BISBEE — Bisbee, Palominas and Sierra Vista firefighters and others got some free training on fire investigations last month thanks to Bisbee resident David Smith, an internationally recognized expert on arson and fire investigations.
Smith first offered the training to the Bisbee Fire Department about 15 years ago but was told by the fire chief at the time that the department didn’t need it.
Smith approached city manager Jestin Johnson and new fire chief Marc Burneleit in early December and offered the training to them and they both agreed it would be a great idea, Smith said.
“I told them they could invite other departments and they contacted Palominas and their training chief became involved as well,” he said.
The training was conducted at the Palominas Training Facility in their burn tower, Smith said.
The course was organized for three Saturdays in January, for seven class hours per day on Jan. 9 and 23. Then on the third Saturday, on Jan. 30, the group had two classroom hours and then practiced what they learned in the Palominas Burn Tower.
“We set a training fire,” Smith explained. “I bought construction materials and the firefighters built some interior walls and we brought in some donated furniture, partially recreating a living room and we set it on fire. I allowed the fire to transition through flashover to full room involvement — that means everything in the room is on fire, every bit of combustible material is in flames — then they went in and put it out and we investigated and I critiqued it afterwards. They not only got the training on the investigation, they got the hands on as well so it was not only a training on how to investigate a fire, it was a training in safety on how to fight a fire.”
The classroom training covered fire behavior and investigation methodology, and determining the origin and cause and responsibility of the fire.
“I showed them how an untrained investigator will go to the wrong place for the origin,” Smith explained. “They got to see the patterns the fire created and how they were generated and as a bonus they got to fight a very hot fire.”
Firefighters from Rio Rico and Nogales also participated, Smith said, and two firefighters from Window Rock were going to participate but a snowstorm kept them from attending.
“I think it was really well received,” Smith said. “There was also a test so I was able to provide them with certificates of completion for 16 class hours, which down the road they could use towards certifications in fire investigations.”
Seven Bisbee firefighters participated, or a third of the department.
“We sent our top eight senior people,” said Bisbee Fire Chief Marc Burneleit. “I sent my captains and my lieutenants and my fire inspectors.”
Firefighters who participated included Capt. George Castillo, Capt. Brandon Davey, Lt. Mel Ray, Lt. Mark Perez, Lt. Jim Richardson, and Senior Firefighters Clarence Hickman, and Ramon Borbon, along with Chief Burneleit.
“We felt it was an extraordinary benefit to our department,” Burneleit said. “Mr. Smith is the co-author of NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigation, which is the national standard for fire investigation. He is the prime source for the material so this is not like an instructor teaching a course. This is the person who wrote the material. He put on a great presentation and it culminated in a live burn with full flashover, which is between 1000 and 1200 degrees, and happens in almost every fire. Then we made entry and extinguished the fire and studied the burn patterns to determine the point of origin. It was an invaluable education directly from the source and we feel extremely privileged that he was able to put that on for us.”
Burneleit said the type of training Smith offered was something the department would normally have to pay for — and with limited funds for training and everything else, he said he was very grateful for the opportunity to have members of his department participate.
“It comes out of Oklahoma State University,” he said. ‘But Mr. Smith puts on trainings all over the world, not just the country, and he lives in our town. It’s a relationship that our department is trying to cultivate and strengthen with Mr. Smith because he is the source of some valuable information and it helps out our department. We look forward to him developing more trainings for us and we plan to take full advantage of his generosity.”