MORRIS – Smoke billowed from a trailer Sunday as firefighters exited before the back doors opened and flames flashed over, igniting the fumes that floated at the ceiling.
Thankfully, the situation firefighters found themselves in this weekend was just part of a training exercise.
Chief Shabbona Fire Academy offered training to 30 instructors and 20 fire departments on Sunday. It was hosted by Exelon Generation at the company’s Midwest Fire Training Academy in Morris.
“This is our 13th year out here training,” said Charlie Boyd, vice president of Chief Shabbona Fire Academy. “We can put everything together here in one spot, and we have the use of the burn tower and the flashover simulator, key things that basic firefighters need.”
He said a lot of departments have new firefighters who can benefit from the all-day training exercises that included confined space rescue and vehicle extraction.
Kelly Cavanaugh, supervisor of the Exelon Midwest Fire Training Academy, said the facility was created to train all nuclear facility responders.
“We train over 200 days a year at this facility,” said Cavanaugh, who also is a member of the Coal City Fire Protection District. “There is nothing else like this in northern Illinois, this helps us give back to the local responders.”
The flashover simulator is two metal trailers attached, one about four feet higher than the other so firefighters can get into the lower portion and crouch down to watch the signs of a flashover in a controlled environment.
A flashover is the sudden involvement of an area in flames from floor to ceiling caused by exposed combustible material.
“Most firefighters would probably not survive a flashover. If they did, they would be severely burned,” Cavanaugh said. “They have three seconds to get out.”
Cavanaugh said the controlled simulator gives firefighters time to be in a setting where they see the signs of an impending flashover, and they know if they see those signs during an actual fire they need to leave.
The firefighters lined up outside the trailer, while the back door to the simulator was opened. They saw the flashover occur while safely outside of the trailer. At the same time an instructor explains to them what they are seeing.
As one group exited the simulator, instructor Jerry Kinsella, lead fire instructor and captain at Manhattan Fire Protection District, reminded them not to touch one another, because the heat could cause burns as the firefighters’ protective gear reached the high temperatures caused by the simulator.
Derek Dunning, an 18-year-old Verona Kinsman Fire Department firefighter, was attending his first basic firemanship class.
“I can’t describe that feeling,” he said of being in the simulator at the high temperatures surrounded by the thick smoke.
Paul Bicking, 18, of the Braidwood Fire Department, also experienced the simulator as part of his first training.
“I feel it teaches us how rollover and flashover can occur,” Bicking said. “I’m more prepared after being in there.”
Cory Scoles, a 35-year-old Dwight firefighter, was participating for the first time since he joined the department three months ago.
“It’s really cool to see the flames and smoke. You don’t realize smoke is flammable,” he said. “You can feel the heat. It’s close quarters, and you can’t see in front of you at all. But I feel safer learning to use the breathing apparatus.”
Site Communications Manager Robert Osgood said Exelon provides the site annually because it offers training devices like the simulator that fire departments don’t have readily available for training.