‘Live burn’ demonstrations on campus show dangers of fire firsthand

By Brooklin Byrd,
Asst. Life Editor

If the “live burn” demonstrations that took place at Union earlier this month are any indication of how quickly fires spread in enclosed spaces, installation of a sprinkler system could save an entire home or building from a fiery demise.

Students and faculty gathered around the future site of the Union University library Nov. 1-2 to watch the demonstrations held by the Jackson Fire Department as part of the Tennessee Emergency Preparedness Summit.

First responders from several regions of Tennessee participated.

The demonstrations were meant to show how dangerous fires are and how quickly they spread.

Capt. David Dorris of the Jackson Fire Department explained that the materials used to build the structures are similar to those used in most buildings.

“Standard two-by-four walls, sheet rock on the inside,” Dorris said. “No extra fuel; we have a trash can in the corner with nothing but cardboard and paper in it that we light to start the fire and let it grow naturally.”

The conference is held to encourage safety habits in cases of emergency, and the live burn demonstrations, in particular, encouraged people to install smoke alarms and consider the installation of sprinklers in their homes, offices, and other important places.

“This is the fun part of fighting fires — showing people what could happen if appropriate safety measures are not taken …” one fire instructor said.

The demonstration involved the firefighters simulating two typical wastebasket fires, both in an 8-foot by 8-foot structure constructed similarly to typical homes and buildings.

However, one fire was set in a structure furnished with a sprinkler, which released water at a rate of 16 to 18 gallons per minute, which is average flow for residential sprinklers.

The other fire was set in a structure without a sprinkler. One minute and eight seconds after the fire was lit in the room with the sprinkler, the sprinkler system was activated, and the fire was quickly put out before it could damage the structural integrity of the assembled building.

The fire in the structure without the sprinklers quickly burned out of control and began to consume the furniture in the room. By the time the firefighters put out the fire, the roof of the structure was alight, and the room had turned into an inferno.

Captain Terresia Reasons, fire inspector and arson investigator with the Jackson Fire Department, said the rooms were fabricated for use during Fire Prevention Week, but they can also be used for events such as the one that took place on campus.

Reasons said wastebasket fires are common in her line of work and stressed the importance of smoke detectors.

“People will dump their ash trays; after people go to bed they’ll dump them, and then it’ll sit there and smolder until it catches the furniture or curtains on fire,” Reasons said. “It would intensify to the point that the heat would build up (you heard the smoke detectors), and that’s why it’s so crucial to have smoke detectors in your dorm or home. It’s so you get the early warning.”

Carl Alexander explained how the sprinkler system works.

“There’s the disc that covers these things, covers these residential sprinkler heads. If you look up in there you can see it’s recessed into the ceiling,” Alexander said. “[The disc] goes over it, so you don’t have the big, ugly sprinkler head hanging down. These soldered pieces you see will turn loose at 135 degrees, and they fall to the floor, and the sprinkler head will pop at 155.

“It’s got a little glass tube that holds the stopper in the sprinkler, and when it reaches a boiling point of 155, it disappears.”

Then the water is released in a circle with a span of 6 feet.

Reasons explained that for maximum efficiency, the sprinkler heads that detect the heat will be activated rather than an entire row or building of sprinklers.

Reasons hopes people will realize that “sprinkler systems are the way to go” in regard to fire prevention in new buildings and existing structures, she said.

“Make sure you have the smoke detectors with the sprinkler heads … The main thing is watch when you go on vacation,” Reasons said. “Make sure that you’re staying in a sprinkled hotel because … you’re going to get wet, but you’re going to get out.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.