Intense fires, intense training

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 08:37 PM

Intense live-fire conditions orchestrated in a safe simulator have honed the skills of Henderson firefighters this week at the Station One location on Dabney Drive.

Jon Juntunen, the fire and life safety educator for the Henderson Fire Department, said that all three shifts at both station houses, One and Two, had their turn with exercises inside the tractor-trailer sized metal flame and smoke cubicle.

“You really do expend some energy in there,” Juntunen said. “There is work to it — it’s pulling hoses, putting fires out, engaging rescue — it’s not easy by any means. This is the training we do to be prepared for a fire inside a house in Henderson.”

The burn trailer manufactured in New Jersey was provided for HFD use by Vance-Granville Community College through their firefighter education program. VGCC also provided instructors.

“This is a good opportunity for us. It is valuable training,” Henderson Fire Chief Danny Wilkerson said. “I just wish we could have it here longer, but we do appreciate Vance-Granville for the time we do have.”

The simulator uses computer- and hand-held controls to provide exact flame levels and non-toxic, vegetable-oil smoke so firefighters must direct flame suppression efforts, move hoses and cooperate in cramped quarters, under realistic, sometimes smoke-black conditions.

“You can’t see your hand right here,” HFD Battalion Chief Tim Twisdale said, holding his hand open near his nose. “That’s what we have to search through, and it takes learning how to use your other senses.

“What we really like about this simulator is that it is completely safe,” he added. “You can control everything with the touch of a button.”

HFD Lt. Trent Ayscue, also an instructor with VGCC, is a live-burn specialist, backing up Twisdale’s observation about the way smoke can black-out your sense of sight.

“Firefighters often have to rely on other senses,” Ayscue said. “The majority of people who die in a fire are overcome by the smoke.”

Also on hand to provide training was Curtis Tyndall, the VGCC fire education program director, who said that simulated conditions include flash-over and back-draft problems, with firefighters able to practice roof-top ventilation procedures to lessen the intensity of heat inside an enclosed area.

The burn trailer has sections along the top where wood-work structuring is put in place, and a second level of slanted wood-work is available, to mimic roofing that firefighters have to hack through to create the vent.

The wood panels are destroyed each exercise, and replaced with new panels.

“You cannot simulate roof ventilation any better except with the real thing,” Tyndall said. “By applying the ventilation technique, you let out many of the potentially explosive gasses.”

Tyndall said that VGCC obtained the 2006 Kidde T-4000 burn trailer in 2011 from the Roanoke-Wildwood Fire Department, having originally been purchased through federal grant funding programs for more than $200,000.

A U.S. Army surplus truck valued at about $100,000 completes the ensemble that he, while not able to specify exact numbers, said has come to benefit area firefighters at a very low cost.

“We serve 60 fire departments in the four-county area,” Tyndall said. “The forest service folks were instrumental in helping us obtain the Army surplus truck to pull this thing around.”

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com