By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Carbondale’s firefighters will undergo a new training program this month, using what is known as the “Mobile Live-Fire Training Unit,” a large trailer that can simulate a blazing inferno in a house or other structure that lets trainees run through their paces and learn to work together.
The Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District (CRFPD) training officer, Frank Nadell, explained that the mobile unit is owned by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control, created four years ago by the state legislature to take over responsibility for wildfires and other fire-related issues.
The mobile unit, though, was only purchased by the division recently, Nadell said, and Carbondale is one of the first of Colorado’s 400 or so fire departments to use it in training exercises.
The training exercises are scheduled to take place at the grounds of the CRFPD, 301 Meadowood Dr., on May 26-28.
The training is similar, Nadell said, to sessions conducted in permanent “burn buildings” erected in Rifle and near Gypsum, which are made available for use by fire departments in surrounding communities.
But this is different, in that the training facility is hauled by truck to those districts that do not have a burn-facility of their own.
The trailer, specially built for fire-fighting training purposes, contains several “burn rooms” lined with heat-resistant tiles to protect the overall structure from the fires, which burn gas and can reach temperatures in the hundreds of degrees.
If the fire gets too hot, he said, different measures can be taken to reduce the heat.
“It’s very safe,” Nadell said.
Nadell said the training exercises typically involve 15 firefighters — three in the burn room itself, using hoses to douse the flames, with others acting as support personnel on the outside, filling such roles as operating the pump, maintaining the water supply for the hoses, and acting as an “incident commander” directing the operation.
In addition, Nadell said, there are safety observers to watch over the exercise, and a ventilation group controlling the heat and smoke by knowing when to break open windows or doors, which typically gives a boost of oxygen to any fire.
“Having this mobile building allows us to have people work in these different roles, and to trade off,” Nadell said, giving firefighters experience in different aspects of the overall operation.
“It’s all these different groups,” he said, performing a variety of tasks.
“Here in a rural area, every firefighter is trained in a (variety of) different role(s)” so that each firefighter can take up another role if needed.
In big-city departments, Nadell added, firefighters often are paid specialists in these roles.
Nadell explained that modern fire fighting often entails going into buildings that are filled with modern furniture and other articles made of highly flammable plastics, pressed particle-board and other substances that catch fire and are consumed much more quickly than more traditional articles of furniture made of natural wood and metal.
The modern furnishings, Nadell said, give off smoke that is “loaded with hydrocarbons; very, very toxic.”
Showing an Internet video from Underwriters Laboratories [now known simply as UL], a national safety and testing firm, depicting two “rooms” — one termed “legacy” containing older furniture and appliances, the other labeled “modern.”
Fires were simultaneously lit in each room in a controlled experiment, and within a couple of minutes the flames in the “modern” room were already tall and threatening, while the “legacy” room remained relatively unscathed.
Within three and a half minutes, the modern room exploded in flames and showed temperatures above 700 degrees Fahrenheit.
“This is not survivable,” Nadell said, meaning residents must be gotten out quickly and firefighters must be fully suited-up with protective clothing and very careful upon entering the fire zone.
Legacy rooms, he said, will not reach the same dangerous stage for up to half an hour.
“This is our world,” Nadell continued. “It’s a much more dangerous environment, and getting water on the fire quickly is much more important” than it might have been 20 years ago.
One outcome of these changing circumstances is that it is critical that every firefighter be trained in various roles, “so they all work together in a safe manner,” Nadell said.
Published in The Sopris Sun on May 19, 2016.