Should Have Used the Grits

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May 1, 2008

Should Have Used the Grits
By The Artful Blogger

Hi kids! This is part two of my ways to put some spice into your fire drills and maybe . . . just maybe, you might have a little fun.  I promised special effects, which or course, reminds me of a story:

I live in a great neighborhood.  I couldn’t ask for better neighbors if I had ordered them from the Sears catalog.  Most of them are either retired or past military, so we’re just like family.  I have a guy who lives a couple of doors down.  His name is Jack.  He’s a great guy, but he has one small problem.  It seems that every time he comes in contact with any sort of tool, we’re taking him to the emergency room.  I mean, even Tim the Tool Man would be scared of this guy.  One weekend, we were all outside doing the lawn-thing, when Jack approached me.  I could tell by the look on his face that he had a project in mind.  It seemed that Jack had a fire ant problem and wanted to know how to kill them.  Living in Florida, this is a common occurrence, so I was quick with my response.  I told him to use raw grits.  He looked at me funny.  Believe it or not, this actually works.  Well Jack, being from Michigan, only had instant grits (It’s a northern-thing).  I told him that instant wouldn’t work.  I was going to refer him to some commercial-type ant killers when my other neighbor, Frank, piped in.  He told him to use gasoline. (Frank’s a crusty old retired Vietnam Vet, so you can see the logic.)  As Jack scurried away with his new-found information, I gave Frank a look like, “You know better than to do that.”  Having finished my yard work, I retied to the house for baseball and my favorite malt beverage.  Little did I know what events would transpire next.

Jack took his little half gallon gas can over to the ant mound and poured a liberal amount of petrol onto it.  After striking a stick match (mind you, the only smart thing he did was to use a stick match), he tossed it onto the mound.  A small one foot flame briefly flared up and quickly died down to a few inches.  What Frank neglected to tell Jack was that was all the fire he needed to perform the extermination.  Jack thought to himself, “Is that it? Maybe I need more gas.” (OK kids,  here’s where it gets good!)  Jack tips the little gas can over the open flame from about three feet up.  The gas dumps down onto the flame.  (Can you guess what happens next?  No, jack couldn’t either.)  The flame traveled up the pouring gasoline and this ramjet with conviction shot out of the nozzle of his tiny gas can (After all, it’s not the size, but how you use it).  The thing was like a flame thrower.  So, what does our hero do?  He starts violently shaking the can, trying to put out the flame.  Instead of extinguishing it, he sprays fuel all over his lawn.  Now, half his lawn is on fire . . . and his curbside mailbox . . . and his wife’s flower garden . . . and the left front tire of his wife’s Buick.

I hear a knock at my door.  It’s Frank.  I open the door to Frank calmly informing me that there’s something I need to see.  I step outside to see Jack doing the Russian fire dance on his front lawn.  Frank quietly says, “Why ain’t he dead?  If that was me, I would be dead.  How come he ain’t dead?” (After two tours of Vietnam, nothing much fazes Frank.).  After a quick call to 911, and three hours of firefighting (Did you ever try to put out a tire?), Jack had a lot of explaining to do to the fire department, the police, and his insurance company.

As always, what’s my point?  Just think of how boring that story would have been had Jack simply used the grits to kill his ants.  When you drill, are your simulations grits or a Nightmare on Elm Street?  Let’s talk simulations and special effects.

When creating your nightmare, you want to make things as realist as possible while still being safe.  Those of you who have been exposed to actual casualties know that all of your senses are involved.  When you initially enter the space, what do you smell?  What to you see?  What do you feel?  How do you feel?  Do you feel like I do? (OK, that was Frampton . . . sorry.)  When you get your FX team together, ask yourselves the aforementioned questions.  Let your imaginations go nuts and figure out how to render realistic simulations.  On that note, we’ll start with the initiating the casualty.

First we’re going to take a leak (You had better do it now because the next rest stop is quite a few miles away).  Let’s say, you have a fuel leak from a piping system.  How can you show that?  I’ve had great success using ¾ inch masking tape.  You can draw a crack in the pipe with a grease pencil and then make a spray pattern with the masking tape.  If you’re going to use this to eventually become a bravo fire, you can direct your spray pattern towards a heat source.  If the leak is isolated, take your hand and swipe the tape, knocking down.  The great thing about tape is that you can use it for all sorts of fluid leaks because it comes in different colors.  I’ve also used spray bottles.  The color of the spray bottle indicates what type of fluid.
Did you know that smell is the strongest sense that can invoke a memory?  How many times have we experienced the feeling that we’ve been somewhere before, only to realize that we caught a whiff of a perfume or something cooking that reminds us of a past experience (A good beer fart always brings me back to a good liberty port.).  During a casualty, ask yourselves, “What are they going to smell?”  If someone is investigating a space, the smell should be the first thing to hit them.  This is where you should have a bottle collection (No, not that kind of bottle . . . but it couldn’t hurt).  What you have to do is put that smell in a bottle that you can shove under the person’s nose to give them a clue of what’s going on.  You can have fuel, burnt insulation, diesel oil, sewage leak (I don’t want to know how you do this one), and such.  If it can be put in a bottle, do it.

Next, we’ll play with some sensors.  Before I get into this, I don’t recommend inputting voltages into any systems.  “Trons” have a tendency to do bad things if they go in a direction that you wouldn’t want them to go.   If there’s a way you can use a variable rheostat, jump a circuit, or trip a level switch with a coat hanger, then try it.  Let’s take an actual scenario.  If there was a fuel leak in a space that breaks out into a fire, what alarms would you see?  First, there may be a loss of fuel pressure (Pressure sensor or fuel pump), followed by a high bilge alarm (Bilge level sensor).  I piece of equipment may trip off line (E-stop the gear), followed by a smoke alarm (Jumping out alarm or “Smoke in a Can”), then a high temperature (Jump circuit or heat gun) and/or infrared sensor (U/V gun).  All of these things can be done without endangering the plant or causing an actual casualty.  Remember one thing.  You can’t totally disable a safeguard.  For example, if you jump out a bilge alarm, you should have someone monitoring that bilge in the event of an actual high level.  As mentioned in the previous article, your electronic guys should be a valuable asset in these impositions.  After all, they do PM’s on these systems which create these indications.  They just have to be able to keep it simple and create them in a logical progression.  Remember to put everything back to normal after the drill is over (this could be embarrassing).

We can’t leave out the hose team.  There’s a cavalcade of things we can do to make things somewhat realistic.  First is the hose.  Now some of you actually charge the fire hose.  There are pros and cons on this.  First ask yourself, “What can it hurt?”  If your space is electrically isolated, why not charge the hose then shut the valve?  Make sure you use a Velcro strap around the nozzle to prevent inadvertent discharge (I swear to God that that’s never happened to me before!).  This accomplishes two things.  It gives the hose team the weight of the hose and you can tell if the hydrostatic PM’s are being accomplished on the hose. Yes, the hose could rupture, but would you rather have it rupture during a drill or an actual fire? (Things that make you go “Hmmm.”)  If you feel that charging the hose would lead to disaster then do the alternative.  Take an inch and a half hard rubber hose and fill it with nuts and bolts.  Cap one end and put a nozzle on the other.  It either case, you want to give the hose team the feel of a heavy hose.  Remember, firefighting is hard work.  You need to get them in shape and a limp hose doesn’t cut it (although, that do have pills to prevent that.).  Make sure that when your Nozzleman gives the command for “water on,” a couple of your monitors position themselves behind the last Hoseman and give the hose a hose a big jerk to simulate this.  I’ve seen many a hose dropped because this wasn’t expected (This is where that Velcro strap on the nozzle comes in handy.).
Now, what else will the hose team experience?  Yup, smoke.  There’s a wide array of smoke generators out there.  I recommend the ones that are either battery operated or that maintain their heat source when the power is off.  Why do you say?  Because you’ll be electrically isolating the space and you can lose your smoke.  If you don’t have a smoke machine, you can cover the face pieces of the SCBA’s with a flash hood.  Remove the covers when desmoking is complete (You can also tell if your hose team knows the space blindfolded.).  I strongly recommend a smoke generator though.  It gives you the opportunity to check the integrity of your smoke boundaries.  Some spaces have recirculating ventilation that involves various spaces.  In other words, a fire in one space may first be discovered by the smoke in another unrelated space.  The only problem with smoke generators is that there is only one color of smoke, “white.”  The smoke does, however, come in a variety of scents.  You can use these to simulate different “colors” of smoke.  For example, wild cherry can be back smoke; vanilla can be grey smoke, and such.  As long as your fire party is trained to recognize these impositions, there’s no problem.

Let’s talk a bit about other extinguishing agents.  If you have a Charlie fire, what agent are you going to use (Damn it Artful, nobody said there was going to be a test . . . I didn’t study . . . my ferret ate my homework . . . I digress.)?  That’s right, CO2.  Think now, how can you simulate this?  I know-I know, you can’t do it.  I had an old master chief tell me once: “OK, you just gave me a hundred reasons why you can’t do it.  Now give me just one way, no matter how ridiculous, on how you can do it.  Here are some suggestions:  Actually discharge the extinguisher.  I don’t recommend this.  CO2 can do some bad things in a small enclosed space.  Besides, it can get a little pricey.  Some use talcum powder.  They simulate discharging the extinguisher and squeeze a talcum powder container.  Now think: Do you really want talcum powder on your circuits?  I didn’t think so.  You could wave a white rag instead (Boring, but effective).  My recommendation is to have a training extinguisher.  Take an empty CO2 fire extinguisher and paint a different color stripe around it (Pick a color, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s different and stencil it TRAINING ONLY).  Next, charge it with air and blow to your heart’s content (If this frightens you, go back to the rag).  Combine this with a strobe light, smoke, and twist some bubble wrap to make popping sounds; you have an instant Charlie fire.  The air charge can also be used with chemical powder or PKP extinguishers as well.  Oh, another thing.  If you have the refillable PKP or dry chemical extinguishers and you want some actual hands-on practice, go to the galley and get some flour.  Fill your extinguisher with flour, take it topside and train away.  It’s all bio-degradable (That’s for the Greenpeace folks).

How about installed systems?  Instead of having someone slapping a hand when they try to activate (or deactivate) a system, why not make a mock up?  I saw a really cool CO2 flooding actuation system made with the guts of a paint ball gun and parts from the actual system.  When you “activated” it, this thing hissed, giving you the impression that you activated CO2 (Make sure that you pull the Kidde Switch as well.).  It was light enough that it could be carried and it hung over the existing actuator (You gotta love these electronic guys!).  You can have an array of different buttons, switches, triggers, and such, to simulate actually activating or deactivating something.

Don’t forget the other members of you fire party.  It makes life (or at least this drill) interesting if you give them things to see and do as well.  Your boundary setters should have a hot spot.  This can be done by taking a piece of plastic bubble wrap and painting it flat black.  Tape a red Chem-Light behind it and place it on the bulkhead.  Would it hurt any to start a small fire?  Not a real fire, mind you, but picture this:  The boundary setters fail to properly remove the flammable materials from the bulkhead adjacent to the fire.  Wave a white rag by that filing cabinet and listen for the sphincters to slam shut.  Give your investigators some surrounding damage as well.  It can get old wandering about the spaces with nothing to see.  This also keeps your plotter and repair locker on their toes trying to plot and coordinate all these efforts.  Keep it simple, at first.

Let’s not forget Doc.  If you’re doing a main space fire in full gear, someone should be in the space monitoring for heat injuries.  If you have the luxury of more than one medic, then you can train for personnel casualties.  Most Docs have those really cool prosthetics (No, not that kind!).  The one’s I’m referring to are the guts hanging out and such.  Brief your personnel casualties thoroughly.  My favorite is The Screaming Alpha.  Take a guy and tie a bunch of red streamers on him.  If you have a fire in the galley, nothin’ says lovin’ like a guy running out of the space, jumping around screaming, “I’m on fire!”

Your overhaul should have a few hang fires.  If you use a thermal imager, you’ll need a heat source.  I’ve seen medical hot packs, hot potatoes, a sack of nuked rice, and such.  I don’t recommend a heat gun or soldering iron (that could get ugly).  If you don’t have the finances for a thermal camera, use Chem-Lights.  Brief how many you’ll be hanging in the space.  When they find them all, the space is overhauled.  I’ve also seen old lagging patched that the welder obliged a bit of charring for training.  Throw a couple of these in the overhead with a few Chem-Lights (Make sure you tell your friends!).

Lastly, we’ll talk about “Mr. Fire.”  Like I said previously, this guy has the most experience and energetic of all your team members.  I’ve seen a multitude of different Mr. Fires, from the elaborate to the basic.  The minimum he should have is a flashlight with a red lens and a rag (Color to match the class of fire).  I’ve seen flashing lights, bull horns, sirens, and exotic costumes (I’m talking about Mr. Fire, not Bangkok.).  Use your imagination.  His job is to start the fire and run with it (literally).  He’s going to snap his rag in the face of the nozzleman and scream his head off.  His job is to keep the hose team’s attention.  When he advances on the party, they should back off.  When he backs off, the party should advance.  I can’t stress enough on how dynamic he has to be.  When he drops his rag, turns off his flash light, and lays a lit Chem-Light at his feet, the team leader should announce: “Fire’s out, reflash watch set.” (The Chem-Light should indicate the source or center of the fire.)

Now, this only scratches the surface of what you can realistically simulate.  Get your team together and start brainstorming.  Again, go to the following web site for ideas:

Let your imaginations go nuts.  By the way, send me some feedback to include FX that you’ve all used.  I want Cecil B. DeMille stuff only!

Well kids, that’s part two of my bedtime story.  Will I do a part three?  That depends on your feedback.  Anyway, the wife’s Aunt is coming for a visit from Jersey (Yuk!).  I think I need to get some grits.  I’m the Artful Blogger.  That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it!

More articles from The Artfull Blogger can be found HERE

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