Firefighters in almost-real conditions: The new training site for 140 Monaco firemen in the town of Eze can reproduce backdraft.
It is more than just flames and smoke, it’s a firefighter’s true nightmare. Training in conditions very close to reality on a training ground in the district of Brasca in Eze has begun. A crucial reminder for the professionals involved. Inaugurated at the end of June, the site is composed of several containers, partially or completely recreating surfaces with the same conditions as an apartment or a boat – common situations for firefighters in Monaco.
“The biggest danger is the smoke”
“Thanks to this site, we will be able to maintain the professional skills of the firefighters, enabling them to be better equipped in the fight against fire,” begins Colonel Tony Varo, head of the Monaco fire brigade. “We want these men and women to be trained in conditions as close to reality as possible,” said Commander Marc Degabriel, head of the training, education and sport office. He continues: “Contrary to what one may think, one cannot see the fire because the smoke is too dense. The greatest danger for the interveners really is the smoke.”
Three different modules allow firefighters to master and deepen the various aspects of the fight against fire. “A fire module, an intervention module and a launch module, to handle the fire hose. They can be done independently or together in order to offer a site as close as possible to the conditions experienced by firefighters on the ground,” said Colonel Varo. Protected by a heavy helmet and a gas mask, the firefighters enter a room resembling a flaming apartment, while avoiding obstacles: “chairs, tables, different furniture” – lists Sergeant-Chef Fabrice Grillet, in charge of making sure the day’s exercise runs smoothly. “Today, our training is based on smoke, far more dangerous for a human life than flames. We can look at it like a high gas that can catch fire,” said Captain Degabriel.
Fire has changed its physiognomy
He continues: “We are dealing with fires that no longer resemble the ones we knew before. Simply because dwellings have changed in two important parameters: fuel potential and smoke on one hand, due to modern furnishings. And especially with new standards of acoustic and thermal insulation, which make apartments very waterproof. As a result, we are confronted with underground fires which present firefighters with significant risk of smoke explosion,” he explains. These phenomena can be reproduced safely thanks to this site in the town of Èze. Firefighters are led to identify the warning signs of a “backdraft”, and also to “exercise behavior which ensures safety or provide the necessary and sufficient response by using hydraulic rescue tools,” concludes Colonel Varo.
Backdraft: a Deadly Phenomenon
The “backdraft” phenomenon can occur during a fire in a semi-closed space, like a room in an apartment for example. The smoke that is released is combustible and gradually accumulates in the space. The fire consumes all the oxygen and goes out. The smoke is still suspended in the air. The place being overheated, materials containing wood, plastic or fabrics continue to produce pyrolysis gases. These flammable gases are produced in the absence of oxygen during the thermal decomposition of organic matter. All that is required is an opening which can allow air to penetrate, opening the door or a broken window. The brutal mixture between gas and air becomes explosive, the smoke ignites, which can propel a deflagration (quick combustion) of more than 20 meters per second. This phenomenon is feared by firemen and is favored by the growing insulation of modern habitats (aluminum windows, double glazing, glass wool insulation…)