Early detection key to surviving fire

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Five seconds.

That’s all the time it took for a smoke alarm to go off once Port Colborne Fire and Emergency Services Acting-Capt. Mike Radzikoski set a pail of garbage on fire inside a burn cell Saturday afternoon.

Within 25 seconds, flames were halfway up the wall of the simulated room, containing a couch, stands, books, table lamp and television.

“The ceiling temperature is somewhere between 300 and 500 Celsius,” fire prevention officer Scott Lawson told the crowd of 50 or so gathered to watch the demonstration at the fire hall on Killaly St.

Saturday was the fire service’s annual open house, which featured the burn cell demo, a visit from Sparky, kitchen fire safety tips, escape planning, hose line demonstrations, barbecue and a tour of the fire trucks.

As the smoke alarm failed from the flames and heat, Lawson said the temperature in the room was reaching 800 Celsius at the ceiling. Smoke was filling the room and starting to bank down.

“We’re slowly closing in on a flashover … where everything ignites at once,” he told the crowd.

A flashover is “the sudden involvement of a room or an area in flames from floor to ceiling caused by thermal radiation feedback.” That feedback is the energy of the fire being radiated back to the contents of the room from the walls, floor, and ceiling, and it will raise all the contents to their ignition point. And when all the contents of a room – things like couches, tables, chairs – ignite all at once, that is a flashover.

Lawson said whether there is a flashover or not depends on what a room is like and what’s in it.

While Saturday’s demonstration did not see a flashover take place, flames from inside the burn cell rolled outside.

At 1:21 into the burn, Lawson said the room was no longer survivable, and at 1:45, flames filled the entire cell.

“When I first got into the fire service in the early 80s, we were told that we had about 13 minutes before a room reached the flashover point. Now we’re being told we have anywhere between three and six minutes before a room flashes over,” said deputy chief Mike Bendia.

Both Bendia and Lawson said the today’s furniture is made of more synthetics and chemicals and those burn quicker, release more thick black smoke and drive temperatures in a fire up quicker.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s the smoke that gets a person in a fire,” said Lawson.

Bendia agreed and said many fire victims are found within a metre or so of an exit.

Lawson said Saturday’s demonstration gave those who attended a look at what happens in a fire.

“We talk to people constantly about early detection and we discuss home escape plans, but without that early detection, an escape plan won’t help you,” he said.

And with it being fire prevention week, the two men said residents should check the alarms in their homes, not only for the batteries, but for a manufacture date as well. Alarms more than 10 years old should be replaced.

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Burn cell demo - Port Colborne Fire and Emergency Services

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