Notes from the Kidde Flammable Liquid Firefighting School

Note: The 2007 Kidde Flammable Liquid Firefighting School ran from February 27-March 2.

The Kidde FireFighting School is a biannual event held at the Texas A&M fire field in College Station. The school teaches strategies and tactics proven successful on some of the most challenging flammable liquid incidents and offers students realistic hands on training. In operation since the 1970s, the school draws renowned firefighters from around the world who donate their time, effort and expertise by volunteering as instructors throughout the week.

While at the school, students are given insights into the development of new firefighting technologies and techniques, particularly in the area of critical infrastructure protection. Strategies and tactics are emphasized through both classroom and field evolutions with an impressive instructor to student ratio of 31 to 72 (about one instructor for every two students). Even more impressive however is the combined total of fire fighting experience among the instructor cadre--over 695 years!

"Each day starts with a classroom session designed to prepare students for the live firefighting evolutions they will encounter during the afternoon," said Frank Bateman, Kidde training manager and school organizer. "Classroom topics include advanced industrial fire fighting and above ground storage tank firefighting. We also structure each session's field evolutions to be more complex and demanding, both mentally and physically, than the day before so that the students keep building on what they have learned."

Before the first fire can be fought however, students must participate in basic skill refreshers such as hose and monitor handling, water and foam application techniques and SCBA donning and doffing to ensure that everyone has the same skills baseline.

After the safety sessions are completed the school really kicks into action with students rotating through multiple different field evolutions during which they face a myriad of different challenges - some expected and some not- like the gusting wind that wreaked havoc on Joe Bateman's Pipe Rack project.

"We carefully rehearse every project and extinguishment strategy prior to the students' arrival so that we are certain as to which technique is most effective," said Joe Bateman, Project Director for the Pipe Rack prop and a Captain at the Valero Refinery in Benicia, California. "I arrived at this project feeling confident in the attack method we selected and practiced so successfully the day before. Then I felt the wind and knew we were going to have to change our attack plan."

The objective of the Pipe Rack prop is to rescue an injured person on top of a platform engulfed in flames, in addition to valving out a number of hard to access fuel sources. On Monday when the instructors practiced it, the wind had been at their backs, thus blowing the flames away from them in their approach to the stairs and platform. The directional wind change meant that on Tuesday the flames were being whipped right into the approach path, making it harder to control the flames in order to access the stairway and valves.

"Monday we were able to get in and out no problem on this prop. Tuesday was a different story," Joe Bateman said. "We only had to use one line on Monday to capture each of the three valves and needed minimum support foam. Today one hand line for each valve was not enough so we added a fifth and had two hose groups instead of one take the stairs to rescue the injured person and valve out the first valve. The other hose groups tackled each of the remaining valves. It was a real challenge, but illustrative of what really happens, weather conditions change, there is no such thing as the same fire twice and so your techniques and approaches need to be adaptable."

Another prop where the unexpected is likely to happen is the Aerial Cooler, which is the most difficult of the four night burns that take place Wednesday night.

"Night Burns are an important training exercise because most real fires occur at night either during shift change or shortly thereafter so these evolutions really lend a sense of realism to the school," said Bill Green, a retired industrial fire chief for the DuPont facility in Mobile, Alabama and now a volunteer firefighter in Deer Park, Texas.

Led by Project Director, Battalion Chief Kelli Allen of the Broward County, Florida Fire Dept, the Aerial Cooler prop presents a number of unique challenges in that it has 11 shut off valves, 3D fire and flammable pooling liquid.

"The students were confronted with a multiple fire scenario and they had four hose lines and one foam line with which to attack the prop. Our first objective was to capture the pan on the second platform so that the first hose line could make its way up the stairs to the third floor to shut off a leaking propane valve. With flammable liquid dripping off the pan causing the added challenge of pooling liquid fires, the hose teams really had to systematically fight their way around the prop," Allen said.

While the fires burned brightly against the dark night sky, hose teams three and four advanced down the alleyway to fight two fires burning violently in the prop's large industrial fans. The teams had to redirect flames away from a nearby chain valve in order to shut off the fuel source. Dragging their hose behind them and around obstacles the team quickly moved onto a pump fire which was flaring off in every direction. To extinguish it they had to capture and close two more valves which were engulfed in flames. Dodging flare ups and handling any re-lights with ease, all four hose teams converged at the back of the prop to tackle the last fire fed by a torn pipe leaking flammable liquid.

"Overall the burns went really well," Allen praised. "I originally wanted to take a line up the middle but we found that once we were in the right position to best capture the valves, our hose streams crossed and the wind was not cooperating, so we had to back out and go along the side. This approach had its own problems however because we had to maneuver a lot of hose in a pretty small space. It took a lot of great teamwork and hose handling by the students to fight the multiple fires on this prop successfully and they definitely rose to the challenge."

After completing the four night burns students are faced with an even more challenging scenario, Thursday's ICS (incident command system).

Led by project director Gene Rittburg, former fire chief at the Tosco oil refinery with over 42 years experience, this exercise puts everything the students have learned to the test.

The ICS is a multi-incident response scenario where both the industrial and municipal firefighters in attendance must work together. Two incident commanders are selected from the student body, one from a municipal and one from an industrial department.

"Both bring different perspectives and experiences," Rittburg says, "and with the move towards regionalized firefighting it is not inconceivable that a situation would have both groups responding at once."

The scene is set as if the students are all on the same shift at a fictional plant. An event is called in by an operator played by Rittburg. Once alerted to the situation both incident commanders have to work together using a unified command structure to formulate a strategy, assess resources, and plan their response.

"If you fail to plan, plan to fail," Rittburg said. "Students need to make decisions based on what they know, what they've learned here and their own experiences. Just like real life however, students must also be ready for the unplanned, such as the fire spilling over into adjacent areas- which could very well happen at a facility. So we light multiple props on fire so that the students must plan and attack on a number of different fronts. The biggest take away from this exercise though is that obviously, you did a lot of things right, but you need to stop and think about what we could have done better."

"We strive for realism in everything we do at this school," Bateman concluded. "The realistic scenarios coupled with the dedication and caliber of the instructors gives our students an unmatched experience. We have had entire departments come through the school and we appreciate the trust they have in us to provide their firefighters with the training they need."

More information: Kidde Flammable Liquid Firefighting School

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