Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Arson Probers Get New Weapon Burn Cells to Aid Trainees

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Arson Probers Get New Weapon Burn Cells to Aid Trainees

Article excerpt

BRUNSWICK -- The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick is home to a new weapon in the fight against arson.

Twelve burn cells that will help federal, state, local and international investigators combat arson have been constructed inside the center. The 9-by-11-foot "rooms", dedicated at the center last month, are made of heat-resistant concrete and will be used to simulate arsons and accidental fires.

The cells replace mobile homes that had been used to simulate arsons. The cells can be reused, while the mobile homes became too charred after 10 to 15 fires and had to be replaced, center officials said.

Chris Porreca, a certified fire investigator at the center, says a fire is often deliberately started by the "misuse of ordinary household items."

Taking that into account, each fire cell is framed, sheet-rocked and furnished like a residence or office for a fire demonstration.

Each cell is equipped with temperature sensors at three levels -- floor, mid-wall and ceiling -- and with a video camera in the wall behind fireplace glass to monitor the fire, Porreca said.

Two to three trainees are assigned to a room and must use and document the evidence at hand and determine how a fire was started.

"The key to the training is that it is as close to real as possible," said Porreca, who oversees the burns.

Another feature of the program are the "flashover cells," two identical rooms with three walls. The rooms are furnished identically and then set on fire one at a time.

The first blaze is set using a method that might be considered accidental. The group of trainees watches from about 25 feet away as the fire spreads and then engulfs the entire room at "flashover," when the temperature reaches 1,500 degrees. It takes four to six minutes for the room to burst into flames.

The first fire is put out and then the second room is set on fire with about a quart of a flammable liquid. This room will be completely engulfed in flames in only 90 seconds.

Porreca said the flashover rooms are "a great teaching tool because the students can observe how the fire spreads and feel the heat of the flashover. …

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