Followup on sprinkler demonstration in which a firefighter was burned

On October 9 Wildfire Today posted a video of a demonstration by the D.C. fire department in which a firefighter received some small burns on his face and hand. The firefighter is expected to return to work soon.

Fire Chief Dennis Rubin recently appeared on contributor Ed Comeau’s Fire Marshal’s Corner podcast and discussed the incident.

Here is an excerpt from the interview on

[Rubin] pointed out that a Plexiglass draft curtain meant to keep the heat and smoke within the trailer actually made matters worse as it began to melt on top of the firefighters while they attacked the blaze.

“Some of the failures on our part — and I’ll take full responsibility — had to do with the idea that we wanted to have a demonstration was impactful so that the equipment would work in a reasonable timeframe,” Rubin said. “Next time we will need a draft curtain that will probably be something that is not as combustible.”

Rubin said despite technical failures, not following NFPA 1403, the Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, is really where the demonstration went wrong.

“I don’t believe we briefed the crew before they went into the structure and I think (that was) a recipe for near-disaster,” he said.

“I stayed pretty busy doing some of the administrative tasks and 20/20 hindsight, I wish I would have had the chance to take a closer look, but we didn’t have a checklist.”

Rubin said another issue was that two hoselines were laid out, but only one was active.

“I thought one was a backup and one was an attack line, but that turned out to be incorrect. The backup line I thought I was looking at turned out to be the feeder line going into the sprinkler system. When it came time for a second crew — which was not on location — to wet down and protect the first crew; that simply wasn’t there.”

Comeau also pointed out that the firefighters went right into the flames, instead of attacking it from a distance.

“I think they wanted to demonstrate their bravery and skill and that was just the wrong place to do it,” Rubin said. “The other horrifying part of the incident was that they were unaware of the fact that they were burning.”

Rubin said that over the years he’s been present for more than a hundred demonstration burns and that his department simply forgot the basics.

“We worked very hard for weeks to prepare for this event . . . It was the perfect setting on the perfect day,” he said. “You can never let your guard down. I just feel horrible about it. Thank goodness it was very minor injuries, but it looked like a comedy act.”


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2 thoughts on “Followup on sprinkler demonstration in which a firefighter was burned”

  1. Very refreshing to see someone take personal responsibility. He’ll never make it as a politician! (That’s a compliment, by the way). Mistakes were made, responsibility taken, now they can learn and move on. That’s the way it should work. Good job to those involved, and especially Chief Rubin.

  2. Chief Rubin steps up and takes responsibility, In todays climate of side-stepping responsibility and putting the blame somewhere else it’s a brave act. Yes mistakes were made and people hurt but a lot was learned.Every one has to keep up their guard to keep everyone safe in training and the real thing. In the next couple of months I have to give some training so it’s a reminder for me to carefully plan it, follow all the safety rules and remind my students that if they feel uneasy about something for us to stop, talk about it and review it prior to the event.


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