Article shared from HometownLife.com on the ISFSI's Understanding & Fighting Basement Fires Program
Inhabitants of a burning home have an average of three minutes to escape — down from 17 minutes some 40 years ago — amplifying the need for the type of all-day firefighting training session that recently unfolded at Livonia's Schoolcraft College Regional Training Center.
"Home furnishings are made mostly out of synthetic materials now — not organic materials like wood and wool like they were back in the day — so fires get a lot hotter, a lot faster now, which makes this kind of training so important," Northville Township Fire Marshal Tom Hughes explained during a training break during the midwestern United States' largest hands-on training program.
"Fire spreads faster now than it did decades earlier, too, because of open-concept home designs, which are a lot more dangerous as fires can burn quicker because there aren't as many walls or doors to slow it down."
The program was spearheaded by the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) and made possible with funding through the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG.) It was one of 18 classes funded nationwide by the grant.
"I've attended a lot of other live-fire training, but I'm learning tactics today I've never learned before," Canton Township firefighter/paramedic Ryan Molina said. "The most important thing with basement fires is recognizing where the access points are — access to basements is generally limited to one set of stairs or a sliding door that leads to a backyard — and then planning your strategy from there."
Molina said he will take the lessons he learned Wednesday and share them with his colleagues.
Training to fight different fires
Training stations at the Schoolcraft site ranged from oversized dollhouses to large pole barn-like structures.
During an early-afternoon training session, menacing brownish-gray smoke billowed out of crevices in a metal, two-story structure as dozens of fully-geared-up firefighters stood nearby, waiting their turn to enter the ultra-hot enclosure so they could learn from the burn.
The water mapping lesson taught inside the two-story building showed where to point a hose to maximize water distribution, among other science-based skills to better .
Lessons learned during a demonstration based on the igniting of dollhouses were how air flow through opened and closed doors and windows influences fire behavior.
During the first nine months of 2021, Michigan reported 86 fire-related fatalities — a 1% decrease compared to 2020.
"Unfortunately, there are fire deaths occurring daily that could be prevented by some of the tactics we're teaching today," said Northville Township firefighter Jesse Marcotte, a nationally renowned instructor who participates in training sessions across the country.
"From a civilian standpoint, we emphasize close before you doze, which means close bedroom doors before you go to sleep. The temperature of a fire outside of a closed bedroom door can reach 1,000 degrees — 900 degrees hotter than inside a bedroom that has a closed door.
"The installation of smoke alarms throughout your house cannot be over-emphasized. Only 45% of homes in Michigan have working smoke alarms. New devices available now have 10-year batteries installed so you don't have to worry about changing batteries twice a year. When the 10 years are up, you throw the entire device away and buy a new one."
Marcotte said he is overwhelmed by the level of passion longtime firefighters possess for wanting to learn new tactics.
“This training has prerequisites, so every firefighter has already undergone 20 hours of training just to be at this session,” Marcotte said. "There are fire-service people here today who have been doing this for 20 years or longer — a lot of them are commanders now — but they remain open-minded about learning new tactics and embracing new ways of doing things.
"In Northville Township, for example, 97 percent of the homes have basements, the average size of which are 1,700 square feet," Hughes said. "So it's important that firefighters learn how to assess a basement fire as safely and quickly as possible because floors can collapse unexpectedly and materials burn hotter."
There are nearly 1,000 residential fires a day in the United States with 1,900 annual deaths, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Contact reporter Ed Wright at email@example.com or 517-375-1113.