Investigators learn from live burn in Oakbrook Terrace
Two faux rooms and two junked cars were deliberately set ablaze Wednesday morning for an "educational live burn" in Oakbrook Terrace.
Members of the Oakbrook Terrace Fire Protection District were on hand to ignite and extinguish the controlled conflagrations. All the while, around 125 special guests watched from less than 20 feet away while standing or sitting on trucked-in spectator stands.
"When you're this close, you can feel the heat and get that sense of the smoke," said Wayne Merlino, who owns a Paul Davis Restoration location in Elgin.
The franchised company specializes in emergency fire, smoke and water damage cleanup. It was the main sponsor of the live burn.
Robinette Demolition, Inc., a contractor specializing in structure stabilization or destruction, was an event co-sponsor and served as the host site. The Oakbrook Terrace-based company also has a fire training center that specializes in evidence collection.
"People believe when there's a fire or an explosion, it destroys all the evidence. In reality, it just changes it," said John Gamboa, Robinette's emergency services division director.
As a former special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Gamboa said it's important to show the firsthand effects of fire and smoke damage as a training exercise. That's why the crowd had engineers, law enforcement, forensic specialists and insurance workers.
"It's amazing that we have this opportunity to come together to do this," said Mary Partlow, a liability adjuster with Erie Insurance in Effingham, Illinois.
Partlow took note of burn patterns and the combustibility of different materials.
For example, the mock-up living room had demolition-salvaged carpeting and furniture made mostly from natural materials like cotton, wool and leather for the couch. Even though the firefighters splashed some gasoline on it, the couch took its time to catch fire as a smoke detector incessantly beeped out its warnings.
By contrast, polyesters and polyurethane were concentrated into the items found in the mock bedroom. It ignited much more rapidly and forcefully as the petroleum-based materials melted to become fire fuel.
"Most people, fortunately, have never experienced this first hand," said Merlino, who brought five other Paul Davis employees along to go through the day's training.
Though October is National Fire Safety Month, Gamboa said Wednesday's live burn was not for that occasion alone. But he did offer advice.
"If you have a fire at home, get out and call 911. Do not try to fight it even if you have a home fire extinguisher," Gamboa said. "What kills you is the smoke. It drops you before the flames even touch you."