We want you to get the most out of your burn building or training tower. These guidelines illustrate basic recommendations for safe use of Fire Facilities’ burn buildings. 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.
Fire department and emergency services training in a Fire Facilities burn building 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
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is an international nonprofit membership organization founded in 1896. The NFPA serves as the world’s leading advocate of fire prevention and is an authoritative source on public safety. The association’s code development process has earned accreditation from the American National Standards Institute. From life-saving campaigns to training programs, NFPA educational efforts protect lives and are an established resource for fire and life safety instruction.
The ongoing training of firefighters is the cornerstone of good fire protection. The NFPA has developed standards to provide guidelines for safe and well supervised training conditions. These standards include some of the world’s most referenced and respected guidelines.
NFPA 1402 “Guide to Building Fire Service Training Centers” – Addresses the design and construction of facilities for fire training, including administration and support facilities, drill towers, burn buildings, smoke buildings, and facilities for outside simulations. It provides guidance for the planning of the main components of a training center necessary to accomplish general firefighter training effectively, efficiently, and safely.
NFPA 1403 “Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions” – Applies to the training of firefighters under live fire conditions and focuses on training for coordinated interior and exterior fire suppression operations while maintaining a minimum exposure to risk for the participants.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 burn building or 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 and burn buildings 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 or burn building 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 burn building 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 burn building 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 burn 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 burn building 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.
Foams may be safely used inside Fire Facilities’ burn buildings and 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.