Investigators learn from live burn in Oakbrook Terrace

  • Oakbrook Terrace firefighters stand by as they watch a control burn Wednesday at Robinette Demolition, Inc. The Oakbrook Terrace-based company was a co-sponsor with Paul Davis Restoration of Elgin for the event that showed firsthand how quickly a fire can spread and cause deadly destruction.

    Oakbrook Terrace firefighters stand by as they watch a control burn Wednesday at Robinette Demolition, Inc. The Oakbrook Terrace-based company was a co-sponsor with Paul Davis Restoration of Elgin for the event that showed firsthand how quickly a fire can spread and cause deadly destruction. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • An Oakbrook Terrace firefighter and invited investigators from law enforcement and insurance backgrounds watch a control burn Wednesday on a junked car at Robinette Demolition, Inc. The Oakbrook Terrace-based company co-sponsored the "educational live burn" ahead of National Fire Prevention Month in October.

    An Oakbrook Terrace firefighter and invited investigators from law enforcement and insurance backgrounds watch a control burn Wednesday on a junked car at Robinette Demolition, Inc. The Oakbrook Terrace-based company co-sponsored the "educational live burn" ahead of National Fire Prevention Month in October. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • An Oakbrook Terrace firefighter stands by after deliberately setting one of two junked cars ablaze on Wednesday during an live burn event at Robinette Demolition, Inc in Oakbrook Terrace.

    An Oakbrook Terrace firefighter stands by after deliberately setting one of two junked cars ablaze on Wednesday during an live burn event at Robinette Demolition, Inc in Oakbrook Terrace. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Investigators from the fields of law enforcement, insurance and others prepare to watch a control burn of various items culled from demolition projects in a burn shed at Robinette Demolition, Inc., in Oakbrook Terrace on Wednesday. A wooden cutout figure was placed on the carpeting to show a possible burn pattern left behind if a body was on the floor.

    Investigators from the fields of law enforcement, insurance and others prepare to watch a control burn of various items culled from demolition projects in a burn shed at Robinette Demolition, Inc., in Oakbrook Terrace on Wednesday. A wooden cutout figure was placed on the carpeting to show a possible burn pattern left behind if a body was on the floor. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Fire flickers across an old couch set ablaze as part of an "educational live burn" event on Wednesday in Oakbrook Terrace. The mocked-up living room mostly featured furniture and carpets made of natural materials like cotton, wool and leather.

    Fire flickers across an old couch set ablaze as part of an "educational live burn" event on Wednesday in Oakbrook Terrace. The mocked-up living room mostly featured furniture and carpets made of natural materials like cotton, wool and leather. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/22/2021 5:56 PM

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.

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"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."

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