"We don't fight as many fires as we used to and that makes it difficult for our newer firefighters to learn through experience." This statement echoes through many firehouses and often goes along with discussions on the increased importance of good training to provide firefighters with the...
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"We don't fight as many fires as we used to and that makes it difficult for our newer firefighters to learn through experience." This statement echoes through many firehouses and often goes along with discussions on the increased importance of good training to provide firefighters with the experience they used to get on the job. While the number of working fires in many areas has been reduced through effective fire prevention efforts, the overall responses have grown as departments take on additional responsibilities from EMS to handling utility emergencies to inspection services.
Now more than ever, instructors are charged with finding tools and techniques to create realistic conditions that challenge firefighters to hone their skills and do so in a timely and cost-effective way. Smoke generators have become popular training aids due to their ability to efficiently and easily create smoke conditions for training exercises. There are a number of smoke generators available to fire departments with varied designs offering a wide range of smoke output and smoke properties. For the sake of discussion, we will first review the training opportunities possible with smoke generators, followed by smoke generator operation and the characteristics and capabilities available.
Smoke generators are commonly used to add the challenge of low visibility to drills such as search and rescue and mask confidence. More advanced drills such as rapid intervention or thermal imaging techniques can also make use of smoke generators to add non-hazardous smoke to the exercise.
The most basic use of smoke generators is to produce the smoke needed to obscure vision while firefighters focus on developing one or two specific skills. Smoke generators can also provide a safe introduction to low-visibility operations for new firefighters. If a new firefighter panics and pulls off his or her mask in training smoke, it's a learning opportunity instead of an emergency.
As smoke generator options and capabilities have improved, so have their abilities to contribute to more advanced training scenarios. Because smoke generators can now continuously produce dense smoke in similar volumes to actual structure fires, they can be used to simulate these conditions in coordinated fire attack drills.
To create a room-and-contents fire scenario, a continuous operation smoke generator can be placed at the "seat of the fire." As crews arrive on the scene, the elements of size-up related to smoke conditions should be the location and amount of smoke showing, wind direction and possible ventilation tactics. Just as in a real fire, the more time taken to vent the structure, the more difficult conditions will be for crews inside. As crews enter the structure, perform primary search, find the seat of the fire and coordinate their attack with exterior vent teams, the smoke continues to bank down. When water is applied to the simulated fire, a smoke boost feature, if available, can be used to replicate thermal unbalance and associated reduced visibility. Once the instructor is satisfied that the simulated fire has been extinguished, the smoke generator can be shut down and crews can hydraulically vent, set up PPV fans, clear the structure and conduct their secondary search.
Smoke generators also let instructors create realistic fire conditions for drills in high-risk buildings. Recently, we had the opportunity to participate in a multi-agency response drill set in a local high school. The instructors' goal was to test the agencies' ability to respond to a smoky, low-heat fire condition throughout several wings of the school.