By Michael Salzano
The International Fire Service Training Association’s (IFSTA’s) Firefighter Essentials textbook defines a flashover as “the temperature in a compartment that results in the simultaneous ignition of all the combustible contents in the space.” However, I don’t care what the book says! Don’t get me wrong, “the book” helped teach us the initial essentials of firefighting—the tip of the proverbial iceberg—that is “enough to get you injured or killed.” However, the book won’t help you at 3 a.m. in a dark hallway with zero visibility and no visible fire. The only thing that will help you is realistic training and remembering the critical signs during a fire’s lifespan. As a probationary firefighter, rookie, or veteran firefighter, it is imperative to have the necessary critical information to help you recognize, prevent, and survive a flashover.
Understanding a Flashover. If a flashover or “full-room involvement” is the leading cause of firefighter injuries and deaths, then you must treat it as the enemy. As cliché as this reads, if you don’t know and study or understand the enemy, how can we defeat it? These basic principles apply to all things successful. As firefighters, we pride ourselves on knowing our equipment. However, sometimes we forget to train on the basics of fire behavior, specifically, remembering when, where, why, and how a flashover will occur.
What is a flashover? I’ve heard firefighters state that a flashover is “the rapid fire development followed by full-room involvement and finally thermal collapse,” and “the sudden full-room involvement in flame.” These definitions are good to know. However, will you remember them when it matters? The answer is no, but you will care if you or your crew is in the midst of a flashover and doesn’t recognize the signs? Will the book and these fancy definitions really help you when you need it the most? Again, the answer is NO! If you can grab one “nugget” from this article, remember that flashover is a “heat-driven phenomenon.” It’s that simple. If the phenomenon is heat driven, it must be your primary and only concern that you constantly monitor and recognize conditions.
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