Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Flashover simulator may save firefighters

Machine will help them identify dangers

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati firefighters have been waiting months for a new training simulator to teach them about flashovers, the fire phenomenon that killed one of their brothers last week. But the equipment won't arrive until June.

The department applied for and won a $48,000 grant last year from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and was promised $20,000 from the city. But a deadly flashover struck before the simulator could be put to use.

Children from the Bond Hill Head Start program walk past the house where Firefighter Oscar Armstrong III died. The children placed a poster in front.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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The simulator - a trailer in which trainers can repeatedly set fires so they grow hot enough to flash over - will let firefighters safely see the warning signs: extra-thick, black smoke, a quick increase in temperature and "fingers" of fire.

Those fingers, training Chief Tom Lakamp explained, mean the gases inside the room have superheated enough to catch fire themselves - and a flashover is about to occur.

"Whatever's in there," he said, "is not going to survive."

[photo] Oscar Armstrong III, killed in a fire Friday, with his 5-year-old sons, Isaiah and Oscar IV.
(Family photo)
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Cincinnati firefighters get classroom training to spot the signs of a flashover, but nothing more visual. But even if you know what to look for, Lakamp said, the signs crop up so quickly that firefighters have only seconds to get out.

Oscar "Ozzie" Armstrong III, a 25-year-old father of two whose fiancee is expecting a child this summer, was killed Friday morning when a kitchen fire in Bond Hill went out of control. A firefighter three years, he was on a hose line inside a room that erupted in a flashover.

Expressions of sympathy continued to pop up throughout the city. The piles of flowers and notes grew at the firefighters memorial downtown, at the scene of the fire on Laidlaw Avenue and at Armstrong's firehouse at Reading and Paddock roads in Bond Hill.

Firefighters from Columbus, Covington, Delhi and Green townships, St. Bernard and Norwood volunteered to man city fire stations Thursday so most of Cincinnati's 800 firefighters can attend Armstrong's funeral.

Cincinnati police officers covered their badges with black mourning bands.

"Whether this new simulator would've saved Oscar, I don't know," said union president Joe Diebold. "But I think we need to protect ourselves in the future so this tragic moment won't happen again."

Capt. Bill Zoz, training chief for the Colerain Township Fire Department, travels around the state as an instructor with the Ohio state fire marshal's flashover simulator.

The state, he said, trains firefighters to go into a fire where pre-flashover signs exist only if victims might be inside - and to only crawl in far enough to be able to get out in three to five seconds.

The "three-to-five-second rule" comes from this: firefighters' clothing can withstand temperatures of 1,200 to 1,300 degrees for only three to five seconds.

That's usually about four or five feet into the room, Zoz said. In flashovers, the smoke itself can reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees or more, he said, causing it to ignite.

"You're talking total flame engulfment," he said, "of everything in the room."

Details of Armstrong's actions at the Friday fire have not been released, including whether he and others thought victims might be trapped or if anyone saw the pre-flashover signs. Investigations continue by local authorities and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The state's simulator will be back at Colerain in May for 10 days. Suburban firefighters are signing up for the $40 class now. Cincinnati firefighters can attend too, Lakamp said, but they have to do so at their own cost. A few have done that, he said.

Email jprendergast@enquirer.com

Public welcome at firefighter's services

Monday story:
Firefighters to take role in funeral
Sunday stories:
Family visits scene of fatal fire
Stress team helps folks cope after tragedy
PULFER: Firefighter's death
Saturday stories:
Firefighter dies in Bond Hill
Fire department mourns
Fireman's widow says community support helped family
Memorial a gathering spot for firefighters
Editorial: Gave it his all

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