Some fire schools grade students on good intentions rather than actual performance. At Delgado Community College’s Maritime and Industrial Training Center in New Orleans students must show their work.
For example, Delgado does not use “dummy valves” on its live-fire training projects, said Richard Heyd, Delgado’s fire field coordinator and environmental compliance officer.
“A lot of fire schools use dummy valves, or valves that don’t actually work,” he said. “As long as the team gets close enough to touch the valve the instructor will tap his helmet as a signal to the control tower that the valve has been closed.”
At Delgado, the multi-story process unit “prop” includes 28 working valves – half liquid and the rest propane.
“What we do is make them think,” Heyd said. “Those 14 liquid valves are all controlled from the same manifold. That means that as they are shutting down valves and securing fuel in certain areas, other valves that are burning are getting larger.”
This forces the students to work on strategy and tactics.
“They have to systematically shut those valves off so it doesn’t create a larger conflagration these firefighters might not have the ability to deal with,” Heyd said.
The Delgado fire field consists of a maritime shipboard prop and four industrial props. Beside the process unit are the pressure pit, pipe rack and loading terminal props. Each prop utilizes a mixture of 70 percent diesel and 30 percent gasoline as liquid fuel as well as propane.
The pressure pit consists of burning valves enclosed on four sides by metal walls. There is only one way in and out of the roofless structure.
“The goal is to use effective streams to get close to the fire and shut the valves off,” Heyd said.
Next is the overhead pipe rack. Beside a leaking valve at ground level, firefighters must deal with a propane fire above their heads.
“If these students work at a refinery with the risk of leaks in pump seals, this shows them how to use monitors and effective streams to extinguish the fire and close the valve,” Heyd said.
The loading terminal prop simulates platforms where trucks move into position to receive thousands of gallons of fuel. Firefighters must deal with a pool fire at ground level and two burning valves on the elevated platform above.
“While the crew works their way to the burning valves, additional hand lines are employed the side to sweep the ground fire away from the people above,” Heyd said.
The prop forces the students to act as a team utilizing an incident command structure, Heyd said.
“The prop is also used specifically for firefighting using foam,” he said.