By Joseph Berchtold
Firefighters often complete a basic fire class or read an article on flashover. But, how many firefighters have taken a comprehensive course that discusses all of the aspects of flashover in depth?
You may have sat in a flashover container, experiencing only heat and flame. But, did you gain an understanding of what you are supposed to be looking for? The container experience was more of a ceremonial gear burning.
Firefighters tend to think that events like flashovers will never happen to them, that they know what will occur and what to do if it does, and that they will not be caught off guard.
RELATED FIREFIGHTER TRAINING
In a comprehensive training program, you will learn that you can be caught off guard and that sometimes there are few or no warning signs of an impending flashover. You will see that the chances that you will experience a flashover are greater today than ever before and that the warning signs of a flashover might not be present—the reasons this is so.
Firefighters often don’t realize that they, themselves, can cause a flashover by improper ventilation, breaking the wrong window, or by giving the fire too much oxygen by failing to close doors.
Moreover, firefighters don’t understand the dangers of smoke from the perspective of flammability. Smoke must be considered as a highly flammable gas. The homes we go in today burn quickly and fall apart fast because of their lightweight construction materials. The windows near the fire don’t fail, which would help to let the highly flammable gases and heat out. You must be able to read smoke, understand where the fire is traveling, and recognize that not every fire can be fought aggressively with the resources we have; we don’t have the time we need.
All firefighters need to take a comprehensive class on flashover and to know that the potential for a flashover is always present at every structure fire.
Joseph Berchtold is a 25-year veteran of the fire service and a battalion chief in the Teaneck (NJ) Fire Department. He is a NJ state–certified level II instructor, an arson investigator, a fire official, and an EMT. He is an instructor at the Bergen County (NJ) Fire Academy and has been an FDIC H.O.T. instructor for 12 years. He produced Training Minutes Fire Attack. Previously, he was employed in the Thermal Imaging and Helmet Division of Cairns Advanced Technologies. He has a bachelor’s degree in business management.