During a controlled live burn for research purposes, firefighters had a chance to learn more about how firefighting tactics could potentially effect the burning building and how to operate more safely in a dangerous environment.
International Society of Fire Service Instructors collaborated with Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute to conduct live burn trainings on Thursday at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center to focus on the various tactics firefighters can use to battle basement fires and to study fire behavior.
Chuck Burk, who serves as the fire marshal for Sharon Hill after he retired as a career fire chief in Cape May County, said that firefighters spend their careers training and learning. He has been involved with the UL and other testing and shares that knowledge with the Sharon Hill Fire Co. members.
“It’s a great learning experience. It may change our tactics and make it safer, while still being aggressive (in firefighting operations),” Burk said. “It could make our job more efficient and safer so we can go home at the end.”
Buildings today are different because they have more combustibles in them and the dangerous hazards for firefighters are different. The underwriters and society are leading the way in scientific research to help firefighters understand those changes and dangers.
He explained that the protective gear the firefighters wear “helps buy you time” in extreme temperatures. Underwriters research engineer Daniel Madrzykowski noted that the protective gear can withstand heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit while the face piece of the self-contained breathing apparatus starts to melt in an environment of 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
“This is no longer a survivable area for a firefighter in full protective gear,” Madrzykowski said during his presentation to firefighters about basement fires.
He said that it is challenging for firefighters to operate on the floor above the fire to attack the fire in the basement because ventilation is limited with potential for a rapid change if any windows or outer doors are opened on that level.
Madrzykowski emphasized to the firefighters that a coordinated fire attack consisting of ventilation and fire suppression is important. He showed a video of a test involving a coordinated attack and the firefighters knocked the fire down in 30 seconds. However during another test where the fire was vented without having water applied, the fire flashed over from floor to ceiling and Madrzykowski said that it also causes the floor above to become an unattainable area. He said that their researched showed that when water was applied from outside a basement window onto the fire in the basement of a townhome that the temperature had lowered from 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wilmington Fire Department Deputy Chief Jerry McCaffery said that because of such research the department standard operating procedures for fighting basement fires have changed to inform the fighters that they do not have to enter through the front door because there are other ways inside the building and there are several firefighting tactics.
“We used to go through the front door … and fight your way to the basement stairs,” McCaffery said specifically about basement fires.
He said by applying water from the outside of the building, as tested during the UL burn, it can make it safer for the firefighters by doing a coordinated attack of ventilation when extinguishing the fire. McCaffery, who has served in Delaware for 34 years, said that he learns daily because firefighters are always learning something new and the science is developing.
Aston Township Fire Department Deputy Chief Kenny Dawson, who has been in the fire service for 23 years, assisted as part of a rescue team at a basement fire where Lower Chichester Lt. Nick Picozzi was killed in the line of duty on March 5, 2008. Dawson and three other firefighters were injured during the rescue.
Within a year of this, Dawson began teaching other firefighters during a training class how he used the Gemtor Harness, a rescue device attached to his protective gear, to help extricate the fallen firefighter from the basement up the stairs.
“Delaware County is fortunate to have instructors who have unfortunately been a part of RIT activations,” Dawson said. RIT, or Rapid Intervention Team, consists of a crew of firefighters who are on standby at the scene to help search for and rescue other firefighters who are in distress.