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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Fall Fire Workshops

The Bemidji class was held at the Sanford Center.
The instructor’s voice got louder as he quickly said, “Conditions change suddenly, and you see thick, black, heavy, angry, fast-moving smoke pushing all the way down to the floor, you can’t see anything, and the heat feels like knives going into your body! What is going on?” A voice from the back of the class shouts out: “Pre-flashover!” Dr. Richard Gasaway’s voice is getting louder as he quickly comes back with, “Yes! What do you do?” The class answers: “Get out!” Dr. Gasaway shouts, “Get out! Get out! Get out!”

The “flashover” that was about to occur is when all of that thick, black smoke explodes into fire and becomes fatal to firefighters. That type of smoke is enriched with hydrocarbons and is as explosive as gasoline.

The firefighters attending the class watched a video of other firefighters making an entry into a house that is on fire. They watched as the smoke changed, and the fire commander missed the change because he was on the front porch helping to advance the hose to the crew inside. Thirty-four seconds after the smoke changes, the house explodes into flames. In this class, no one asked what happened to the firefighters inside. They knew.

Dr. Gasaway with firefighters in St. Cloud.
The above class was one of the just-concluded fire workshops entitled Fireground Safety—10 Frequent Mistakes and 10 Best Practices. The workshops were held in Slayton, Morris, St. Cloud, Crookston, Bemidji, and Sandstone. Dr. Gasaway has studied more than 500 fire ground fatalities, and this class comes from his research and from his 30 years of experience in fire departments.

The ten mistakes he reviewed included: performing high-risk activities without proper staffing, the person in charge performing hands-on activities, failing to know when to be defensive, failure to do a 360-degree walk around before committing crews to an interior attack, shortcuts in training, and missed communications or misunderstood communications. On that last subject, Dr. Gasaway used his training in cognitive neuroscience to explain why a fire chief or firefighter at a fire may not hear a radio transmission: their brains and hearing are overloaded with input, and some of the messages are “lost.”

The final hour of the class targeted ten best practices that matched up with the ten mistakes—and these best practices don’t cost anything. This was simply about doing things differently.

One last observation: the class lasted four hours, beginning at 5:30 p.m.—and no one left any of the classes early. No one.


                                                 Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Drones—Coming to a Squad Car Near You

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.