Reality Firefighting: Kidde Fire Trainers provide invaluable experience by simulating real-life conditions

Firefighters can practice extinguishing flames by igniting an abandoned barn, but what if the flames get out of control? What if firefighters are called to a fire that is not in a building, such as a fuel-spill fire on a highway? Or what if the agent that firefighters use does not extinguish the flames?

Those are questions fire departments were not asking in the 1970s. But one company, Kidde Fire Trainers, Inc. (known as Symtron Systems, Inc. at the time) saw the shortcomings of what was then considered “live training,” in which a fire department would find a condemned property, bring in materials and an accelerant, and set it ablaze.

Such training provide limited exposure to real conditions, and the fire could sometimes become uncontrollable, cause environmental hazards, or even result in injuries or death.

To address this issue, companies that later became part of Kidde Fire Trainers designed one of the first stationary, self-contained systems that could be installed inside a specially designed structure to simulate real conditions. That fire-training unit was followed by a mobile trainer, which allowed firefighting experts to take their lessons on the road, and then came the first large-frame aircraft trainer for use at airports. Eventually there was the mobile aircraft trainer.

Most recently, Kidde Fire Trainers worked closely with the International Fire Training Centre in the U.K. to develop the A380 Fire Trainer, resembling the triple-decker Airbus 380. It is one of the world’s largest aircraft fire training simulator.

Today, Kidde’s systems simulate fires in buildings, refineries, cars, boats, planes, transformers, and industrial plants. But developing the very first unit was a daunting task because no such trainer existed anywhere. The concept was to create a controlled environment in which an instructor sitting remotely at a computer could control the flame, as well as add obstacles to challenge firefighters, testing their ability to make smart decisions amid chaos.

The task presented numerous technical challenges. First, the designers needed to create a pilot flame that could not be extinguished with water. Next, they had to find a way for the instructor to control the height of the flame by safely reducing levels of combustible gas. Finally, there were challenges involving the agents used to extinguish a fire. When a firefighter confronts flames, he needs to select the right agent, based upon the type of fire. So the design team had to find a way to indicate on the instructor’s computer screen whether or not the student firefighter had selected the correct agent.

In the 1990s, Kidde designed a mobile aircraft firefighting trainer to handle fuel spills. It consisted of 50-foot aircraft mockup and two 25-foot trailers. Then, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) saw the need for fixed specialized aircraft fire training units at airports, Kidde designed a fixed simulator resembling a commercial aircraft, such as a Boeing 737 or 757. Firefighters can practice rescue and fire suppression in all areas of the aircraft including the cockpit, cabin, galley, bathrooms, cargo area, engines and wheels/brakes.

With 30 years of experience in live fire training systems, Kidde Fire Trainers offers realistic simulation of the heat, smoke, flames and chaos of a real fire emergency, all within a controlled and environmentally sound environment. Today, firefighters throughout North America, the Middle East, France, Japan, Australia, Germany, and Finland use these systems at airports, fire academies, industrial, maritime and military sites.

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