It started out as a typical day in the east parking lot on the Yuba College campus, but soon the Yuba College Fire Academy Cadets were rushing into a burning, smoked filled two-story trailer to battle intense scorching flames.
With hose in hand, the cadets followed the procedures they learned at the academy and extinguished the flames. The problem with putting out the flames in this trailer was that they could have ignited again and again-and they did just that.
The trailer that was burning is a mobile live fire trailer that is owned by the Northern Tree Fire Suppressors, Inc. that operates out of Monterey. This trailer has been used to train and test fire academy cadets and fire fighters as far north as Seattle.
According to Tom Zurflueh, who has been an operator of the fire simulator for three years, there are no other trailers like this in the world. Zurfleuh said that in the three years that the simulator has been in operation, approximately seven thousand fire fighters have entered the burning simulator.
The fire simulator is equipped with a computer that controls the flames and smoke in each of the trailer’s four rooms. The rooms are designed to simulate an actual structure fire. The flames are made when propane rises through water-filled areas in a stove in the kitchen and a bed in the upstairs bedroom. Vegetable oil burning in heaters produces the thick smoke.
The fire simulator’s computer is located inside a protective room in the trailer. This room is also used as a viewing room that enables instructors to see the cadets and grade them on their performance.
Cadets enter the fire simulator after it is filled with the thick smoke and the fire is ignited. One cadet operates a “dead-man” switch that can shut off the flames immediately if there are any signs of trouble, while others cadets battle the blaze. A “dead-man” switch is located in each of the trailer’s four rooms.
Tom McAdams, a former Butte College Fire Academy instructor, who also operates the fire simulator, said that it is a safe tool for training cadets. “We’ve never hurt anyone in this thing.”
The fire simulator’s computer allows the operator to see the size of the flames, and is equipped with a switch that allows the operator to turn off the gas if there is any trouble. McAdams explained that the flames inside the simulator could be brief or major depending on who’s fighting the fire.
“This is the third year we’ve done this, and it’s been pretty successful,” said Yuba College Fire Technology Coordinator Jeff Julian in a resent interview. “We are extremely safe when it comes to doing this.”
According to Yuba College Fire Academy Cadet Jim Smith, the fire simulator is a good training tool. “It’s pretty realistic,” said Smith. However, Smith added that it might have been better to have the fire simulator exercise at the midway point of the fifteen-week long academy and a real house fire at the end. “The fire doesn’t get out of control,” Smith said.
Cadet Scott Meyer agreed that the fire simulator was a good experience but he would also have liked to have battled a more realistic fire. “It could always be more intense,” said Meyer.
Julian said that the fire simulator is actually better than a structure fire. “You end up with more fire because you can burn time and time again.”
Besides giving the cadets a chance to experience a fire and its perfect safety record, the fire-simulating trailer is also environmentally safe. Tom McAdams explained that the fire simulator is not like burning down a house with all the toxins.
Tom Zurfleuh agrees. Zurfleuh also said that the fire simulator is cost efficient. “It’s as cheap, if not cheaper, than actually burning a building,” said Zurfleuh.