Flashover Simulator Training Helped Ohio Crew Survive

In the parking lot of the Franklin Fire Department sits a flashover simulator -- a device often taken for granted that may have just helped save the lives of three firefighters.

Lt. Kyle Lovelace and firefighters Quincy Pearson and Brad Brown were caught in a smoke explosion earlier this week at a local restaurant and all of them luckily made it out unscathed.

"They reverted back to their training and did what they needed to do to get out," Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf said. "We have a flashover simulator and we spend a good amount time talking about it each year."

He said that along with the department's simulator, they also use one provided by the state and are planning to do their annual training soon.

When the department recieved the call at approximately 7:40 a.m. on Monday, an incident commander and a four-person engine company was dispatched to Smith's PH Bistro on South Main Street, just three blocks from the station.

Lovelace said that when they arrived on the scene, he noticed smoke coming from left side of the building above the second floor and thought that it may be an attic fire.

They attempted to gain entry through the front door, but before they opened it they noticed a crack in the window and decided to gain entry through the rear.

Lovelace, Pearson and Brown entered an alley covered by an awning connecting to freestanding structures. Westendorf later said his guys were fortunate to be in that location because they were isolated from the brunt of the blast.

The crew advanced about 25 feet when Pearson, who was on the nozzle, saw wisps of smoke and began to feel extreme heat.

Lovelace used a thermal imaging camera to locate where the heat was coming from, but right before he could tell Person, he started yelling at him to get out.

They made it about 20 feet when the thick black smoke started banking down on them.

As Lovelace exited under the awning, conditions quickly worsened and the smoke explosion occurred.

He started tapping on the helmet of the firefighter directly in front of him and told him to keep coming.

"We all didn't know what had occurred," he said. "Once we all got out, we just gathered our thoughts and went to defensive fire attack."

His chief said it wasn't until the firefighters saw the video shot by a civilian that they had an emotional reaction to what occurred.

"The guys that were coming out I don't think realized the magnitude of what occurred. They went out, picked up their stuff and went back to work," Westendorf said. "It was the video that really kind of changed everything for them."

Lovelace said that after watching the video "we all were all just sick to our stomachs."

The lieutenant credited the use of flashover simulators, studying NIOSH reports and training on smoke conditions to helping them make it out.

"It seems meaningless when you do it over and over again, but the end result is that we all got out of there," he said. "Don't underestimate your training."

After the smoke explosion occurred, the firefighters were checked out and the department switched to an exterior defensive attack using three aerial ladders.

Additional alarms were sounded and mutual aid companies were called in.

While some media reports referred to the incident as a "backdraft," the department is officially labeling it as a "smoke explosion."

Westendorf said that he'll leave that discussion to others, as there is only one thing that's important to him.

"No matter what it was, my guys didn't get hurt or killed and that's what I worry about."

The fire has been determined to be intentionally set and the fire department is currently working with the state fire marshal, ATF and other agencies in the investigation.