial smoke, or blacked-out masks. Obstacles such as furniture, both in place and out of place, debris, and general clutter represent obstacles that can add valuable reality. Hazards, such as open trap doors or chutes, pose undue danger to the exercise. It is very important that the areas be searched to eliminate such hazards.

Realism can be maintained by changing the interior layout of the floors by moving and changing the furniture and by adding and moving partition walls. Each time a firefighter enters the structure the interior should be different. While this creates a bit of preliminary planning and effort, the need to keep each scenario unique is very important. Once a firefighter knows his way around a space, he will no longer get the maximum benefit of the exercise.

Victim Extrication

Victim extrication can be included with search and rescue exercises. Placing a training dummy in a partial collapse can add another dimension to the exercise. It will produce a change in problem solving technique that will demonstrate the trainee's decision making process and challenge his capabilities.


All training scenarios must include realistic communication, both between firefighters and command. The level of communication expected on the fireground should be used during all training scenarios, including calls for back-up and additional equipment.

Face-to-face verbal communication, as well as proper radio procedures, should be monitored and evaluated. Firefighters must learn that good communication helps minimize confusion on the fireground. The combination of speed and accuracy help to assure all point people will have enough information to make logical decisions.


An SCBA Maze can be easily constructed of plywood and secured with hinges with removable pins. The maze should be flexible enough to allow for assembly in a number of configurations and sizes so firefighters do not learn to anticipate layout. Fire Facilities offers movable partitions that can be used in any type of structure. They can be easily and quickly repositioned to produce a variety of layouts.

Confined Space

Fire Facilities utilizes a number of confined space props such as elevator shafts and formed culverts, which provide both vertical and horizontal scenarios. Regardless of the training tower used, it is important a contingency plan is implemented to address the unique conditions of working within confined spaces, including disorientation and panic.

It is recommended that heat never be included with this type of training. The hazards of confined space rescue need not be further increased by the affects of induced heat.


Rappelling rings are available on all Fire Facilities' training towers. They can either be ordered with the tower at the time of purchase or be added later. Rappelling rings serve as anchor points for all types of training exercises. The railings, balconies, or other elements should never be used as anchors as they are not designed for this function.

Fire Scene

The most valuable training can be achieved by combining a number of exercises to build a “fire scene” similar to what is expected in the field. Conflicting fire scene information, mechanical problems, and the occasional surprise should be included in scenarios to provide firefighters with the tools to handle situations experienced in the field, thereby building confidence and experience.

Training the Officers

When conducting fireground exercises, take the opportunity to train officers. There will be no better time to make an inexperienced young officer the incident commander for the first time. The firefighters can gain confidence in their officers while they gain confidence in themselves.


Be sure to complete each exercise with a debriefing session either as a group and/or one-on-one. This will emphasize each individual's strengths as well as areas that need improvement. Be honest in the evaluation. Each member of the department must be capable of completing his tasks safely and efficiently. Every firefighter and officer in the department carries the safety of the entire department.