Today’s firefighters are experiencing an old danger that has come full circle to affect everyone. Flashovers are becoming a more common problem due to many factors. Why are we seeing more and more of them when we arrive? I believe that it is due to more energy-efficient homes, higher full loads, more synthetic materials and quicker-developing fires. Fire that doubles in size every 30 seconds can make for a swift-moving catastrophe. Just as you pull the parking brake on your engine, a flashover can be seconds away due to the time it takes to discover the fire, call 911, process, dispatch and respond. It’s the perfect storm to get us burned. So how do we combat this problem?
One way is to expose your firefighters to the signs and symptoms of impending flashover. The best way of doing this is to use a flashover simulator. Flashover simulators have been around for years and have been saving firefighter’s lives, but often the instructors approach them without understanding the teaching and learning points and objectives.
Melted helmets, burned students,, and equipment damage are not the main objectives. Gone are the days where the cool guys have the melted helmets. Let’s take a look at education that can be learned while inside a flashover chamber. Three lessons from the fire behavior lab will give you learning points that you can share with your firefighters to keep them safe.
PPE Use Is Mandatory
I have had the honor of sharing the experience inside the fire behavior lab with many students. One lesson that remains constant is the proper selection and usage of their personal protective equipment (PPE). While operating in a super-heated, toxic environment it is drastically important to select and use all of your personal protective gear. Many times firefighters choose to not wear their proper assembly and this leads to injury. If you do not wear all of your gear into the flashover chamber you will get burned. How is this different than a normal fire? Well, you don’t have the prep time that you will have before entry, plus you will also have the stress of a “real-world” situation. Add the problem of a person or persons being trapped inside and the stress level goes through the roof.
A “Wear your gear!” sign should be placed on every jumpseat, front seat and the back of every fire station garage door. You would think that something as simple as complete ensemble wearing should not have to be mentioned in an article, but it remains as a constant problem seen in today’s fire service. Everyone is always preaching about “Back to the Basics.” We should be removing the back part from this phrase and replacing it with “Never Leave the Basics!” No matter what the drill or skill, the basics should be in place and enforced. I bet if you asked any firefighter who has experienced a near-miss burn injury that this were never be an issue…wear you gear and be proficient at putting it on!
Don’t Get Caught Up In the Fire
Often in today’s hard-charging fire service, attack crews will come off their truck with their tunnel vision goggles strapped tightly to their head. Ugh, see fire, squirt water. If it was that easy anyone could fight fires. The fact of the matter is that when fighting fires, it’s more than just putting the wet stuff on the red stuff. With today’s synthetic materials, how often do you even see the flames? Dense, thick, dark smoke can lead you to your death, so why are you not paying attention while you are crawling through unburned fuel? Smoke is a sign of where the fire has been or is going. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself “Is there hidden fire in this thick smoke?” Yes, there could be fire that has reached ceiling level while reaching out across looking for more air. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not there.