The Cincinnati, Ohio Fire Department has been unable to utilize a $68,000 flashover demonstration device purchased last year through a FIRE Act grant because they do not have enough training staff, officials said.
The situation is especially poignant for department firefighters because a flashover claimed the life of firefighter Oscar Armstrong III last March, Cincinnati's first line of duty fire death in over 20 years.
The fire chief's office directed inquiries to a district chief, who passed inquiries on to fire department training officer Thomas LaKamp.
"We have not been able to put our firefighters through any simulated flashover training at all," LaKamp said. "With my staff, I'm just handcuffed."
LaKamp said the department requested and was awarded the training grant before the tragic flashover that claimed Armstrong's life. They received the flashover simulator three months after his death, in June 2003.
LaKamp said the training device would allow firefighters to look into a burn chamber and watch as heat builds up and gases flashover above their heads. After firefighters knock the fire down it would flashover again and again, and firefighters would learn firsthand how to recognize the signs of an impending flashover in real life.
However, LaKamp said, the department has not allocated enough staff to handle flashover training in addition to regular training activities. "It's not that we are neglecting to use it," he said. "We would love to use it, we just don't have the staff."
The department has one district chief supervising a training staff of five officers who handle everything from training new recruits, to continuing education for firefighters, and currently, a comprehensive program to teach RIT skills.
Local union officials say there is room for all of the training if the department wants to choose a solution.
"This is a piece of equipment we bought to keep our firefighters safe," said IAFF Local 48 Communications Director Doug Stern. "We haven't used it for any training whatsoever, and that is disturbing to the union. The chief needs to re-assess where he has his staff."
LaKamp said he is also communicating with administration officials to try to find a solution. In the meantime, firefighters will continue to learn about flashovers from textbooks.