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Larchmont Firefighters "Fired Up" After Training in Explosive 600° Smoke and Flames

by Ned Benton

Larchmont volunteer firefighters Ned Benton, Steve Lerner, Matt Mannix, Franco Arminio, Deputy Chief Chris MacDonald, Steve Schmidt, Harald Duell, former Deputy Chief Ettore Viazzo, Carl Cacciola, and former Chief Jim Sweeney. Former Chief Tom Dixon took the picture.

( January 15, 2003 ) "This was great!" remarked new volunteer firefighter Steve Lerner. "A valuable training experience for new recruits as well as veteran firefighters - you never stop learning!" remarked veteran and former Chief Jim Sweeney. Both had emerged from a truck-trailer-sized metal container, closed in with a fire that filled the container with dense 600° smoke that eventually exploded in fire, just above their heads, at temperatures exceeding 1,000°.


Lerner (a recent recruit featured in Fire Recruits Repay Community) and Sweeney were among two groups of Larchmont volunteer firefighters to attend a Fire Flashover training drill at the Rockland County Fire Training Center. The purpose of the drill, which combines classroom training with realistic high-heat experience in what is locally called "the can," is to train firefighters to be aware of potential flashover conditions.

Flashover occurs when a fire, confined to a space, produces intense heat, smoke and fumes. As the surfaces of the space heat up, they radiate heat back to the fumes. If oxygen becomes available or temperatures rise to a flashpoint, the fumes eventually erupt in a lethal explosion. According to National Fire Protection Association statistics, between 1985 and 1994, 47 firefighters lost their lifes in flashover conditions.

According to Deputy Chief Tom Broderick, who is responsible for LFD volunteer firefighter training, "The primary goal of the drill is safety. Firefighters learn what to watch out for, but also learn about the performance of their gear under realistic, but safe conditions." The drill begins with several hours of training about fire dynamics, proper use of protective equipment, and firefighting procedures.

Diagram Courtesy of Swede Survival Systems

After the classroom presentation, the trainees proceed to the simulator, which is lined with particleboard. A fire is set to create heat and smoke. Firefighter trainees don their protective firefighting turnout gear, including air-packs, and the trainers inspect and critique each firefighter's use of protective equipment.

The trainees and trainers enter the "can," which is closed to allow the heat, smoke and fumes to build. Just as in a real structure fire in a confined space, a layer of superheated smoke forms at the ceiling which gradually expands downward. A trainer points out characteristic features of developing flashover that were presented in the classroom training session.

Photo Courtesy of the Rockland County Fire Training Center

When the smoke lowers to just above the helmets of the trainees, a vent is opened slightly, introducing oxygen to the environment, and the result is a flashover explosion. In the simulator, the trainers repeat the flashover conditions so that each trainee is exposed at the front of the simulator, and to illustrate various points about flashover development and firefighting technique. At the end of the simulation, the trainers demonstrate "firefighter soup," which occurs if a firefighter applies water to a fire with incorrect technique, creating a blast of super-heated steam.

The manufacturer of the simulator, Swede Survival Systems features a Discovery Channel Video about flashover and the training simulator.


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