Firefighters can learn a lot from a Dollhouse

Did the title really just say that firefighters are playing with dollhouses? If you talk to one particular Assistant Chief they are NOT DOLLHOUSES. But for all intensive purposes, they are small houses built to the scale of a small dollhouse. The difference being these are built with a different purpose, teaching fire dynamics.  Let’s take a look at why these small tools can be invaluable to firefighters when teaching about how to read the fire conditions, all be it on a smaller scale.

The Why:


Doll House Burns from ryan pennington on Vimeo. (click onto image for video)


Some say this is “ModernFire Behavior”.  I disagree! You see from the beginning firefighters must have an understanding of why we perform certain tasks and functions on the fireground. If you think this is a modern read this:

In order to carry on your business properly, it is necessary for those who practice it to understand not only what they have to do, but why they have to do it…No fireman can ever be considered to have attained a real proficiency in his business until he has thoroughly mastered this combination of theory and practice.

-Sir Eyre Massey Shaw

Fire Chief, London Fire Brigade


Keeping in mind that in 1876 firefighting was a male dominate trade, today it should read “No firefighter can ever be considered to have attained a real proficiency…..

With this perspective, the word modern would  be the latest and greatest revolutions in 1876! Starting with the bucket brigades firefighters have been studying our enemy, the fire. This practice of studying the fire should not end with the conclusion of your Firefighter 1 or academy class it should continue throughout your career. 

The How:

The best thing about using these small props is the low cost of use. Very little money is needed to build and burn these small-scale houses. It makes the cost of entry low and should enable any basic fire instructor the ability to use these props.

While there is a low cost of entry, there are also some variables that will need to be controlled when using the small scale props. Wind speed, water supply, SCBA use, and moisture in the houses all affect how the fire will react during the evolution.  If you start to utilize these props several practice burns should be done before going live with the students.

The Take Away

What do we want our students to learn from these props?  This is where the rubber meets the road. Backdrafts and flashovers may look spectacular in these small-scale demonstrations they are a small piece of the instructional puzzle. When teaching instructors should cover topics such as Flow Path (Air Tract), phases of fire growth, Neutral Plane, under-pressure, overpressure, surface cooling, gas cooling, coordinated ventilation, and coordinated fire attack. Before burning, the instructor MUST have a thorough understanding of each of these concepts to ensure accurate information transfer to the student.

As the evolutions start the houses will give accurate demonstrations to each of the above topic in a live fire evolution that students love. Bye bye power-points! Most firefighters learn from putting their hands on things or seeing it up close and personal.  These scale models can do both. After learning the ins and out don’t be afraid to let you students, while wearing appropriate PPE, get their hands on the houses and do the controlling.  This will really leave a lasting impression on them

Doll House Burn 4 from ryan pennington on Vimeo.

Application of Knowledge

Once completed it is important to use the gained knowledge on the fireground.  Putting the lessons into action begin with the 360 degree size up and continue throughout the fire until post control activities. A container of fire will react similarly to the small containers from the doll house burns in relation to air flow, growth, and ventilation control. 

Firefighters who spend the time with the dollhouses can read the fire and make the appropriate actions because they have an understanding of the why.

Of course,Dollhouse Burns none of this gained knowledge will count unless you can arrive safely, effectively pull handlines, and properly force doors. These basic function are a given for this blog because unless you can do them, your knowledge will not help. 

Until next time stay safe and always #Jumpseatready

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