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Fire simulator offers people eye-opening experience


Christine Denby learned a valuable lesson Monday evening—one that Fort Frances Deputy Fire Chief Charlie Turgeon hoped everybody would take to heart.

Denby, along with her two children, was among more than 20 people who took part in a demonstration of the Challenger Fire Unit, a self-contained house fire simulator.

“It was awesome,” a wide-eyed Denby said after emerging from the unit wearing a small mask that covered her mouth and nose.

“Now I’m going to go home and talk with the boys about what would happen if there was a fire in our house,” she noted.

The participants crawled on their hands and knees through the 42-foot mobile unit while it was filled with artificial smoke during a training session outside the Fort Frances Fire Department for staff and families of Gillons’ Insurance.

Gillons’ plans to co-sponsor an appearance by the Challenger Fire Unit during the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship next week.

“You can’t see. It’s unreal—unreal,” said an amazed Dick Gustafson. “It was very interesting.”

“You couldn’t see a thing,” echoed Laurie Walsh, who went through the unit with his wife, Gayleen. “I knew she was right there in front of me but I couldn’t see her.”

The Challenger, owned by Turgeon, is a mobile self-contained training unit designed with two floors and an optional five-meter tower attachment.

The upper floor features six compartments, including a mock kitchen and bedroom, while the lower floor is a more confined space with narrow passages and sharp turns.

At the flick of a switch, Turgeon can fill the unit with non-toxic smoke, high heat (up to 90 C), and the sounds of crackling fire and a baby crying.

Turgeon has used the unit across Northern Ontario for the past five years primarily as a training tool for firefighters to practise their rescue skills.

But he also warned families don’t take the time to put their heads together and talk about how they would exit their home in case of a fire.

“Most people have no plan on how to get out,” Turgeon said, adding it’s hoped having the unit at the bass championship will make people aware of the importance of knowing their fire plan.

“I can create a situation that can happen in your home,” he said, noting the most common reaction from the public who experience the unit is “I never realized that’s what it would be like.”

Turgeon also said a family’s fire plan should include an alternate exit and a meeting place outside.

“And teach your children not to hide from the fire under the bed or in a closet,” he stressed.

“We would really like to encourage participation from all families during the [FFCBC],” stressed Bruce Armstrong of Gillons’.

The Challenger unit will be available free of charge for families to try out.

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