Training Days: Flashover Chamber

Article and photos by Tom Kiurski

One of the best training sessions I attended involved the Swede Survival System Phase I Flashover Chamber. It’s a tremendous learning tool, enabling you to observe the progression of an actual fire: the incipient phase, the fire building in size and intensity, and finally exhibiting the warning signs of flashover. When attendees the class discover that this class is beneficial, then you know the training was well worth the effort.

From a trainer’s perspective, arranging this event requires coordinating a number of items. I contacted our nearest mobile Phase I owner, Oakland Community College, and set up the training dates. Cost, paperwork, and placement of the unit are all items you must consider. Since this unit generates huge amounts of smoke, if possible, avoid placing it near a residential area. The logistics of pumpers; supply, attack, and back-up lines; and hydrants are factors that will affect the unit’s placement.

In our situation, instructors were included in the price, but if a unit is jointly owned, instructor sharing is an option. In some parts of the country, it is common for a state or county to own these resources. All participating fire departments contribute instructors for classes. In return, when your fire department conducts classes, other instructors are available to help you put on the presentation.

(1) Getting ready for the first burn. Note the two levels that keep the students a few feet below the actual burn room, to allow for better and safer observation.
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Other considerations include providing plenty of cold water for the participants and instructors, shaded areas, and shelter from the weather in case of rain. At our request, the local canteen service provided a truck offering cold drinks and food for both training days.

You must also provide the Class A combustibles to burn and a place to put the overhauled materials. Our local department of public works lent us a dump truck, which we pulled in close to the trainer for easy disposal of the materials.

(2) The large amounts of smoke that come from the unit during training make placing the trainers in a remote location a great idea.
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You must arrange to bring firefighters to the site and put them through evolutions. Since the number of participants allowed per group and the number of burns per day are limited, you must make arrangements in advance. Taking units out of service for the training evolution is best, since this allows for time to rest and rehydrate afterward. Scheduling went pretty well for us the first day, but the second day brought a challenge–a house fire occurred just as a group was exiting the burn chamber. Since we are a medium-sized department, this would have overtaxed those in service. The brave souls grabbed a cold drink for the road and headed to the fire!

(3) Some instructions as the fire begins in the burn area of the unit.
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Inside the burn chamber, from a vantage point just below the actual “room” that is burning, firefighters witnessed a fire progress from the incipient phase all the way up to the point of flashover. Each member was allowed to use the nozzle to cool the flashover at least two times, and also observe each other member go through experience at least twice. Seeing conditions just prior to a flashover multiple times will hopefully fix the image in your mind for the rest of your career.

(4) Firefighters exiting the structure after their training session in the flashover chamber.
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Although this was an exhausting experience, the feedback was excellent. Firefighters like a good training class; the more hands-on, the better. We even used a few of our “extra” time slots to invite neighboring fire departments to send some of their members who have not experienced this training.

The cost of the unit and instructors is pretty high and the materials add to the total cost. However, the benefits of this type of training are enormous. If you are reluctant to spend that much money on this evolution, try to go in with a neighboring department and share costs. You may also be able to travel together to the burn unit and save some transportation costs. Attend the flashover chamber training at your next conference. Whatever you have to do, this is one training day not to miss!

Tom Kiurski is training coordinator, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators ( Fire Engineering, 1999) , is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.

Subjects: Flashover simulation, firefighter training evolutions

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