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NEWS | Nov. 24, 2010

JBSA firemen take flashover training

By Mike Joseph 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

Even before Joint Base San Antonio stood up last year, the Lackland, Randolph Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston fire departments were familiar with the joint basing concept.

Having trained, shared facilities and coordinated training prop purchases together regularly in years past, JBSA simply made sense.

"We were doing training with Fort Sam and Randolph before we became Joint Base. When we became JBSA, that just made it much easier," said Lackland Fire Chief Lewis Everett. "Now that we're under the same umbrella, it's much easier.

"We do quite a bit of joint training; it saves time and money. New training props are expensive so we'll talk to (Randolph and Fort Sam) and to make sure we all don't buy the same thing."

All three JBSA fire departments are unselfish when it comes to sharing training facilities to save time, money and lives. Lackland has an air rescue and firefighter trainer and structural fire training tower, Fort Sam Houston has a helicopter trainer and structural training tower, and Randolph has a confined space trainer and an air rescue and firefighter trainer.

Flashover training is one element unique to Lackland that the three fire departments share. Fort Sam Houston fire crews spent the week of Nov. 15-19 in training, supported by Lackland firefighters.

The flashover prop, said Chief Everett, looks like two heavy metal shipping containers hooked together with a chimney. To create the flashover, the sides and ceiling of the prop's raised end is lined with particle board. A large barrel stuffed with wood is lit to start the fire.

Firefighters enter through doors on the lower end, staying low to the fire resistant brick floor in full gear with hoses to practice spraying techniques and observe flashover warning signs. Ceiling temperatures can reach above 1,000 degrees; floor temperatures more than 100 degrees.

Flashover occurs when heat from a growing fire is absorbed into the upper walls and contents of a room, heating up the combustible gases and furnishings to their auto-ignition temperature.

The build-up of heat in a room triggers the flashover, which signals major changes in the fire and essentially ends search and rescue in a room.

Flashover also means the end of a fire's growth as it enters the second stage of combustion, moving from a contents fire to a structure fire, and the beginning of collapse risk.

Chief Everett said flashover is the most dangerous type of fire, and the training prop used by the JBSA firefighters creates a real world scenario.

"(The training) teaches firefighters to recognize those flashover signs," Chief Lewis said. "The training is very realistic. We augment them a couple of days but (the Fort Sam) senior officers are trained on the prop. We simply unlock the gate for them."

Fort Sam Houston station captain Xavier Perea hopes to make flashover training a yearly requirement.

"It's invaluable," Captain Perea said, dripping in sweat after taking a four-man crew through a 45-minute training exercise. It was that crew's first time for flashover training.

"(The training) gives them first-hand knowledge to see what an actual flashover looks like - the signs and signals," Captain Perea said. "They can actually see what's coming, and that, in turn, will save lives."

Lackland Assistant Fire Chief Carl Lane said the training takes firefighters through all stages of a burn right up to the flashover point.

"They're seeing the whole process of a fire from the beginning to the flashover stage," Assistant Chief Lane said. "Once we start the fire, it takes about 10 minutes before the first flashover. That shows them how fast the fire can progress. This is a very, very good life-saving tool."