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Amazing thermal imaging camera footage, showing how to avert a deadly flashover situation

By Andrew Pollack on 05/01/2004 at 10:03 PM EDT

This weekend, I'm taking an unbelievably amazing class at the Cumberland County Fire Attack School (an annual event). So far, aside from the techniques shown in this footage, I've learned to tie off to an axe handle, wedge it across the corner of a window on the inside wall and dive out a window; effect a search in dark conditions (we used a blindfold over our masks) through an obstacle course involving tight passes through walls, under low hanging wires that snag your gear, through doors, around posts, etc; go head first out a window onto a ladder then grab a rung and swing your feet around; make a harness out of a piece of webbing and a friction device (like a climber's figure 8 tool) out of a simple knot; and several techniques for dragging someone heavier than yourself out of a building.

The video referenced here comes from Lt. David Carter, Lt. Troy Cool of the Ft. Lauderdale Fire Department; Lt. Matt Rush from the Austin Fire Department; and Lt. Ray Bell of the Miami-Dade Fire Department as part of their completely fantastic "Getting Out Alive" class.

The clip shows, via color thermal imaging camera footage, a technique called "penciling" to reduce the heat overhead without disrupting the thermal layer. The technique can be used to keep an area tenable while advancing to the seat of the fire, protecting a search or rescue team, or effecting an exit from the building.

Things to watch for:

1. Note the dark maroon area as the heat intensifies to nearly the point of flashover.

2. Notice the firefighters quickly burst 3 or more short, straight streams into different areas of the overhead space.

3. Notice the maroon area disappear as the evaporating streams remove heat and prevent flashover.

4. Notice how hot it is, by the yellow displayed by the thermal camera on the firefighter's gear.

Not shown in this film but described the use of a simple pressurized water extinguisher (water can) by a truck company firefighter to keep a hallway tenable while another firefighter effected the rescue of a small boy. The fire wasn't put out with the water can, but the use of this penciling technique kept flashover from occurring in that part of the structure long enough to effect the rescue.

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