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Ohio Firefighters Talk About Safety After Arizona Wildfire Tragedy

REYNOLDSBURG (Terri Sullivan/Ken Hines) -- The safety of the state's firefighters was on the minds of many Ohioans a day after an Arizona wildfire killed 19 responders.

Members of a highly trained unit died on Sunday in the small town of Yarnell when they were overwhelmed by flames from a fire that burned at least 2000 acres and destroyed approximately 200 homes.

The crew members perished despite the use of portable shields known as fire shelters, which are also used by firefighters in Ohio.

"I've never been in one of these during a fire before, and I don't want to be in that situation," Ohio Fire Prevention Specialist Aaron Kloss said of the shelters. "It's used as a last resort measure. Firefighters should always have an escape route for them to get to, and if it's compromised, that's when we use the shelter." 

Kloss said Ohio firefighters are trained to clear any combustible material from their immediate areas before entering the portable shelters. That process is expected to take less than 30 seconds, but can be prolonged due to fierce heat and winds typically associated with wildfires.

"It would be a heck of a lot different to deploy one of these things in the wild fire, because the winds would be howling and this would be flapping all over the place," Kloss said.

The shelters -- which weigh little more than 10 pounds -- include a Kevlar liner to keep firefighters cool, as well as a foil cover that reflects radiant heat. The cover is not flame resistant, however, which can be a major liability when the shelters are used in wildfires.

"When you have these micro-climates, things like wildfires, things can change instantaneously," said Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Jack Reall, who is also President of the Firefighters Union.

"We can train, have the best technology, the best equipment. But fire always has so many variables," Reall said. "Whether it's a wildfire or a structure fire, there are so many variables that could make things go bad."
 
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