Training Facility Fired Up

With the dancing flames, rolling smoke and rising heat, it's easy for members of Aberdeen Fire and Rescue to imagine their new training sessions are actual fires. The surroundings are all realistic enough.

That's the benefit of the department's new burn trailer that was given its first workout Friday.

Inside the trailer, fire conditions can be re-enacted for training purposes. It can be filled with smoke and flames and reach temperatures of about 600 degrees. Aberdeen Fire and Rescue has never had such a mobile facility before.

Kevin VanMeter, a shift commander, said firefighters have been able to train in smoke before in old houses scheduled to be demolished or the department's hose tower. But never with real flames.

The burn trailer can produce plenty of flames.

In a real fire, temperatures can get as high as 1,200 or 1,300 degrees, he said.

The trailer cost $290,000. It was largely paid for with a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The city's cost was $29,000 or 10 percent.

Smoke produced in the trailer clouds vision so that it's nearly impossible to see a person standing next to you. Like they do during real fires, firefighters find their way around by staying low, crawling on their hands and knees and keeping one hand on a wall to guide themselves.

The trailer can simulate fire conditions called flashovers and rollovers. A flashover is when the air gets so hot an entire room ignites. A rollover is when the hot gases near the ceiling roll over the top of and behind firefighters, where they may ignite and trap them, VanMeter said.

Smoke used in the burn wagon isn't dangerous, so it's ideal for training, said Lt. Tim Mendenwald. It looks like regular smoke and reduces visibility to nearly zero, but it's not toxic because it's made from a soy-based product, he said.

Firefighters know how to handle the smoke. However, others may panic when surrounded by it. Trent Anderson, a firefighter, said smoke kills more people than do flames.

VanMeter said no training schedule has yet been established for the burn wagon, the only such apparatus in the state. However, he said, it will be used to train personnel at other fire departments, including volunteer departments throughout the region. The fee to be charged has yet to be determined, but no profit can be made because grant money was used to purchase the trailer.

If a large group of people needs training, the trailer is mobile and can be taken to other communities.

VanMeter said the trailer should last about 15 years before it needs to be replaced.