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Fire prevention

Camden FD hopes to educate all ages with new trailer

Posted: January 28, 2014 12:07 p.m.
Updated: January 29, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The smoke detector screams, triggered by smoke coming up from the kitchen stove. Camden Fire Department (CFD) Asst. Chief Eddie Gardner quickly grabs a fire extinguisher, takes a second to carefully aim and … the flames on the burner go out, the smoke disappears, the detector cuts off.

Despite the adrenalin, it’s all fake.

The “flames” on the stove come from a light underneath, the smoke is computer controlled. Everything stops when someone -- in this case, Gardner -- aims a green laser hidden inside the extinguisher at the right spot on the burner. It’s one of several scenarios Gardner and his fellow firefighters at the CFD can take children and parents through inside the department’s new fire prevention trailer.

The city of Camden purchased the trailer through a $59,000 U.S. Federal Emergency Management fire prevention grant. The city only had to come up with a $3,000 match. The trailer, built by BullEx, arrived in November. The CFD hasn’t had a chance to show it off quite yet.

“We’ve had to wait on training. This is high-tech and computer-controlled,” Gardner explained. “We are in the process of getting in touch with multi-family complexes to be out for a half-day or all day to reach all age groups, children and parents.”

The trailer is fairly large, 8 feet wide by 21 feet long. There are two rooms inside, the “kitchen” and a child’s “bedroom.” Visitors can enter from one side only and face a “refrigerator” as they come inside -- it can’t be opened; a panel on the opposite side of the trailer shows why: the “fridge” holds computer, WiFi and other equipment.

The high-tech aspect of the trailer is apparent even before going inside. Hanging on the outside of the trailer just to the left of the entrance is a flat-screen monitor.

“There are four cameras inside, two each in the kitchen and bedroom. People like to see what’s happening inside, but it’s mainly to let parents see what their children are doing,” Gardner explained.

The screen can also be used to show fire safety videos to those waiting to go in the trailer.

Gardner said the CFD chose this particular trailer primarily for its kitchen.

“The main reason is because kitchen fires are the leading cause of house fires,” he said. “We’ve had a rash of such fires in the last year.”

Gardner explained that there are other ways to put out a stovetop fire aside from using an extinguisher.

“If it’s a small grease fire, you can cover it with a lid and the fire will go out. The biggest mistake people make with the extinguisher is not aiming at the base of the fire,” he said; most people aim at the flames above the pot or burner.

Gardner also urged people not to try to pick up a pot or pan from a kitchen fire and try to take it outside since the flames can blow back onto the person and cause their clothes to catch on fire. Nor should people try to put the pot or pan in the sink because, often, there are curtains above a sink that can catch fire.

On the counter next to the stove is a wireless phone. A matching phone is in the bedroom. Picking it up and dialing 911 will simulate a call to dispatchers. Gardner said a firefighter can also take the other phone outside and the phones can be set up so that calling 911 will reach the firefighter.

“They can walk them through an actual 911 call. All those questions dispatchers ask … it’s all pertinent information for us as we’re getting ready and are on the way to answer the call,” Gardner said.

The stovetop fire simulation and phone are the only two “gadgets” in the kitchen right now. However, Gardner said there are additional modules the CFD could obtain someday, including simulations for an oven, cabinet, microwave and even trash can fires.

“It’s a very versatile program,” he said. “Of course, they cost extra money.”

The bedroom has more to offer. Immediately after entering the bedroom, Gardner closes the door.

“We suggest people sleep with the doors closed,” he said.

If a fire breaks out, doors will protect those inside the bedrooms long enough to get out through a secondary exit like a window. The trailer’s bedroom door is rigged to heat up to 120 degrees. There are also small jets at the base of the door to simulate smoke coming from a fire on the other side.

Using an iPad app that can control the trailer’s functions (a hand-held remote control can be used, too), Gardner presses a button and smoke starts pouring into the room from the bottom of the door. He turns around and picks up a towel from the small children’s bed and stuffs it at the base of the door. Another tap on the iPad and the smoke stops.

The room is also rigged to simulate an electric outlet fire. Gardner taps the iPad again; more smoke pours into the room, this time from the outlet.

To help teach youngsters and their parents about getting out through a second exit, the bedroom window can open leading to a ladder attached to the rear outside wall.

Back outside, Gardner shows off the electronic equipment nook hidden behind the refrigerator. There’s also a power cord leading to a portable generator a few feet away, snaking across a ramp that forms the nook’s door.

“The trailer is handicap accessible; the ramp can be moved to the other side and used there,” Gardner said.

Anyone wanting the fire prevention trailer to come out for a demonstration can call the CFD at 425-6040.

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