Many years ago, an instructor friend was teaching a class at the local police academy. He was highlighting the dangers when facing an opponent armed with an edged weapon – essentially, his point was if you were struggling with someone armed with a knife, one or both of you would be cut. As an aside, in the real world getting cut doesn’t mean you will lose the fight, or die – what it means is you need to stay in the fight and decide that you will win this confrontation. Knife fights are ugly, but most knife injuries are survivable.

A student doubted the instructor’s opinion, and challenged the instructor’s conclusion. He was adamant that he was well trained enough that he would be able to disarm someone with a knife, quickly, and without being injured in any way. The instructor invited the student to the front of the classroom and using slow-motion open hand movements simulated several ways in which the student would be hurt. The student was insistent that he would be able to perform an “X” block (as he had been taught at some point), and defeat any knife armed assailant.

The instructor then took a knife he was using for demonstration purposes, and offered to do another demonstration. He would simulate a knife attack, and the student would attempt to disarm him. The demonstration knife was a double edged Gerber Guardian Back-Up model with a blade length of about three inches. Covering the blade and a portion of the grip handle was a sheath – secured and snapped in place – so the knife could not cut.

As the instructor began moving toward the student, the student aggressively performed his blocking movement. As he did so – the forceful contact knocked the protective sheath off the knife. The instructor was moving to counteract the block, and then quickly moved the knife across the torso of the student. With the sheath missing, and nothing to cover the now exposed blade, the extremely sharp edges easily cut through the student’s clothing and slashed his chest.

The instructor hadn’t been as aggressive as an actual attack would have been, but the injury was still significant. The instructor had previous emergency medical training and experience as a paramedic, so he immediately took steps to address the injuries, and got emergency responders in route. The student survived without any debilitating injuries, other than the scars resulting from about 120 stitches he received. Although I didn’t actually poll any of the academy recruits – but based on the photos of the scene and those later taken at the hospital, I suspect the demonstration gave them a much healthier respect for knife wielding suspects.

The academy was located in our jurisdiction, so my agency was responsible to respond, document the incident, conduct the investigation, and submit the report for review by all the local agencies involved. There had not been any intent to harm anyone, so the focus was the nature of the training accident, what went wrong, and what procedures should be enacted to prevent a similar incident in the future.

Being a trainer in a variety of Use-of-Force disciplines, and being involved in investigating the case, I took the lessons to be learned very seriously. Within a day or two of the incident, I had already ordered a couple of rubber training knives – paying for them out of my own pocket. I rarely used knives (either real or simulated) in training, but I wanted to be prepared should I at some point need to do so.

Within another day or so, as we got additional details about the injuries to the student, my focus shifted from training knives, to training with firearms. As the rangemaster and armorer for our department, I trained with live fire drills at least once a month. Very often we used unloaded pistols for dry fire and drawing drills either before or after the live fire training. The amount of damage a single knife had caused was great – but the injuries could easily pale by comparison of the damage possible by a high velocity bulled hitting a person should a pistol negligently fire in a training scenario.

Within a few more days, I had ordered several solid plastic training guns to match the model we issued to our officers – again, paying for them out of my own pocket. I’m sure the department would have approved such a purchase, and ultimately did so at a later date, but I wanted to make sure I would have complete access to these training tools available whenever I did force related training classes. Department equipment may or may not be available, my own property would always be accessible for my use, and more importantly – for the protection of myself, and my students.

The first safety rule for firearms is to treat all firearms as if they are loaded. Yes, I have trained with real firearms that have had all the ammunition removed, and that technically were “unloaded.” But I can also tell you that there is no real firearm that is “unloaded” enough that I feel comfortable having it pointed at me. I’ll assume that my students hold the same belief, maybe with lessor or greater enthusiasm. While maybe not the best manners, pointing a chunk of plastic (red, blue, orange, or a variety of assorted colors) that happens to be the same size and shape of an actual firearm at a person, is a far better option.

Quite often training requires more than what a solid piece of plastic can offer. Magazine changes, racking the slide, and even dry firing the pistol – need something more than a solid chunk of plastic can offer. As a result, sometimes we need the real thing – but we still need to modify an actual functioning firearm for safety – to ensure no one gets hurt by a bulled expelled when a cartridge is fired.

A viable option to accomplish this is the “training barrel” – the most popular being a product manufactured by the Blade-Tech company (http://www.blade-tech.com/ ). Molded in a bright yellow color, this product replaces the actual pistol barrel, and based on its design, cannot chamber a round. The barrel extends beyond the front of the pistol, so all nearby can see the bright yellow replacement, and know the firearm is “safe” from being loaded. The pistol slide can still be moved, and the trigger manipulated. This allows the student to get practice with the actual pistol feel, sight layout, and trigger pull.

A similar option is a plastic insert that fills the entire chamber and barrel with a brightly colored plastic insert. Again, this device (mine are manufactured by Train Safe http://www.trainsafe.us/ ), ensures that no live ammo can be placed in the pistol, and those nearby can see the device extending from the front of the firearm. The advantage of this product is because it fits inside the barrel and chamber, it is only caliber specific – the 9mm version will fit in all 9mm pistols, and as such it is not make or model specific.

Sure, I still have some of the old fashioned “dummy” rounds to train with actual firearms ( http://www.stactionpro.com/ ), and for some firearms (revolvers as one exception) they fill a need that other products can’t. They are also important to make reloading and malfunction clearance drills a realistic training experience. Whatever product you choose, remember that when training with firearms, be it live fire or any one of a variety of dry fire training scenarios, you cannot be “too safe.” The stakes of not taking such steps to make the training environment safe, are simply too high.