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MU Fire and Rescue Training Institute Teaches Firefighters How to Identify Suspicious Fires

Dean Martin and Dave Hedrick watch a burn cell simulation. (Photo by Jessica Salmond)

JEFFERSON CITY – Flames and black smoke pour out of a room while the heat is felt 50 feet away. Often this is a nightmare faced by someone watching their home burn. In this case, the room was set ablaze on purpose.
It’s a special “burn cell” that’s part of the mobile fire-cause simulation trainer used by the University of Missouri Extension Fire and Rescue Training Institute (FRTI). The new module will help firefighters spot the cause of fires and recognize clues of arson.
“We’re hoping to increase the knowledge of firefighters about suspicious fire indicators,”said Dean Martin, industrial and specialized training coordinator for FRTI. “Instead of putting ‘undetermined’ on their report, they’ll be able to spot something suspicious and call for a fire marshal.”
Firefighters will learn to look for clues about where a fire started, and what may have caused it.
“For instance, we’ll pour a trail of gasoline on carpet in the burn cell. That gasoline will leave a telltale sign on the carpet,” Martin said. “The firefighter can then take that information back with them and be able to recognize the pattern if it occurs at their next structure fire.”
Martin says this training is important because the men and woman who fight fires are the eyes and ears for investigators.
“I can tell you firsthand as a former fire marshal, that the first person I interview is the firefighters at the scene of a blaze,” Martin said. “I ask them the color of smoke. How did the fire react? Were the windows intact when they got there?”
Mark Fisher, with the Ellington (Mo.) Volunteer Fire Department said fire destroys many clues.
You might see blackened windows, Fisher said, but by the time the fire investigator arrives, there may not be any windows in the building or the house.
This new training begins during a meaningful year.
This year is the 80th summer fire school, said David Hedrick, director of FRTI. “It started back in 1933 with the first annual mid-Missouri Fire College, which was in conjunction with the University of Missouri.”
This is also the 30th anniversary of the founding of FRTI as an accredited institute within University of Missouri Extension.
According to Hedrick, FRTI is a perfect example of the benefits of MU Extension.
”Fire rescue training is at the heart of Extension’s mission. That mission is outreach with education,” Hedrick said. “And that’s what we do. We take fire training out to Missouri communities.”