Fire Down Below


By: Beth von Behren on June 8, 2012 Print This Post

I found myself apologizing to colleagues yesterday for smelling like smoke.  You know, the way you smell after standing in front of a barbecue or toasting marshmallows over a bonfire?  It’s a crisp, burning smell, and it infused my clothing yesterday because I’d spent some time photographing a firefighters’ training exercise.

A firefighter's gear

The Kirkwood Fire Department (KFD) regularly conducts training exercises for  firefighters and emergency rescue personnel in situations such as trench rescue, tall building rescue, and, of course, fires.  According to Tom Openlander, Fire Chief, if they learn that a home or building is scheduled to be demolished, they contact the owner to see if it can be used for fire training prior to the demolition.  If the owner agrees and is insured, they go in and do a structural assessment to make sure a “controlled-environment” fire would be safe for firefighters.

Chief Tom Openlander after the first exercise

This week’s exercise was conducted on Culloden, in a house that was full of 60s-era construction material.  The way it works is a crew of experienced firefighters sets and manages the fire, while the training participants go through the steps of putting it out. First they do an exterior assessment to determine where the doors are. Then they enter the building with hoses, usually on their knees.  Many house fires start in the basement, and in a real fire, firefighters typically don’t know where the basement door is, so during this exercise, the trainees entered the house and looked for the basement stairs.  They then crawled down the stairs with their hoses.  The need to crawl can be demonstrated with the photos below.

In the first photo, you can see that the controlled fire has moved up the wall and has started to move across the ceiling of the basement.  In the second photo, you can see the damaged walls after the fire has been extinguished.

The second controlled fire starting its "flash-over" trajectory.

In this picture, the fire’s trajectory can bee seen on the damaged walls and ceilings.  The damage indicates the fire started low, burned upwards to the ceiling, crossed over the ceiling in a flash-over, and then back down the wall.

The damaged ceiling and walls after the first fire was extinguished.

Keeping low in a fire is essential to safety.  If you have kids, they may have brought home materials from school that show how you should stay low – crawl – if your home catches on fire.  These photos show why that’s a good idea.

This week’s fire-fighting exercise was good practice for everyone involved, even the seasoned fire fighters.  Here are a few more photos.  There was another exercise today, so if we have any additional information to share with you, we’ll post it next week.  Check back.



















Written by Beth

Beth von Behren is the Public Information Officer for the City of Kirkwood. She manages the City Website ( and writes/edits both the monthly "Eye on Kirkwood" (published on the last Friday of the month inside the "Webster-Kirkwood Times") and the every-other-weekly e-newsletter "Kirkwood Happenings." To sign up for the e-newsletter, send an email to