Arnold Air Force Base Fire and Emergency Services personnel participate in live fire training
By Bradley Hicks, AEDC/PA
/ Published March 18, 2019
ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- A pair of Arnold Air Force Base firefighters cut through the thick smoke to gain entry into the small living room just as the flames engulfing a couch climbed higher.
As soon as the duo suppressed this blaze, a second fire emanated from a stove in the kitchen. While the firefighters focused their attention on these flames, the fire in the living room reignited. As this occurred, a group of Arnold firefighters on the roof braved a blinding haze to gain entry from atop the home.
The fire and smoke were real, but the situation was only a drill. It was all part of the live fire training recently completed by firefighters with the Arnold AFB Fire and Emergency Services.
Live fire training is an annual requirement for firefighters according to National Fire Protection Association standards. To ensure compliance among the Arnold AFB Fire and Emergency Services, a mobile live fire simulator was brought to Arnold. The training unit resembles a mobile home and is designed to replicate situations crews could encounter while responding to a residential structure fire.
Thomas Lombard, an assistant fire chief at Arnold AFB, said the training not only better prepares the department to respond to calls around the base and mutual aid emergencies, it also bolsters synergy among members of the crew while giving departmental leaders an opportunity to see them in action.
“It builds teamwork and comradery amongst the crew to get the job done,” he said.
The training began on Feb. 26 and concluded on Feb. 28. During the exercises, Arnold firefighters formed teams of two, and each team was tasked with working its way through the simulator. The teams had to tackle the mock living room fire before proceeding forward to the simulated kitchen. As each group worked on the stove fire, the living room fire was relit.
“They had to coordinate as a team to go back and extinguish the fire behind them to make sure they still have a safe egress,” Lombard said.
Personnel on the top portion of the simulator battled through heavy smoke and collaborated to get their firehose into position to combat the below-grade blaze.
The simulator was provided to Arnold by the Kentucky Fire Commission, which is part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Lombard said his crew has worked with the KCTCS for the past several years to complete the necessary training.
“They’ve performed with us the last several years, and they’ve done a great job doing so,” he said.
The fires in the simulator are created via a propane-driven system. This provides administrators with greater control over the fires and trainees with improved safety when compared to other live fire training methods.
“Propane allows us to have continuous fires, which means I don’t need additional crews to actually stoke the fire. I don’t need to have four or five people help start the fire and keep it running in that fashion,” Lombard said. “The benefit of propane is we can control the temperatures and, if something’s not working out, we can shut it down. If we were using Class A materials like wood products, or even in the days of hay, you couldn’t really control that fire except by putting it out. So if something was going wrong, you couldn’t just stop. You had to do an emergency evacuation to reset the burn scenario.”
The smoke that fills the training unit through controlled releases is water-based, making it safer for the firefighters. And while it does not behave quite like smoke would during an actual fire emergency, Lombard said it gives personnel an idea of the obstructive impact smoke has on vision during real structure fires.
Built into the training simulator are other safety features. Lombard said there are push-button components throughout the unit that allow instructors to immediately stop an exercise. There are also sensors which control temperatures and provide instructors with greater insight into the situations trainees are facing. The simulator programming can also determine when firefighters aren’t working the fire as effectively as they should.
“If there’s a rapid rise in temperature, the instructor at the panel can shut it off,” Lombard said. “In addition, there’s a computer system that monitors the entire operation, so it has some set parameters. If the fire jumps too high or it’s not being put out aggressively enough, it’ll continue the fire fight until the firefighter performs and gets water where they need to on those sensors.”
But even with the safety measures and controls, Lombard said getting through the simulator is no easy task as trainees face many of the same challenges they would while responding to real-world situations.
“Once a firefighter dons their gear, they’re wearing an additional 85 pounds of equipment,” Lombard said. “Once they enter the simulator, they completely lose visibility inside the structure, so they have to learn to work within that parameter of left-hand or right-hand search patterns. They’re also facing the heat of the fire itself. As they enter, the temperature starts to rise, and even the sweat on their body starts to steam off and evaporate, so it’s definitely an environmental change from outside to inside.”
More training is on the horizon for the Arnold AFB firefighters as they are set to take part in aircraft live fire training later this spring.