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Gowen Field firefighters learn perils of flashover

By Ryan White | 124th Fighter Wing | Sept. 19, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – Firefighters from Gowen Field participated in a unique flashover-training course Sept. 11-13 at Gowen Field.

Almost 30 firefighters from the Gowen Field Fire Department and four from the Orchard Combat Training Center performed live-fire training in a controlled environment. It consisted of four hours of lecture and four hours in a specialized burn trailer.

"This is one of those training opportunities that every firefighter who goes through it remembers," said Staff Sgt. Reginald Pierce III, a firefighter with the Gowen Field Fire Department and the primary instructor for the training.

Flashover happens when all contents in a room hit their combustion point and ignite at the same time in a flash. The training demonstrated what flashover looks like, how to prevent it and how to react and escape.

"If a firefighter is in a structure fire and the room flashes, it's near certain death," said Pierce. "You have two seconds, as a firefighter in your full gear, to make it out of that situation before your gear fails. That's why this training is so important."

Pierce said participants build confidence in equipment and learn what temperature ratings gear can handle and how to utilize water in a flashover scenario.

"For some of these guys, it's the first time they are seeing real fire because fire school only uses propane," said Staff Sgt. Jack Simonds, a firefighter with the Gowen Field Fire Department and assistant instructor for the training.

The live fire is in a specialized mobile burn trailer. The upper part of the trailer is a burn chamber and the lower middle area is a classroom. A burn barrel filled with wood is lit in the center of the chamber and ignites the walls and roof that are lined with oriented strand board. The off-gassing of the wood igniting causes fire to roll over the firefighters' heads as the room heats up to more than 700 degrees.

"In fire school, you're learning strategy and techniques," said Simonds. "Here, there's nothing about strategy and technique. All we're doing is studying the fire. We're not trying to fight it. We're trying to watch it and learn from it — see how it's going to go up the ceiling and how the heat is going to come down the wall and light on fire."

With the training, Pierce believes the firefighters will be able to quickly see signs of a possible flashover and decide if they should fight a fire defensively from outside. Knowing those signs can be the difference between death and living to fight fire another day.