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Training forum: Reading flashover and backdraft signs

Knowing the signs of flashover and backdraft will protect against unnecessary injury and death

This feature is intended to spark the sharing of ideas, information and techniques to make firefighters safer and more effective. The following video and discussion points must not be used to berate, belittle or criticize those firefighters. Rather, in the spirit of near-miss reporting, please use this feature as another teaching tool to help you better do your job. Please leave your comments below and use this material in your own department. I hope you find this Reality Training valuable; stay safe and keep learning.

All personnel arriving on the scene of a working structure fire should be visually sizing up the situation as they proceed with their assigned tasks. The initial incident commander has a limited view of the incident, especially in its early stages and if he or she is also engaged in tactical functions like helping to stretch the initial hose line.

This video shows several key pieces of information about this incident as initial resources are arriving and preparing for tactical operations and as those tactical operations continue.

The first personnel enter the structure at the 1:50 minute point in the video. At the 3:19 minute mark, fire appears in the upright roof opening and at the 5:00 minute mark significant fire has erupted from multiple points on roof of the single-story section. The original three personnel are still in the structure.

At the 6:20 minute mark, a smoke explosion takes place that drives the personnel from the structure. Six firefighters — lucky to be alive — exit the building following this event.

Discussion questions

  • What do you see upon arrival?
  • What is the significance of those observations?
  • What’s your read on the smoke as the video progresses?
  • What would be your response as the incident commander?
  • What would you do if you were assuming command at the 5 minute mark of the video?
  • What were the predictive signs of the smoke explosion that went unheeded?
  • Discuss the characteristics of a flashover and a backdraft. Did this fire exhibit the characteristics of either?