Cooking at work - When fire training can be deadly
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
There’s lots to be said for cooking at work and in the Fire Services of the world, having a “cook up” (dinner) is a thing that fire crews do together. It’s like a team building activity for hungry firefighters. The drawback afterwards of course, is if you have to suddenly jump in a big red truck and go somewhere in a hurry and you’ve overindulged…
A similar type of cooking, you want to avoid at all times, is where the item being unintentionally cooked is one of the fire crew!
That’s where all that team building, fire training, cohesion and knowing your equipment and most of all, just like the military - trusting your workmates comes into play.
The video here was caught by a recruit firefighter on an Aviation Rescue recruit course (RC57), at Brisbane airport way back in 2002, (how young we all were then!). He had kindly agreed to do some videoing for me as we lit up the LMU “mock-up” or “the rig” with a few hundred litres of flammable liquid. (Large Mock Up training aid - I’ve put a couple of pictures in for a visual).
This LMU was a relatively new build and after having done a few fire training recruit school exercises. I said to my Superintendent after an exercise one day, we really need some “lighting procedures” for the new fire-ground mock-up, the potential for someone getting seriously hurt is pretty high. So, he gave me the job - how did I not see that coming?
Six weeks later one night I handed my video camera to a fire recruit …
As part of the procedure, the pair “lighting” the LMU inside with a drip torch (there were multiple large metal baskets of wood doused in kerosene inside), had to be wearing full fire fighting gear and breathing apparatus with a radio. Sounds like common sense huh? Before my “lighting procedure,” it wasn’t always that way. At the time, ARFF (Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting) were not issued with flash hoods. A flash hood is a fire-resistant hood that fits around your breathing apparatus mask and covers your head, ears, neck. In those days, these parts of your body were mostly exposed and got quite hot at times, glad that has changed these days!
The Fire Officer I was with inside, who was also holding the flame emitting drip torch, exited out the rear LMU door, we made eye contact, gave thumbs up and he proceeded down the rear stairs. Things happen quickly sometimes. The issue was I didn’t follow him and he didn’t know. The rear door of the new LMU had a closing larch mechanism that could “over centre” when the door was open. If you went to latch the door closed and it was over centred, you had to open the door, rotate the latch back, close the door again and latch it closed. Never an issue before as it only took 10 odd seconds flat to re-latch. But it became a problem now.
I re-latched the door and turned to walk down the rear stairs, to see my firefighter (still friends lol) partner lowering the drip torch into some nice freshly laid Class B flammable liquid - kerosene with a petrol accelerant. Can’t say I’ve even been a fan of petrol in anything other than a car fuel tank or a lawnmower, ok ok maybe a wiper snipper too!
The video starts around the time the fire has spread rapidly, engulfing the entire bunded area the LMU is built on and which I am still standing in the middle of.
Within a few seconds of the video having started, a few things have happened.
My eyes met my partners through our BA masks again, as he saw where I was, high on the steps, and the fire was already lit. Surprising how wide someone’s eyes can go really!
I made my radio call, “NO DUFF! NO DUFF! (means not part of the exercise), This is Joe I’m still on the Rig at the rear door!”
I had realised I would have to walk through substantial flames and heat to be able to get down off the LMU stairs, not an option if I didn’t want to get burnt, (back to the bad type of cooking at the start of this story).
I went back up a couple of steps to the rear door, which has a solid metal floor. (Thank you to whoever designed that feature in!). I must admit I did think about actually going back inside because at this stage it was getting bloody hot but decided not to as it would probably be worse inside now. In retrospect, it would have been the worst possible thing I could have done.
Contrary to popular belief, no matter how brave, fit and tanned, or how many times a muscly
firefighter works out in the gym a week, he or she, cannot walk through flames wearing standard full fire protective equipment. I was none of these glorious things, so I had no chance! I crouched close to the floor at the base of the rear LMU door and waited…
Here’s some other details from the video. On the left border of the video halfway up, the monitor is finishing it’s rotation from the stowed position in case it had to be (carefully) used. The pump operator, (sitting in the front seat of the ULFV, not in field of view), also makes some final adjustments. The diffuser on the monitor is closed, (making the monitor look pointy). This is so foam (actually 94% water/6% foam mix), that exits the monitor is not in the form of a jet, but rather a flat stream. This is great if you want to cover an area quickly without blasting it. Also great, if you don’t want to knock someone off their feet! You can hear the engine of the ULFV at high revs indicating, just by sound, to anyone who knows what they’re listening to, that the pump is engaged.
I could not see a thing beyond the wall of flames and smoke around me, but thanks to the solid metal floor I was only amongst the flames, not actually in them.
I heard the single horn blast from the ULFV (Ultra Large Fire Vehicle) indicating that it was pumping foam to the branches either side of the stairs. One thing the Fire Service training develops in it’s fireground leaders, by necessity, is voice projection. I could hear the shouted commands for "agent on" and the responses of the recruits manning the safety intervention equipment (per the lighting procedure!), which had already been laid out ready.
The tactic here, as with aviation firefighting generally, is to create a rescue path and THAT is
exactly what the instructors and recruits of Recruit Course 57 did for me that night. Love your work! - Thank you again!
Because we didn’t use flash hoods, I had my arm and hand wrapped around my neck trying to stop the “parbake.” In the end though, it was a pretty easy escape from cooking really.
The technique used is commonly taught in ARFF as a “dual agent attack.” Two recruits used a 9KG Dry Chemical Powder extinguisher each to knock down the fire around the stairs,
simultaneously followed up by two other recruits using foam making branches (FB10X’s) fed
from the ULFV to consolidate that extinguished path and make it safe to egress. As a last
technical word, in my experience, dual agent attacks are generally under rated, under used but as you can see, highly effective.
The fire training exercise continued on ...
I had never been so hot in my turnout gear before this night. My turnout gear had got wet from a previous exercise that night, and unfortunately that gave me light steam burns on my back, so no sleeping on my back that night!
The only time I’ve been reminded of that night by so much heat at a job, was at a fire on
Australia day 3 or 4 years back - but that’s another story.
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