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Preventing Training Tragedies: Friendly Fire

In force-on-force training with real weapons, one mistake can lead to disaster.

January 01, 2003  |  by - Also by this author

Ammo Safe

The plastic whip of Ammo Safe jutting from the muzzle of this officer’s weapon means that it is clear of ammunition.

Even with the availability of marking rounds, dry fire training remains popular with many agencies. But fortunately it's becoming safer.

In the past, if an officer was participating in a well-organized empty gun simulation he or she would submit the weapon to a safety monitor or instructor. The instructor would double-check and triple-check the weapon for live ammunition, mark it with red or yellow tape, and give it back to the officer to be used in the simulation.

Klugiewicz, who has led hundreds, if not thousands, of dry fire exercises, says it was a very scary system. "Through 20 years of training, I had great, ongoing apprehension about not just being shot myself but having someone get shot in one of my classes."

Today, Klugiewicz no longer feels such anxiety as he watches his students dry fire real weapons at point-blank range at each other's faces. The source of his peace of mind is a length of yellow plastic called Ammo Safe that fits in the chambers of both long guns and semiauto handguns and protrudes far enough out the muzzle that it can be clearly seen by anyone in the exercise.

Ammo Safe is the brainchild of Robert Barber, a 27-year veteran of the Cranston (R.I.) Police Department. Throughout his long career, Barber had participated in dry fire training scenarios and was never satisfied with the way the guns were marked as safe. "We taped the barrels but with tape on the barrel, you can still load a round," he says.

The plastic whip of Ammo Safe jutting from the muzzle of this officer’s weapon means that it is clear of ammunition.

Experts say that with Ammo Safe securely in place it would be very difficult if not impossible to load a round. The product plugs the chamber and the barrel, but the gun still cycles and it can be holstered. "It doesn't make [force-on-force simulations] a little safer. It's a quantum leap safer," says Klugiewicz. "It stops everything."

Klugiewicz is not the only trainer singing the praises of Ammo Safe. Meyer has been so impressed with the product that it has been adopted as a safety aid at H&K's Training Division.

Barber says what brought Ammo Safe to fruition was the death of Capt. McGregor and its devastating effect on the East Providence PD. "When that happened, it was such a tragedy that I said something had to be done," he recalls.

Police trainers believe products like Ammo Safe will go a long way toward ending training deaths in force-on-force simulations. If so, then that's a fitting legacy for McGregor, who by all accounts was a cop's cop and a born leader dedicated to enhancing officer safety.

Officers participate in a stressful Simunition FX training exercise. Note the all encompassing head gear designed to prevent eye, face, and neck injuries.

Safety Guidelines for Force-on-Force Training

  • Don't use real guns unless absolutely necessary. Consider Red Guns, Air Soft, or other alternatives.
  • If you must use real guns for firing marking rounds, make sure no nonmodified weapons are in the training area. Simunition recommends that one training safety officer be responsible for modifying and loading all guns for the simulation.
  • Officers participating in marking round simulations must wear, all encompassing head gear and neck protection. Participants should also have groin protection, including athletic cups for men.
  • For dry fire with real weapons use Ammo Safe, Saf-T-Round, or a similar barrel blocking device to indicate that the guns are empty and safe.
  • Do not allow live ammo, knives, live OC spray, or other weapons in the training area. Every officer should be thoroughly searched. Metal detectors are strongly advised.
  • Cordon off and secure the training area.
  • Thoroughly search everyone entering or re-entering the training area, including observers, reporters, and other nonparticipants.
  • Assign safety officers to monitor the area for safety violations.
  • Follow closely scripted scenarios.
  • Do not train without the proper equipment. Eye, face, and neck protection are mandatory for marking round simulations.
  • Instructors leading force-on-force training should have formal training in how to conduct these sessions. Such training is offered by the American Society for Law Enforcement Training, the National Tactical Officers Association, and the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors.


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