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Flashover fire training

By Fritz Mayer
December 12, 2012

It’s not the best place to be if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of fire. But for two weekends in a row, local firefighters were lining up to climb into a specially outfitted container to experience a flashover. The rig was temporarily located on Cold Spring Road in Monticello.

The rear compartment of the container is higher than the front, and that’s where the combustible building materials, such as particle board, are placed and ignited. Paul Melfi, a training coordinator for the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, likened the container to a split level house, where firefighters can observe the fire and conditions as the fire reaches the flashover point.

A flashover is when most of the combustible materials in a space, including the hot gasses, reach a certain temperature and ignite simultaneously. Melfi said, “We light the materials on fire so the firefighter students can be in the container and visually watch fire development. They can observe all the signs as things start to deteriorate to a point where they may become involved in a flashover situation. In a house, the couch, pictures on the wall, the wallpaper, the paint, everything ignites all at once. If a firefighter is involved in that, their chances of survival are very slim.”

But in the controlled conditions within the container, the trainers can limit the fire and cause the flames from time to time to spread out over the heads of the trainees and lick at the corners of the door through which they entered.

Melfi said occasionally a firefighter will leave the compartment early because of discomfort, but that did not happen on the morning of this visit on December 9.

Keith Travers, chief of the Roscoe-Rockland Fire Department, after he went through the training said, “We saw the different phases of fire.” He said the training illustrated that if there is a room, such as a bedroom, where the fire hasn’t reached yet, and a firefighter opens a door and introduces oxygen, it’s possible for everything in the room including the air to ignite.

He said he’s never been in a situation like that in his experience as a fireman, and that the training is “absolutely” beneficial.