FORWARD OPERATING BASE DWYER, Afghanistan --
A pair of fuel-covered coveralls hang on a bed post near an over-worked outlet. As the outlet begins to spark, the fumes from the coveralls ignite; this is what could happen if Marines or civilians living in tents do not follow proper fire safety procedures.
The Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), used this exact simulation in a training exercise held here Dec. 10. The training served a dual purpose: to educate civilians working here on how fast a tent can catch fire and to provide a controlled environment in which the MWSS-373 Marines could learn the proper steps to extinguish a tent fire.
As part of the simulation, general purpose tents were used to simulate living spaces, explained Cpl. Aaron Wilson, the senior rescueman for the squadron’s Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting section. A short circuit can cause a fire, which can be even more dangerous in a tent than inside a house or pre-engineered building.
Additionally, there is only one contracted civilian fire inspector for the whole base, Wilson continued. Due to the limited manpower, civilians need to understand that if they don’t follow the fire safety guidelines, the possibility of a serious incident increases. They need to know how to mitigate any type of hazard they may encounter inside their tent.
“[The training] gave us a better perspective of how a tent will burn,” said Wilson, who is originally from Midland, Texas. “A lot of these guys haven’t seen what can happen with tents and how fast they can go up. They learned different ways to get in, put the fire out and how to approach it.”
The fire started with a single piece of cloth covered in oil catching fire. After two minutes, the entire mattress was on fire and after five minutes, the tent wall caught fire.
During the exercise, a partial tent was used. The ARFF Marines set the tent up just as it would be if Marines were living in it. It had a wooden floor and cots with mattresses found in a normal living space. The back side of the tent was completely open to show how items inside the tent caught fire and burned through everything.
There were also soiled clothes, which were “wicked,” meaning they had fuel or other flammable materials on them. These clothes light a lot quicker and cause a fire to become bigger a lot faster, Wilson explained.
“I was surprised by how much of the tent didn’t burn and how fast one side of it caught fire,” said Cpl. Federcio Hernandez, an ARFF Marine with MWSS-373. “I was expecting pretty much everything in the tent to catch fire and only half of it did.”
After 10 minutes, the ARFF Marines extinguished the fire and began searching the tent remains for any hot spots where a small fire might still be burning.
According to Wilson, hot spots occur when heat gets trapped under the raised wooden floor and can cause the structure to catch fire again. As part of their standard operating procedure, they flip things over and wet down the floor to prevent another fire from starting.
Wilson recommends Marines and civilians follow a few simple tips to avoid a tent fire. First, avoid using daisy chains, which are multiple circuits plugged into each other to extend another circuit. Second, do not smoke or light candles inside the tent. Tent inhabitants should also ensure their smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are working and should unplug any electronics not in use.
“It is important to have working smoke detectors to give people an early warning,” said Capt. Patrick Erickson, a safety officer with 3rd MAW (Fwd). “Inhabitants should also have the ability to extinguish smaller fires before they get out of hand. Fire extinguishers will afford them this capability with the proper training.”
By taking simple precautions, service members and civilians can prevent becoming victims of electrical fires and mishaps.
Furthermore, the lessons learned by the event will be transferred into a training video in an effort to continue to spread the word of fire safety here for future inhabitants.