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A house burns and better firefighters emerge

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.-- 30th Space Wing commander Col. David Buck extinguishes the roaring flames with the assistance of fire captain Eric Potarak during a fire training excercise here April 16. The controlled burn exercise took part in east housing -- an area that is set to be demolished in an effort to build better housing for Vandenberg's Airmen.(U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.-- 30th Space Wing commander Col. David Buck extinguishes the roaring flames with the assistance of fire captain Eric Potarak during a fire training excercise here April 16. The controlled burn exercise took part in east housing -- an area that is set to be demolished in an effort to build better housing for Vandenberg's Airmen.(U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.-- 30th Space Wing Command Chief Cari Kent ignites a house to start a fire training drill in Vandenberg's east housing April 16. The controlled burn allowed Vandenberg firefighters a chance to gain invaluable knowledge on how certain structures react to fire. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.-- 30th Space Wing Command Chief Cari Kent ignites a house to start a fire training drill in Vandenberg's east housing April 16. The controlled burn allowed Vandenberg firefighters a chance to gain invaluable knowledge on how certain structures react to fire. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg Fire Department burnt the inside of an abandoned house in order to accomplish live-fire training here April 16.

The department, which was recognized in 2008 as the best fire department in the DoD, uses the training to prepare new firefighters for the indiscriminate nature of a real fire.

"The training we are doing in east housing allows our new firefighters to experience the realism of the fire," said David Wilmerding, a 30th Civil Engineer firefighter and paramedic. "Fires aren't like you see in the movies. You aren't able to see clearly; it's smoky and very hot, and this is a good chance for the new guys to get a feel for that type of an environment."

The fire department does live-fire training on a regular basis, but those training fires are driven by controlled propane.

"A propane fire goes out when the gas is shut off," Mr. Wilmerding said. "It gives us the opportunity to see the movement of a fire and how the fire is affecting a building - information that will definitely be used in a future fire." 

Airman 1st Class Joseph Fecht, a 30th CES firefighter, is one of the new firemen taking advantage of the opportunity to be better prepared when called to a real fire. He has only spent two months with the department, but, thanks to the training, has been able to pick up valuable information through the live training.

"This is my second live fire, and I already feel like a better firefighter," Airman Fecht said. "This training is a great chance to learn from chiefs and fire captains about how the fire is going to react to different sections of the house and a structure's thermal movement."

Thermal movement refers to how the actual structure and materials in the house move as the temperature increases. Natural elements like stone or wood have a low thermal movement whereas manmade elements like plastic have a very high thermal movement. Understanding these concepts is vital when assessing the risks of moving into a burning house, according to the California National Fire and Forestry Department.

30th Space Wing leadership experienced some of the thermal heat when Col. David Buck, 30th SW commander and Command Chief Master Sgt. Cari Kent were able to take a tour of the burning house. Chief Kent actually put the exercise in motion by lighting the fire, and Colonel Buck did the honors of leading the way in the house at the front of the hose.

"It was a training exercise, but for me it was an exciting real-world event," Colonel Buck said. "I wasn't nervous because I was surrounded by professional firefighters."

The firefighters will continue to train in the east housing district through June 15. Each training session will offer the team something new to learn about fire that can't be simulated or, in some cases, learned at a real fire. 

"At a real fire, we see it, and then we put it out," Airman Fecht said. "This training allows us to study the fire and become better firemen. "