Until recently, many firefighting procedures have been based more on tradition than on validated research into fire dynamics. While firefighter professionalism, skill, and experience often mitigate this situation, a lack of scientific understanding places firefighters, the public, property and critical infrastructure at risk during operations. Furthermore, changes in building construction and increased fuel loads have altered the modern fire environment, resulting in faster fire propagation and more rapidly occurring dynamic fire events. These factors, combined with a decrease in overall numbers of fires from which firefighters can gain experience and retirement demographics across the fire service resulting in the loss of considerable legitimate experiential knowledge, point to the conclusion that the tradition-based approach to firefighter professional development has become obsolete.
Within the past six years, several notable Canadian incidents have occurred during firefighting operations which highlight these challenges. These include the death of a captain with Montréal fire service in January, 2006, the deaths of two captains with Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service in February, 2007 and the deaths of two volunteer firefighters in Listowel, Ontario in March, 2011. In January, 2007, five Ottawa firefighters were injured, three critically, after jumping out of 4th story windows during a structure fire. Post incident investigations of these and other near-miss and critical fire incidents consistently identify inadequate size-up, risk assessment, fire dynamics evaluation, tactics and live fire training as contributing factors to injuries, deaths and property losses. Economically, direct dollar losses from fire in Canada alone in 2007 exceeded $1.5B, an amount which excludes any cascading economic effects, the operational costs of responding agencies and any rehabilitation expenses associated with injured responders. Using economic forecasting models, researchers at Arizona State University have demonstrated the significant impacts that successful firefighting operations have on economic sustainability, and illustrate the ripple effect that fire ‘saves’ have on averting job and production losses which impact nationally, regionally and, especially, locally. It becomes clear, through these examples and others, that there exists a need to increase firefighting safety and efficacy through a better understanding of fire dynamics and associated mitigation strategies.
This collaborative, evidence-based fire dynamics curriculum is born out of the need to address these gaps between the science of fire dynamics and current firefighting strategies and tactics, translating knowledge into practice and resulting in safer and more effective firefighting operations which reflect the modern fire environment. The curriculum confirms theory and makes it accessible to front-line workers through its blended e-learning format, and confronts a wide range of existing, inaccurate and potentially dangerous assumptions, replacing them with complex, often non-intuitive research findings in a valid and reliable way and links them to appropriate mitigation techniques.