Firefighters train for arson

DOWNEY ‚àí It only took a split second to light the fuse and ignite the fire.Within minutes the faint sounds of a smoke alarm could be heard warning of imminent danger. Soon thereafter thick, black smoke began to slowly billow up into the air while burnt orange flames lashed out at temperatures well above 1,600 degrees. The frightening display, however, was no cause for alarm on Monday as the fire was one of two intentionally set at Downey Studios during a four-day arson training, which brought together more than 100 arson and bomb investigators from all across Southern California. Hosted by the Downey Fire Department in partnership with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), along with the Los Angeles Fire and Emergency Management departments, participating investigators attended two days of arson classes taught by federal fire experts from Maryland, who specialize in electrical engineering and fire dynamics respectively. ATF Spokesman Christian Hoffman said the training provided an opportunity to update local and regional fire agencies on the new types of electrical fires, fire patterns, and arson related fires that investigators are finding in the field. "Arson crimes cost over $1 billion annually," Hoffman said. "So we always want to evolve. When the moon and stars aligned for this training, we jumped on it." Arson fires have unfortunately become a common occurance in the Southland, highlighted by the recent rash of arson attacks in Los Angeles earlier last month. Fire and emergency officials are hopeful that trainings like the one this week will help firefighters and arson invetsigators better respond to the deliberate, criminal attacks. On Monday afternoon, surrounded by a crowd of reporters and local emergency personnel, firefighters, in preparation for the training, set two 8-by-8 foot cell units ablaze during a live, controlled burn on the movie backlot of Downey Studios. One at a time, firefighters ignited each cell then waited to see how the fire would grow inside the small, rectangular wooden boxes. Each cell contained a standard living room inside furnished with carpet, coffee tables, a loveseat, couch, night lamp, and wall art, much of which was provided by the Salvation Army. A plastic trash can with crumpled newspaper inside was used to start the fire. Within less than 10 minutes flames progressively spread across the couches and furniture until the whole room was engulfed in fire. Just before the flames grew uncontrollable, firefighters extingushed the fires. On Wednesday, arson investigators who were not present on Monday were tasked with the mission of figuring out where and how each fire started. "We've got a lot of new guys who need this," said Downey Fire Chief Lonnie Croom who praised the gathering as another opportunity for Downey firefighters to prepare for 21st century realities. "We went for six or seven years with no real live-burn training. Now this comes off the heels of training we did at All-American [Home Center] and the Gallatin Medical Center." Mayor Roger Brossmer espressed his full support and welcomed future collaborations between the city and each local and federal fire agency in attendance. "We are proud to host this," Brossmer said. "We've got a new fire chief and a new reemphasis on training. This is great for Downey. Not only the training, but the relationships we establish so when we need the help, we know who to call." Downey fire inspector Jason Patao said the fire department approached Downey Studios requesting permission to use the site's large lot for the regional training. "There were really three components that made this happen," said Patao. "First, we needed a place, the instruction and the funding. Downey Studios graciously allowed us to use the lot and classrooms. ATF provided the engineers to teach the class and funding through grant money. "We started planning this back in November and we said somethings going to happen before this training," said Patao who began coordinating the training before the Los Angeles arson fires last month. "This makes sure our investigators are well-trained on the latest technology so the focus is there when the time does arrive."

********** Published: February 9, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 43