Urasoe Fire Department Rescue Team and MCIPAC F&ES conduct bilateral flashover training

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild

Urasoe Fire Department Rescue Team and MCIPAC F&ES conduct bilateral flashover training

by Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild
Marine Corps Installations Pacific

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Temperatures rose over 400 degrees Fahrenheit as firefighters stood together inside of an enclosed fire laboratory known as a Swede Survival Phase 1 System. As the firefighters observed in awe, the flames transitioned into what is known as a flashover, a near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly combustible material inside an enclosed area.

Firefighters from both the Urasoe Fire Department Rescue Team and Marine Corps Installations Pacific Fire and Emergency Services gathered to conduct flashover training for the second time since the COVID-19 pandemic on Camp Hansen, Dec. 7, 2021. The bilateral training included a classroom portion which introduced the local community firefighters to emergency fire response tactics practiced in the U.S., followed by live-fire flashover training in which firefighters from both departments suited up their protective gear and observed a flashover ignite in a controlled setting.

“Today was an exciting opportunity for us, because we don’t normally get to train using live fire,” said Chibana Tsugusa, a firefighter with the Urasoe Fire Department Rescue Team. “As a department, we waited a long time for this training to happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The training experience is completely different when you use actual fire as opposed to just simulations.”

The day started with a class in which the local community firefighters could learn and ask questions about westernized firefighting methods they don’t typically use. Directly after the class, the firefighters from both departments received a safety brief, suited up their bunker gear, and conducted gear safety checks as they prepared to begin the live-fire portion of the training.

“What we’re doing here today is allowing our local partners an opportunity to visualize a fire spread from its incipient, or beginning, stage to its fully developed free-burning stage where it transitions into a flashover,” said Timothy Johnson, a deputy fire chief with MCIPAC F&ES. “After the firefighters have rehearsed all of the proper emergency protocol and correctly apply their protective equipment, we light the fire, and it’s time to train.”

Johnson, a native of Yuma, Arizona, explained that the fire is initially lit on wood planks placed in a metallic barrel inside the upper portion of the Swede Survival Phase 1 System. Shortly after, the firefighters shuttle into the lower portion of the vessel where they can safely observe the fire spread from the barrel onto wooden planks placed on the ceiling and walls.

The process of the fire evolving into a flashover took roughly 10 minutes, where changes in the color of the smoke indicated the stage in which the fire was inside. After the flashover was observed, the firefighters swiftly exited the Swede Survival Phase 1 System as firefighters with MCIPAC F&ES extinguished the flames and replaced the wood to prepare for another two training iterations.

“It was so interesting to see the moment in which the fire turned into a flashover,” said Tsugusa. “It was extremely hot in the fire system, but I was more focused on observing the dynamics of the fire and how it developed.”

Tsugusa explained that she felt it was enjoyable and beneficial to train in the atmosphere that MCIPAC F&ES provided and was able to build even stronger relationships and acquaintances with the department. Tsugusa additionally added that she has been firefighting for over 13 years and is one of the only female firefighters on the rescue team.

“Training like this helps us build relationships with local fire departments so that when we need to work together in an actual emergency, we know how to work together,” said Johnson. “We plan to continue this bilateral training on a quarterly basis with all of our local fire department partners. It’s so important that we share our skills and training with our local community to help keep the island of Okinawa safe together.”

Photo Caption:
A firefighter with the Urasoe Fire Department Rescue Team is rinsed off with water to sanitize their bunker gear during bilateral live-fire flashover training on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 7, 2021. The training between Marine Corps Installations Pacific Fire and Emergency Services and the Urasoe Fire Department Rescue Team began with an instructional period in which the local community firefighters were introduced to emergency fire response tactics practiced in the U.S. After the class, firefighters from both departments put on their safety gear and entered into an enclosed fire laboratory, known as the Swede Survival Phase 1 System, to observe the dynamics of a common fire which transitions into a flashover, a near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly combustible material inside an enclosed area.

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