The life of a firefighter consists of a multitude of emergency and nonemergency calls, 24-hour shifts and the occasional flashover.
“A flashover is a scientific characteristic of heat, air and by-products of combustion that creates fire all at one time,” said Steve Kinkade, 56th Civil Engineering Squadron Fire and Emergency Services training assistant fire chief. “For example, if a room was to heat up, causing all the contents of the room to get to approximately 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, it will result in everything igniting all at once, consuming everything in the room.”
In addition, flashovers are one of the leading causes of firefighter injuries and deaths, Kinkade said.
“A flashover is a firefighter’s worst nightmare because it’s so dangerous, and the survivability is slim to none,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Salyer, 56th CES fire crew chief. “This is because usually by the time you start catching the signs of a flashover you are already too far into the structure to be able to get out in time.”
To help save lives and teach the warning signs of a flashover, 56th CES firefighters created a flashover chamber.
Salyer said the flashover chamber is made out of two connex boxes. One box sits at ground level while the other is welded roughly three and a half feet above ground level. The boxes are also lined with firebrick to prevent damage to the boxes.
To create the flashover conditions, a burn barrel with five pieces of wood is placed in the upper portion of the chamber and lit. Once the barrel of wood is lit, the upper portion of the chamber then fills up with heavy dense smoke. The smoke eventually begins to roll down to the firefighters and fills up the space. When the space is filled, fresh oxygen is let in to begin the process of creating a flashover. The oxygen then causes the smoke to travel back to the lit barrel where it will cause all the smoke in the chamber to ignite very slowly.
“When we are in the chamber we sit on the ground below the elevated surface and because it is a controlled environment, it allows us to teach the students while in the chamber,” Salyer said. “In the chamber we teach the students a penciling technique, which is when we point the nozzle straight up to the ceiling releasing short bursts of water. This technique ultimately cools the fire, extinguishing it.”
The flashover chamber is an essential asset to Luke firefighters in saving lives.
“The flashover chamber is a vital tool because it enables us to create the conditions for flashovers in a safe, manageable manner,” Salyer said. “It also allows firefighters to quickly identify the warning signs, increasing their chances for survival.”