ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — The Altoona Fire Department brought a new tool the Jaffa Shrine on Friday to allow its members to hone their skills.

The flashover simulator, a mobile unit developed by the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy in Lewistown, allowed Altoona firefighters to experience flashover situations in a realistic scenario.

“It allows [our members] to recognize conditions … that is going to lead to a flashover,” Captain Ralph Lee said.

Lee said a flashover is when all contents in a room reach their ignition temperatures, which causes them to ignite spontaneously. Lee said flashovers can be dangerous to even their more experienced firefighters.

“With early detection of knowing you’re having impending conditions, you’re able to either cool the atmosphere or you can actually make your way out of the building,” Lee said. “That way, it doesn’t allow our members to get hurt. It also allows us to hone our skills and provide better customer service.”

The simulator has two rooms — a smaller elevated room that’s ignited in flames and a lower room where around 10 firefighters sit and observe the smoke patterns and temperature differences when opening and closing doors in the simulator.

Lee said firefighters go in the simulator twice, each for about 20 minutes. Firefighters learn the science of the smoke and flames the first time, while captains go over a scenario the second time.

Lee said flashover experience is more important now than ever.

“The buildings, when they catch fire, they’re getting … quicker to flashover conditions because [of] the higher heat that’s being given off of the material that’s actually burning,” Lee said. “There’s always a possibility of a flashover at every structure fire that we get dispatched to.”

As smoke surrounded the building, firefighters opened and closed two doors at the back of the lower room to observe the differences allowing air in made. Lee said closing the doors slowed the fire down and entrapped the smoke, which in a real-life scenario can lessen the damage done to homes and buildings.

Lee said the smoke rises as it’s entrapped as the temperature increases above the air around it. He said that’s why his team must be in a room slightly below the enflamed room.

“If you can think about walking up a set of steps, [we’re] essentially five steps below the landing [of the fire],” Lee said.

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The Altoona Fire Department plans to use the simulator every other summer. Lee said departments in over five PA counties have used the simulator.