First real fire experience

Everyone knows about the usual opinion that during the studies, engineers gain too much of theoretical knowledge and very little, or almost none of the practical one. Luckily for IMFSE students, we were able to choose the course called “Fire Safety Engineering based Firefighting’’, taught by Mr. Karel Lambert, who, apart from being a civil and fire safety engineer, is also Battalion Chief at Brussels Fire Department.

As you can already assume, aside from learning about firefighting tactics, equipment, ventilation, fire behavior itself, etc., the vital part of the course was actually doing a real firefighting training, and getting some first-hand experience.

Dealing with fire is a really serious and hazardous problem, therefore it has to be considered with utmost care. Probably the most important thing is picking appropriate and high quality gear, which we all have done successfully with the assistance of the really helpful Fire academy crew. Next thing was learning about the whole training, and becoming aware of all safety precautions.

1

When everyone was ready, we entered the container and the training began.

They set a wooden pallet with several minor combustible materials on fire so it started growing slowly. As the fire was growing, we were staring at it through the thermal imaging camera and we could notice that it was reaching really high temperatures of up to 800 °C. The smoke was produced in large quantities, but since the container door was completely open, it easily flew out sticking to the ceiling. At some point, a crew member closed the upper half of the door and we could immediately notice something amazing. Due to the change in ventilation conditions, and the change in neutral plane position, the smoke instantaneously dropped to less than a half of the height of the container, and in our sitting positions, it was almost touching our helmets. We turned the camera to the smoke and it showed 150 °C. Karel told us to stand up, which we did, and we were immediately stunned. The visibility was awful, and even through our several layers gear we could feel how hot it was.

2

When they reopened the container door, the smoke was under control again and we continued observing the fire. Karel approached the fire and pushed a wooden table with cardboard pieces on it just next to the fire. It didn’t take long before the cardboard started pyrolyzing and then burning without even touching the fire. It was a really nice example of radiative heat transfer, and perhaps a short glimpse of flashover.

After seeing the most important phenomena, Karel extinguished the fire and the training was over.

3

Discussing the whole practice with my colleagues, we all agreed on several things. First of all, how heavy the gear was, and how complicated it was putting it all on. Obviously, it takes a lot of practice to be ready to act properly in short amount of time.

Next thing we all agreed about was that, although we knew we were completely safe, just being near a serious fire isn’t that comfortable, and firefighting job definitely takes a lot of courage.

At last we concluded how being a firefighter certainly looks pretty cool, but even looking beyond that, it’s such a tough job and it definitely deserves huge respect.

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