Cloverdale firefighters train on a simulated vehicle fire. photo by Jesse Gardner
You are driving down the highway and see a car pulled over to the side of the road on fire. Perhaps it has been involved in an accident, or the fire was caused by a mechanical or electrical malfunction. Many thoughts may go through your head such as "hopefully no one is hurt" or "that's terrible" - but how about the danger to the firefighters responding to put the fire out?
Firefighters face many dangers when trying to extinguish a car fire: The explosive capability of the hydraulic struts that hold your car's hood or rear hatch open; the shock absorbers that allow the bumpers to collapse in a collision that can blow up and throw shrapnel for over 100 feet; the air bags that may deploy without warning due to excessive heat as a firefighter reaches into the car; the carcinogens that are produced when the plastic in the car burns.
On Monday, September 16, firefighters from the Cloverdale Rural Fire Protection District met at the Northwest Transfer Station with trainers from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) to practice their techniques of fighting vehicle fires.
The DPSST provided a simulator, a welded steel shell shaped like a car and equipped with propane burners and igniters. This allows new firefighters to learn, and more experienced firefighters a chance to practice, their skills against real fire. The simulator burns propane, which does not cause the environmental problems that an actual burning car produces. The flames can also be remotely stopped instantaneously in event of a problem, which lowers the potential for injury to the firefighters during training.
This training was supervised by trainers from DPSST as well as Cloverdale fire's training officer Michael Valoppi, and Fire Chief Thad Olsen.
Chief Olsen said that this type of training provides many advantages to firefighters, besides the obvious benefit of learning the proper techniques of putting water or another extinguishing agent on a fire. Using actual fire adds stress to the firefighters, beyond normal training, forcing them to work through the physiological responses that they will encounter in a real fire. This especially gives newer firefighters confidence in their equipment, in that they know that it works and will protect them, and training, in that they learn that the theories taught to them in a classroom actually work in
Chief Olsen thanked the Deschutes County Department of Solid Waste for allowing the fire district to use their facility for the training.