A new training initiative at the Philadelphia Fire Department aims to help firefighters hone their ability to assess the condition of buildings — and the potential for collapse — while responding to fires.
The approximately 2,200 PFD firefighters will take a two-day building construction course that includes lectures, props, videos, computer simulations and group activities.
The PFD created and customized the program with information about the unique range of buildings in Philadelphia, from colonial-era townhouses and industrial warehouses to solar-panel residences, 21st-century skyscrapers and everything rest.
It also features case studies of local tragedies: At least nine Philadelphia firefighters have lost their lives in fire-related building collapses since 1976.
“Members get more out of it when they can relate directly to the scenarios,” said Battalion Chief Drew Pluguez, who manages the grant and course delivery. “Most importantly, it sparks class discussion that educates fellow students as well as instructors.”
Firefighters arriving on building fires perform quick visual inspections to see if there are any signs of structural deterioration, such as a cracked cornice or missing masonry. But they must continually assess the condition of a building — inside and out — as the shooting continues.
The course also discusses building collapses not caused by fire, which are not uncommon in Philadelphia neighborhoods with deteriorating housing stock. Collapses can occur in different ways depending on how the structures are built, the materials involved and the stresses placed on them.
This critical training program, which is funded by a $3 million federal grant, was recommended in after-action reports into the death of Capt. Matthew LeTourneau, who was killed in the line of duty when Interior of a cluttered townhouse collapsed in a fire in 2018.
“The training really touched those of us who knew Matt,” said Lt. Joe Ryan, who serves at Ladder 6 in West Philly. “The course material is solid and the instructors kept the class involved and the discussions lively. It gets members thinking about the potential dangers we should look out for.
The class is taught in the community room at Engine 38 in Tacony. The funding comes from FEMA’s Firefighter Assistance Grant, which previously supported the PFD’s fire dynamics and incident command training initiatives.