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Kidde Repeats Texas Foam School

Kidde Fire Fighting instructor Jon Harris got differing opinions when he asked students where is the last place that a tank fire goes out? "Downwind," one student replied. Another suggested "the inside of the tank wall closest to you."

The correct answer, Harris explained, is around the inside of the shell of the tank.

"Foam extinguishes by cutting off the supply of oxygen while eliminating the release of flammable vapors," Harris said. "Now, if we have a tank shell that is 1,300 degrees and a foam blanket made up of 97 parts water, that foam will not heal against the sides to seal off the vapors."

The solution is to aim cooling water against the exterior of the tank, Harris said.

"To be beneficial, the cooling water stream should be aimed just above the level of the fire inside," Harris said. "Cooling steams typically don't do much good for you below the product level. The product actually absorbs the heat at that stage of the game."

This was only one of many tidbits of fire fighting wisdom dispensed during the Kidde foam school held in March at the Emergency Services Training Institute in College Station, TX. Seventy U.S. and international students enrolled for the semi-annual school that utilizes both marine and industrial fire fighting props.

Giving firefighters realistic experience on the fire training field has gained increasing focus at recent foam schools, said Frank Bateman, training manager for Kidde.

"Realism means burning projects as much as I can to reinforce what we are doing in the classroom," Bateman said. "I've got to get them on the fire field to accomplish my learning objectives. Little by little, we have shrunk the classroom time indoors to enhance what we do outside. "

As much as two-thirds of the four-day foam school is spent on the fire field, Bateman said.

For decades, National Foam conducted their annual flammable liquid firefighting school at Texas A&M.  When Frank Bateman joined Kidde Fire Fighting National Foam in 2000 as Training Manager, one of the first actions he took was to violate the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".  He gambled that the targeted end-user (emergency responders) would be better served by implementing a program that resulted in a near complete curriculum overhaul.  While all in the fire service can benefit, the school now clearly targets emergency responders' needs.  Frank's 'No Sell Zone' was another gamble.  Unlike some other schools, Kidde's course topics introduce and develop concepts and techniques; not thinly disguised promotions of the host company's products.  Frank's changes turned out to be no gamble at all - a second yearly session has been added and runs at, or near, capacity. 

None of the above would have been possible without the support of a group of the best instructors in the fire service known affectionately among themselves as 'the cadre'.  Their diversity of background (city, state, federal, and industrial fire department/brigade) and experience, are essential in reinforcing strategies and tactics introduced in the classroom.  The greatest compliment paid to Frank and KFF is "the cadre" believes in the school so much that they donate their time, effort and expertise to achieving each session's learning objectives.

Students are given insights into the development of new fire fighting technologies and techniques, particularly in the area of critical infrastructure protection.  Strategies and tactics are emphasized through both classroom and field evolutions with an impressive instructor to student ratio of 31 to 72 (about 1 instructor for every 2 students). 

 "Now celebrating its 90 anniversary, Kidde remains committed to providing world class training and products to the numerous fire safety markets that we serve and this school is a huge part of that."

Each day (except Friday, which is classroom only), starts with a classroom session designed to prepare students for the live firefighting evolutions they will encounter that day.  The goal is to keep the classroom sessions as short as necessary to give students as much skill reinforcement as possible.  Before the first fire on the first day, students must also participate in basic skill refreshers such as hose and monitor handling, water and foam application techniques and SCBA donning and doffing to ensure that everyone has the same baseline before starting to fight fires together.

After the safety sessions are complete the school really kicks into action with students rotating through multiple different field evolutions during which they face a myriad of different challenges - some expected and some not- like the gusting wind that wreaked havoc on Joe Bateman's Pipe Rack project. 

"We carefully rehearse every project and extinguishment strategy prior to the students' arrival so that we are certain as to which technique is most effective," said  Joe Bateman, Project Director for the Pipe Rack prop and a Captain at the Valero Refinery in Benicia, California.  "I arrived at this project feeling confident in the attack method we selected and practiced so successfully the day before.  Then I felt the wind and knew we were going to have to change our attack plan."

The objective of the Pipe Rack prop is to rescue an injured person on top of a platform engulfed in flames, in addition to valving out a number of hard to access fuel sources.  On Monday when the instructors practiced it, the wind had been at their backs, thus blowing the flames away from them in their approach to the stairs and platform.  The directional wind change meant that on Tuesday the flames were being whipped right into the approach path, making it harder to control the flames in order to access the stairway and valves. 

"Monday we were able to get in and out no problem on this prop. Tuesday was a different story," Joe Bateman said.  "We only had to use one line on Monday to capture each of the three valves and needed minimum support foam.  Today one hand line for each valve was not enough so we added a fifth and had two hose groups instead of one take the stairs to rescue the injured person and valve out the first valve.  The other hose groups tackled each of the remaining valves.  It was a real challenge, but illustrative of what really happens, weather conditions change, there is no such thing as the same fire twice and so your techniques and approaches need to be adaptable."

The school packs a lot of action into each day, and students transition briskly from one exercise to the next, kept on track by the school's operations chief Rick Deel.  Zooming around the campus on his golf cart Rick runs a tight ship and ensures that each of the project directors keeps on schedule.  With his blackberry in one pocket, his cell phone in another and a pager in a third- not counting the walkie talkie around his neck, Rick truly is a mobile command center and is ready for anything- that is until all of his communication devices go off at once!  When not volunteering at the school Rick is the Fire Chief at the Lubrizol refinery just outside of Houston, with over 27 years experience Rick is also in charge of emergency response and security at the plant.  After almost 20 years at the Kidde fire school Rick still keeps coming back for more, mostly because "I enjoy the interaction with the students," he said, before speeding off in response to a call from his cell phone- or maybe it was his pager... In any event the sound of ringing and buzzing wafted after him as he sped off into the dust and smoke.

Wednesday's classroom session has a later start time to accommodate the night burns which generally end around midnight.  Topics covered included advanced industrial fire fighting and above ground storage tank fire fighting.  Each session's field evolutions are more complex and demanding (both mentally and physically) than the day before.  One example is the infamous Engine Room, which is designed to simulate the inside of a ship's engine room and even has hatch doors that when shut, make the enclosure 'watertight'. 

When the project is being burned, the fire is first ignited in the area of the engine block and under the grid (bilge area) on the deck.  Three dimensional (spraying liquid) fires are then ignited involving the remainder of the space. During each team rotation, the first burn is extinguished using low expansion foam delivered through a cellar (distributor) nozzle.  The second burn is extinguished using high expansion foam delivered through portable generators operated from an opening above the fire.  Students observe the benefits and drawbacks of each extinguishment technique while bunkered and 'on air' from the deck level.

"This is the finest foam school in the world, particularly given the scenarios and multiple opportunities to use foam. It's rewarding to know that if they are faced with an emergency the students can take what they've learned here and better solve the problem," said instructor Mark Turvey, assistant Fire Chief at the Lubrizol plant outside of Houston and the Station Captain for the Friendswood Volunteer Fire Dept.

Wednesday night is one of the highlights for many of the students- simply called Night Burns; these exercises are favorites among the instructors as well.  "If you have a passion for teaching other people how to fight fire effectively then you want to be at a school that does it the right way.  This school not only teaches people the right techniques, it teaches them to work together as a team, and that is a great thing to be a part of.  The Night Burns are an important training exercise because most real fires occur at night either during shift change or shortly thereafter so these evolutions really lend a sense of realism to the school," said Bill Green retired industrial fire chief for the DuPont facility in Mobile, Alabama and now a volunteer firefighter in Deer Park, Texas.

During night burns there are four rotations each of which present a unique challenge to students and an opportunity to use different types of equipment and extinguishing agents.  One prop incorporated the use of Badger's dry chemical fire extinguishers to suppress the remnants of a fire captured by a hose lines. 

Another prop called the Aerial Cooler, is among the most difficult of all night burns.  Led by Project Director, Battalion Chief Kelli Allen of the Broward County, Florida Fire Dept, this prop poses a number of different challenges to students including 11 shut off valves, 3D fire and flammable pooling liquid. 

"The students were confronted with a multiple fire scenario and they had four hose lines and one foam line with which to attack the prop.  Our first objective was to capture the pan on the second platform so that the first hose line could make its way up the stairs to the third floor to shut off a leaking propane valve.  With flammable liquid dripping off the pan causing the added challenge of pooling liquid fires, the hose teams really had to systematically fight their way around the prop," Allen said. 

While the fires burned brightly against the dark night sky, hose teams three and four advanced down the alleyway to fight two fires burning violently in the prop's large industrial fans.  The teams had to redirect flames away from a nearby chain valve in order to shut off the fuel source.  Dragging their hose behind them and around obstacles the team quickly moved onto a pump fire which was flaring off in every direction.  To extinguish it they had to capture and close two more valves which were engulfed in flames.  Dodging flare ups and handling any re-lights with ease, all four hose teams converged at the back of the prop to tackle the last fire fed by a torn pipe leaking flammable liquid.

"Overall the burns went really well," Allen praised.  "I originally wanted to take a line up the middle but we found that once we were in the right position to best capture the valves, our hose streams crossed and the wind was not cooperating, so we had to back out and go along the side.  This approach had its own problems however because we had to maneuver a lot of hose in a pretty small space.  It took a lot of great teamwork and hose handling by the students to fight the multiple fires on this prop successfully and they definitely rose to the challenge." 

Thursday's sessions are really the culmination of the school and are regarded as a type of graduation day for the students as they have to face their two biggest challenges, manually extinguishing fires in the engine room and the multiple prop fire scenario using ICS (incident command system). 

While already familiar with the engine room from the previous day's burns Thursday's project does not involve foam systems forcing the students to bring their own hose and fight the intensely hot fires themselves.

Capt. John Ferry, retired FDNY and now a Fire Captain at Scottsdale F.D. in Arizona, is the project director for this prop.  With over 30 years experience and a take command demeanor the students were, once again, in more then capable hands.  Before donning their SCBA's the students were briefed by Capt. Ferry on exactly how he wanted them to approach the burn.  Using an elevated approach into the room, students had to extend two hose lines down a grated stairway.  Capt. Ferry warned them to wait until everyone was down the stairs before opening their nozzles; otherwise they'd literally cook themselves or others with the steam that's created.

Once down the stairs the students split off into mirror lines on either side of the engine block.  Systematically they fought their way to the back, capturing and closing valves as they went.  The intense heat turns everything black even the parts of you under your mask and jacket- the soot has a way of sneaking in everywhere- insidiously. 

Once completed the students must face three other field rotations, before the afternoon's highlight- the ICS.  Led by project director Gene Rittburg, former fire chief at the Tosco oil refinery with over 42 years experience, this exercise puts everything the students have learned to the test. 

The ICS is a multi-incident response scenario where both the industrial and municipal fire fighters in attendance must work together.  Two incident commanders are selected from the student body, one from a municipal and one from an industrial department. 

"Both bring different perspectives and experiences," Rittburg says, "and with the move towards regionalized fire fighting it is not inconceivable that a situation would have both groups responding at once."

The scene is set as if the students are all on the same shift at a fictional plant.  An event is called in by an operator played by Rittburg.  Once alerted to the situation both incident commanders have to work together using a unified command structure to formulate a strategy, assess resources, and plan their response. 

"If you fail to plan, plan to fail," Rittburg said.  "Students need to make decisions based on what they know, what they've learned here and their own experiences.  Just like real life however, students must also be ready for the unplanned, such as the fire spilling over into adjacent areas- which could very well happen at a facility.  So we light multiple props on fire so that the students must plan and attack on a number of different fronts.  The biggest take away from this exercise though is that obviously, you did a lot of things right, but you need to stop and think about what we could have done better."

"The realistic training conditions coupled with the dedication and caliber of the instructors makes the Kidde School unmatched in the experience it provides its students.  In fact, a lot of instructors have to finagle in adjusting their schedules just to be here.  It's their own time- own dime and we couldn't do this school without them," Frank Bateman said.  "Some departments send their entire company through the school; we appreciate the trust they have in us to provide their firefighters with world class training."

Among the students attending the foam school were Leon Roop and Kelly Bloodworth of Wilmington, N.C. Roop works for Invista, a manufacturer of fibers and polymers, and Bloodworth works for Fortron Industries, a plastics maker.

Roop, an incident commander at Invista, said his most important message when he returns to work will be to bring a foam tank at the tank farm back into service as soon as possible.

"I teach the fire brigade once a month and will have more than enough information to share with them," Roop said.

Bloodworth, an assistant incident commander and team leader in the process plant, said he will urge his brigade to do more training on foam application

Bill Arnold and Bob Blank of Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., said they appreciated that the school was broad enough to address issues outside dealing with petrochemicals.

"We deal with a lot of exotic chemicals like acetone and synthetic chemicals," Arnold said.

However, not everyone taking the training was strictly industrial firefighters. David Campbell, a captain with the Lawrence Cedars (N.Y.) Fire Department, said that gaining addition foam training became important after a tanker truck overturned and spilled its contents 18 months ago.

"We have a lot of transport vehicles that go through our district and our neighboring town has four bulk storage facilities," Campbell said. "We are inadequate with our foam evolution."

According to Bateman, some discussion has taken place about adding a third foam school annually. Although the move would be popular, it presents problems that are hard to overcome, he said.

"One problem is that I would have to impose further on my guest instructors to take more time out of their busy work life to teach here," Bateman said. "One week a year was fine. Two weeks a year was more difficult but still possible. Three weeks will require developing an entirely different cadre of instructors.

Another problem is scheduling night burns. Training exercises at night have become a hallmark of the Kidde school.

"There are certain times of the year when the sun doesn't go down until very late, meaning the firefighters and instructors have to work well into the night," Bateman said.


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