Ottawa Fire deliberately sets fires to learn more about how devastating they can be
Ottawa Fire Service fire investigators hone their skills learning how fires evolve and spread at a training facility. Ottawa, ON. Nov. 05, 2020. (Tyler Fleming/CTV News Ottawa)
OTTAWA -- Fire can grow quickly and leave nothing but ashes behind.
In order to determine the cause of a blaze, investigators and firefighters train to learn how they start, develop and destroy.
At the Ottawa Fire Services training facility in west Ottawa, firefighters and investigators hone their skills by igniting and burning household items setup as rooms in steel bunkers.
Assistant Division Chief Jimmy Fata has setup different scenarios for investigators to observe how quickly fire spreads. One of the rooms used for training will be to simulate an "undetermined fire." Fata has setup a table where friends were playing poker, and left to go for a swim in the pool.
Inside the steel shipping container is a full room with wooden studs and drywall, a cabinet, chairs and lights.
Fata throws a cigarette butt into the garbage can under the table, which smoulders for some time before a fire ignites inside of it. Growing rapidly, the flames spread across the table and chairs, within 90 seconds, an inferno.
Even at 2,000C, clues can remain and investigators are observing the fires dynamic.
"There are lots of indicators lots of burn patterns that help us because at the end of the day it's science," says Fata. "There are quite a few reasons why we need to investigate fires but one of them is that we need to know the cause because if we take the data we collect quarterly on the top three causes we can educate the public."
Fata is guiding expert investigators through different scenarios, such as kitchen fires, improperly stored oily rags and even arson.
For fire prevention officer and investigator Eric Dagenais, being able to observe the advance of a fire from ignition to extinction is key.
"I usually show up and the fires out, the fire is done," says Dagenais. "This allows me to see how fire travels and allows me to determine cause a lot easier when I go out to a fire investigation."
However, not all fires require a full investigation. In some cases firefighters can determine the cause and the controlled burns happening at this training facility will help them learn how to do that.
Kent Penney is one of more than a dozen firefighters that arrive after the fires to sift through the rubble and work with team members to piece together what happened. The training will benefit investigators in determining whether they need to be on scene.
As Penney and his team look through one of the containers taking notes, they were able to determine that an accelerant was used to start the fire. Fata was hoping their in-class training would pay off.
Kent says it's important for front-line firefighters to have an understanding of the cause in order to prevent future fires of this nature.
Fata agrees, and wants to use this information and training to educate the public and change the narrative. Many fires are not accidents; they are preventable. Last year, firefighters responded to more than 700 fires in Ottawa.
Education is key for everyone, working smoke alarms on every floor are imperative and Fata wants you to consider this.
"People now have TVs, Xbox, laptops, there's so many ignition sources in your bedroom but if your doors closed and the fire starts in your bedroom that smoke alarm in your hallway won't go off."
Early detection is the best prevention.