Max Fire Box Prop Teaches Firefighters About Fire and Smoke Behavior

Shawn Bloemker

 

During the summer of 2008, while working as an adjunct instructor at the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), I received a request to develop a fire behavior and smoke class.

 

The session would be taught as part of a program that provides free training to thousands of firefighters in Illinois. My goal was to create a class that would teach firefighters the fire behavior terminology and smoke indicators that were necessary to recognize rapid fire events at the speed at which they occur in the field. This presented numerous challenges. The biggest challenge was the way fire behavior is traditionally taught.

Fire Behavior Training

Properly teaching fire behavior requires more than just providing a short lecture on the topic. I wanted to create a proactive approach that incorporates multiple steps. Each step would build on the previous one to accomplish its goal, similar to climbing a ladder. Unfortunately, most firefighters are expected to be ready for action after just the first step.

Although a PowerPoint® lecture is a great way to lay the foundation of terminology for future firefighters and a way for current firefighters to refresh, it is only the first step in understanding how fire behaves. Since many firefighters learn from hands-on demonstration and personal experience, I knew that integrating a live demonstration would be a much more impactful way to teach the class.

When I began teaching the class, I would ignite candles to show how the candle went from a solid to a liquid to a gas. While the candle was burning, I would review a few key fire behavior definitions to ensure that a good foundation was laid. I would then blow out the candle and reignite the smoke that was above it, causing the wick to reignite to show the definitions of ignition temperature and fire point. This demonstration created the opportunity to talk about how the smoke firefighters are crawling under is really a detached gas phase looking for an ignition source.

1 The Max Fire Box is designed to demonstrate rapid fire and smoke behavior in a compartmentalized space without the use of a burn tower or an acquired structure.
1 The Max Fire Box is designed to demonstrate rapid fire and smoke behavior in a compartmentalized space without the use of a burn tower or an acquired structure. (Photos by Drew Mitchell.)

By burning the candle, I demonstrated fire behavior in a limited capacity. My next challenge was to find a way to demonstrate rapid fire and smoke behavior in a compartmentalized space without the use of a burn tower or an acquired structure.

Initially, I met this challenge by using wooden boxes that were designed to allow students to witness rapidly changing conditions in a compartment during a fire. This method was successful for one of my main goals-getting students out of the classroom to see smoke behavior and rapid fire events in a controlled environment. It became the second step that prepared students for acquired structure burns and proved to be very beneficial for students. However, it had very distinct flaws. It required continuous construction of wooden boxes and had a limited burn time. Additionally, no matter how good my carpentry skills were, as the fire heated up, the wooden boxes eventually would open up at the joints, allowing too much air into the box, thereby limiting the smoke and rapid fire events I wanted to show.

After several months of burning and redesigning, I developed a reusable steel prop that provided the solution to all of the problems with the wooden boxes. In fact, it provided the solution not only to my challenges but also for live fire training. The patent-pending Max Fire Box provides a cost-effective fire and smoke behavior prop that allows current and future firefighters to recognize rapid fire events in a controlled environment.

The Max Fire Box

Most fire departments and colleges with fire science programs are unable to properly train with live fire because of the cost and space needed for live burns. And even with the benefits of burn towers and similar structures, it is hard to safely demonstrate critical stages of fire, such as flashovers, backdrafts, and smoke explosions. The Max Fire Box provides an economical solution for live fire behavior training that doesn’t require a lot of space.

2 The patent-pending Max Fire Box provides a cost-effective fire and smoke behavior prop that allows current and future firefighters to recognize rapid fire events in a controlled environment
2 The patent-pending Max Fire Box provides a cost-effective fire and smoke behavior prop that allows current and future firefighters to recognize rapid fire events in a controlled environment.

As research is being done on fire behavior, we must realize that there are scientific principles that dictate how and why fires progress. There are many factors that impact fire behavior, and as organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute of Standards and Technology continue to provide important research on door control, flow path, and the importance of cooling superheated gases, fire departments need to have access to training equipment that demonstrates live fire behavior. The Max Fire Box safely recreates these environments in a way that is easy to see and understand. By using the Max Fire Box, instructors can show how changes directly affect fire. By repeating the process with the same results, it is easy to see how students’ actions can quickly affect fire in a way that can make the environment more survivable or more deadly. The goal is to provide instructors with an efficient way to demonstrate potentially life-saving research in a way that is hands-on and engaging.

Firefighters must be able to make life-and-death decisions in rapidly changing environments. To do that effectively, they need to recognize not only the signs of changing environments but also what factors cause the environment to change. Although classroom training is a great way to teach firefighters the basics of fire behavior, such as definitions and what they need to be looking for in live events, actually seeing those definitions firsthand can be a much more impactful way to learn.

When the prop is properly used, instructors are able to define more than 40 service terms while teaching with it. The Max Fire Box comes with educational files on a portable drive that will prepare instructors to give their class a hands-on demonstration, as well as classroom materials that will help integrate the Max Fire Box into their lecture. This will include slides and some of the video clips from the instructional portable drive so students will be able to more easily recognize the different stages during the live demonstration.

As an instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute and Lewis and Clark Community College, I understand that firefighters can become impatient with classroom lectures. My students have greatly benefited from the engaging demonstrations that I have incorporated. I hope that the Max Fire Box can be as much of a benefit to your department as it has been to firefighters throughout Illinois.

SHAWN BLOEMKER is assistant chief of the Godfrey (IL) Fire Protection District and president and CEO of Max Fire Training, Inc. He has a bachelor of science degree in fire service management and an associate degree in fire science. He is also a field staff instructor at the Illinois Fire Service Institute and a fire science instructor at Lewis and Clark Community College.

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