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Kidde simulators challenge firefighters

Montvale, NJ - Smoke, flames, and chaos - all at the flick of a switch. Firefighters in New York and Chicago are learning how to handle the challenges of a burning building in the controlled environment of a simulator from Kidde Fire Trainers. The company is part of UTC Fire & Security, a unit of United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX).

Kidde recently won two contracts to improve the simulation equipment for those two departments so that firefighters can experience live fire hazards in a safe, controlled, and environmentally sound manner.

The larger of the two contracts, a $4.3 million package with the City of Chicago, covers the upgrade of a system at O’Hare International Airport’s rescue training facility, along with a seven-year maintenance contract.

The Chicago site has a replica of a crashed 737 airplane surrounded by a 125-ft diameter simulated fuel spill “burn pit”. Firefighters learn how to control fuel spills (and the resulting fires) that can occur under a plane so that they can rescue passengers. Simulator upgrades enhance the realism of the fire effect as well improve reliability and maintenance. The site also has a second simulator where firefighters can respond to fires in the cockpit, cabin, or plane’s engine.

Clean-burning propane fuels the fire pit electronic valves control it, for safety. Constant pilot flames are its ignition sources, and sensors detect extinguishing agents that firefighters are applying to put out the flames. The sensors can automatically increase or decrease the flames, depending on how effective the firefighters are.

A system operator at a computer in a tower overlooking the fuel spill controls the entire training exercise. His computer screen also shows the 78 “burn zones” in the pit, and the operator can click on any of them to activate them and create different types of fuel spills fire scenarios.

The upgrade for the New York Fire Department brought Kidde’s specialists back to the training academy on Randall’s Island. Every New York firefighter since 1987 has been trained on a Kidde simulation system.

An ignition officer can press buttons on a control panel to create flames and smoke in a four-story brick building, as well as a “rollover effect,” when flames spread rapidly, engulfing the ceiling. On the third floor is a mock-up of a living room sofa, which can produce live fire. The sofa fire can extend vertically, moving up the wall and through the floor above, igniting a baseboard fire simulation.

There is a built-in safeguard, in case of an emergency. An instructor can hit a button, and a ventilation system will immediately remove the smoke and heat from the room.

Before the advent of computer-controlled simulators, the only option for firefighters was to carry pallets and hay into a building and ignite them, but the smoke created environmental concerns, and there was no way to fully control the fire in the event of an emergency, said Kash Gopinath, General Manager for Kidde Fire Trainers. “Now you have safety, control, environmental benefits, and repeatability—the ability to give all trainees the same experience over and over again,” he said.