Hands-on training is the focus at Worthing fire station safety session

It is a nightmare scenario that everyone prays will never happen to them – but if a fire broke out at your home or workplace, would you know what to do?

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service run fire safety courses for businesses and the general public several times a week to train residents in how to respond if the worst happens.

Having a go at using the CO2 extinguisher

Having a go at using the CO2 extinguisher

I went along to Worthing Fire Station to give their two-hour fire extinguisher training course a try.

Like all the sessions, the course was run by a professional firefighter.

Tim Schwaiger has worked in the fire service for 30 years and has spent eight years carrying out training.

His friendly approach puts everyone at ease as, in a classroom style space, he talks us through the main causes of fires, the simple chemistry of combustion and how fires can spread.

Using a fire blanket

Using a fire blanket

We watch shocking footage showing a small fire started from hair straighteners engulf a room in under two minutes.

But, crucially, this course is not just about talking – it’s about having a go at stopping a fire yourself.

“There’s no substitute for hands-on training,” Mr Schwaiger said. “It really helps to know how to handle an extinguisher.

“You can do online fire training but it’s like watching TV, it’s not real.”

Using a water extinguisher

Using a water extinguisher

In a courtyard outside, Mr Schwaiger sets fire to purpose-made bin and I do what I have been taught: first, raise the alarm, second dial 999.

Only then do I set about using the water extinguisher, which is designed for use on solids like wood, paper and textiles and works by removing the heat from a fire.

The extinguisher is not complicated to use but every wasted second spent fumbling with the handle is a second in which a fire grows.

Keeping my back to my imaginary exit, I pull the pin from the heavy equipment and direct the jet of water from the hose at the base of the flames.

Having a go at using the CO2 extinguisher

Having a go at using the CO2 extinguisher

We also have a go at using a carbon dioxide extinguisher. These are used for electrical fires and work by shooting out carbon dioxide to neutralise the oxygen.

The extinguisher emits a loud noise which makes me jump. The gas only discharges for an average of 11 seconds so it’s important to direct it as close to the flames as possible and avoid holding it by the cone or the base, which become extremely cold.

The session is informative and the time flies. In just two hours I have gained the confidence to try and tackle a fire, if it’s small enough to do so safely – but here is hoping I never have to.

Find out more about the fire safety courses here

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