Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fire safety training

JenniferSometime in early April, in the wake of the fire that destroyed my advisor's office and a good chunk of the second floor of our building, Professor F. came around to my office with a sign-up sheet for the University's fire safety training course. He pressed it upon me rather insistently, saying that I should really think seriously about attending, and then repeating himself, which is a rare thing for a Swede to do. (My officemate S. seemed slightly jealous at all this attention I was getting, asking after Professor F. left, "Why doesn't he want me to do it?")

I was sort of ambiguous about the whole thing—sure it would be a good thing to do, but it would take up a lot of time, the training grounds were far away, etc. etc., and I had already decided that my response to any fire indoors would be for me to get myself the hell out of wherever I was immediately. I was carping to Joe about my dilemma mildly, but thankfully Joe looks out for me and always has my interests in mind. "I can't believe you're even debating this," he sighed, with a pitying shake of his head and roll of his eyes. "I have two words for you: Swedish. Firefighters."

"Say no more!", said I, and signed up the next day. The class itself was last Wednesday, and fortunately transportation was provided. A bus picked us biologists at 8 a.m., and swung by the Ã…ngstrom laboratory (to pick up the chemists and physicists) on the way out to Viktoria, one of Uppsala's three fire stations, and the one with the training grounds and indoor meeting space.

The first half was held indoors, by a firefighter named Thor (how perfect was that?) and featured various information about fires and fire prevention, and scary movies about how quickly fires spread, and why you shouldn't use gasoline to start fires (are you listening, woofa?), and so forth. It included a fire box for the ignition of various chemicals that are used in laboratory settings, and I was impressed at the amount of flames they felt comfortable producing indoors. "Don't worry," Thor said, "For outdoors we have gasoline and we will make much bigger fires."

After a lavish half-hour long break (including sandwiches, cakes, tea, coffee, juices, many fruits... these government employees really know how to fika!), we were ready for the hands-on part of the training... you know, the fun stuff! We got to use the different kinds of extinguishers on different types of fires, to see the relative merits of each kind. Everybody got to try an extinguisher at least once, and two or three times if you wanted, so Thor set about 30 fires, each one getting bigger than the last. To my intense mortification, I was unable to completely extinguish an E85 fire with a powder extinguisher—Thor kindly excused me on the grounds that the canister was almost out, so the pressure was too low. I think he was just being nice.

The next thing we did was to simulate getting people out of a smoke-filled room: how to find them, and how to drag/carry/do-whatever-it-takes to get them out. They have a little apartment set up that they fill with completely harmless white stage smoke for duffers like us. The first team went in knowing there were three victims but with no training, and it took forever for them to make it out. Thor then gave a quick lecture on what went wrong and why. Then the second team, armed with new knowledge (work in pairs, holding hands to extend your reach, feel around the walls for doors, yell your head off when you find someone, etc.), went in. I had volunteered to be a victim for the second part, so I settled myself nicely on the floor by a couch... and waited. And waited. Two rescuers came by and found the other guy in the room right away, but possibly they thought there was no one else in that room. They did come back eventually, and passed within inches of me several times without seeing me. Scary! They finally found me by swatting around and kicking me in the side and hitting me in the face, then they dragged me out by my arms. Wheee! Truthfully, it was lots of fun and informative, and I'm glad I did it, and I sure hope I never find myself in a burning building.

One further observation: you think a gasoline fire is scary? A cooking oil fire is much worse. After extinguisher practice, Thor lit up an iron Dutch oven filled with canola oil. He then filled a pitcher with water—a pitcher welded to the end of a 5 meter long pole. He then showed us what happens when you dump water on an oil fire. I had thought that a 5 m pole was being a little over cautious, but oh no. Not pretty. A huge hot fireball, then flaming gobbets of oil flying in every direction. (Wish I'd gotten a picture of it.) If your cooking oil catches fire, run away! (Well, okay, turn off the burner, cover it with something like a cookie sheet if you can, etc., but for heaven's sake don't put water on it!)

Also, I now think that firefighters (secretly) really, really like starting fires, maybe as much as putting fires out. Maybe that's not such a big secret...

1 comment:

  1. Hey J & J!
    I'm back from the dead. How ridiculously cool that you got to do this. And yes--Marc's brother was a complete fire fan (/hellion) before he became a firefighter...
    Offtopic--finally opened that jar of cream mustard and it's THE BOMB. Could eat it with a spoon.