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Sterling parking lot used for firefighting training

By: Eric Czarnik, Sarah Wojcik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 3, 2016

 Southfield firefighter and Oakland Community College fire instructor Zac McKee checks firefighting equipment to ensure that it is properly functioning to withstand heat.

Southfield firefighter and Oakland Community College fire instructor Zac McKee checks firefighting equipment to ensure that it is properly functioning to withstand heat.

Photo by Deb Jacques


A firefighting training session has come and gone in a flash, but the Sterling Heights Fire Department says firefighters learned valuable knowledge from the experience.

According to Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin, the live fire training exercise took place May 25-27 in the parking lot of the former Sunnybrook Lanes building in Sterling Heights. The SHFD said fire departments from Utica and Shelby Township were also invited to participate.

Martin explained in an email that this is the fourth such exercise in the county, adding that previous events were held in Macomb Township, Warren and Clinton Township.

Martin said the exercise had “many safety precautions in place.”

“The training began with a two-hour classroom portion last month,” he said. “The hands-on portion is being held in a modified shipping container that is designed to have a fire and show how a flashover occurs, right over the heads of the firefighters.”

Martin said the training exercise’s purpose is to show firefighters how to recognize a flashover when one starts and how to stop one or escape one.

“Even with our gear, no firefighter can survive a flashover for more than a few seconds,” he said.“We are finding that new building materials and designs, coupled with the contents in the buildings, are creating a situation where flashover occurs much quicker and with less warning. This is why it is so important to train the firefighters.”


Sterling Heights Fire Lt. Dave Pressel said he took part in the exercise May 27.

Pressel explained that the training session used a metal storage container with fuel to simulate a flashover. He said a flashover can occur during firefighting operations when combustible material and gas are present in an enclosed area, which can dangerously cause the whole room or area to ignite at the same time.

To prevent this from happening, firefighters can vent the involved area, pushing the heat out one side, he said.

“It’s always a threat, but we try to control it with ventilation, so this is a good training experience for learning the signs of a potential flashover,” Pressel said. “We try to do (training exercises) as much as possible, but it does cost money, so it’s kind of rare that we can get an actual simulator.”

Lenox Township Fire Chief Dennis Fouchia chairs the Macomb County Fire Chiefs Association’s training committee. He said the project started in January and was made possible through $44,000 in state funds from the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act.

Matt Ratliff, training chief for the Sterling Heights Fire Department, said high temperature readings from thermal imaging cameras and thick yellow-brown smoke are the main indicators of an impending flashover.

In the training trailer, actual flashovers occur above the firefighters’ heads. They wear protective covers over their helmets and use a hose to extinguish the initial flames before the wave spreads across the length of the trailer.

Ratliff said a lot of fire chiefs and administrative personnel who no longer fight blazes also opted to undergo the flashover training.

Home Depot donated oriented strand board, or engineered lumber similar to plywood, to line the inside of the trailer, and crews started a fire in a metal barrel in the front of the trailer, Ratliff said.

Shawn Allen, a training officer with the Sterling Heights Fire Department, said firefighters’ gear is designed to withstand 10 seconds of a flashover.

“You cook a turkey at 350 (degrees),” Allen said. “It’s about 500-600 degrees in (the trailer). They’re wearing full gear — hoods, helmets, everything tucked in. You can’t have anything exposed.”

He said approximately eight firefighters go through two rotations in the trailer so that each can get up to the front and be able to see the flashover.

After exiting the trailer, the firefighters headed to a hydration station, got their vitals taken and debriefed about the training.

“Some firefighters that have been through flashover training before said this is the best one they’ve done. It’s very, very hot in there, and the smoke is really thick,” Ratliff said. “We’ve gotten all positive feedback.”

Find out more about the Sterling Heights Fire Department by calling (586) 446-2950.