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Gowen Field Firefighters Learn Firsthand About Flashover

SSgt. Jack Simonds, a firefighter with the Gowen Field Fire Department, instructs a fellow Gowen Field firefighter on how to recognize the signs of flashover during a training in a specialized mobile burn trailer, Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, Sept. 13, 2019.

SSgt. Jack Simonds, a firefighter with the Gowen Field Fire Department, instructs a fellow Gowen Field firefighter on how to recognize the signs of flashover during a training in a specialized mobile burn trailer, Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, Sept. 13, 2019. The training provided an opportunity to see what flashover looks like and figure out how to deal with it, how to prevent it, and how to react and escape if encountered. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Ryan White)

GOWEN FIELD, Idaho --

Firefighters from Gowen Field participated in a unique flashover-training course, Sept. 11-13, 2019, Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho.

The course allowed for nearly 30 firefighters from the Gowen Field Fire Department and four firefighters from the Orchard Combat Training Center to perform 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 SSgt. Reginald Pierce III, a firefighter with the Gowen Field Fire Department and 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 provided an opportunity to see what flashover looks like and figure out how to deal with it, how to prevent it, and how to react and escape if encountered.

“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.”

According to Pierce, the training helps build confidence in equipment, demonstrates what temperature ratings gear can handle and also teaches firemen how to utilize water in this type of scenario.

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

The live fire is done 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, which are lined with oriented strand board. The off-gassing of the wood igniting then causes fire to rollover the firefighters’ heads as the room heats up to over 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.”

Now that they’ve had this 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 the outside. Knowing those signs can be the difference between near certain death and living to fight fire another day.