I’m wholeheartedly thankful to the good people at Race Services Inc. Watkins Glen International and NASCAR for providing me with fire training. In my five years of volunteering this was the first time I got an opportunity to pull a pin on a fire extinguisher, I was so excited I did it a few times. I learned a few things that I will share in this post.
Obviously over the years I’ve read plenty of manuals, marshal hand books and watched quite a few training videos on how to handle a fire bottle. I’ve been on station where there was a car fire, one incident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway involved a Porsche 911 driving to the nearest cutout near our station and backing up all the way to our station on the access road with it’s tail end on fire. Of course at that moment I was on Comms and one of my colleagues got the privilege to actually squirt it with powder, but until the fire training seminar at WGI I haven’t actually handled an extinguisher.
The interesting thing, at least to me, was the fact that it didn’t quite work the way I thought it would. By the time I got my hands on the bottle several other people had used the extinguisher already so it wasn’t as charged as it should. I went to spray the propane fire on our NASCAR prop car and the powder wouldn’t actually reach the car, there was powder coming out but the pressure was weak. This was a good reminder for a real world scenario, knowing that there’s only so much you can do with a single bottle. I was given a freshly charged extinguisher after that and quickly put out the fire with one swift squeeze on the trigger. Or so I thought… the fire wasn’t completely put out and the propane quickly reignited shooting over the hood of the car. This time I squeezed the trigger a little longer moving the nozzle side to side to cover the whole base of the fire. It was so cool! It also demonstrated that you don’t have to be an inch from the car to effectively put out a fire. WGI used a wooden structure to simulate the height of a typical ARMCO around the track, and the car was a good six feet away, which again simulates a realistic scenario that a car stops on track, some distance from the ARMCO and is on fire. The fully charged fire extinguisher had no propblem putting out a small fire from the location and distance the WGI crew simulated. There was no need to go trackside to do the same job, and more importantly as is procedure when working with RSI our first priority would be to call Race Control to advise them of the fire and actually fighting the fire would be of secondary priority as the Fire Truck would be dispatched quickly, followed by the tow vehicle and other rescue services that typically respond to a vehicle that must be towed off the track anyway after the incident.
I was so excited to handle the bottle, after the rest of the F&C team took their turns, I went again. As with anything else, practice using the extinguisher. Directing the flow of the powder or chemical mixture. The smell of it, and all the particles that fly in the air. The change of wind direction, etc. It was really educational to finally experience it hands on.
So thank you again Race Services, Inc. and Watkins Glen International for hosting this event. And thanks to NASCAR for providing the props and standardized training, both online and on-site which I found to be very useful and could only wish it was offered to all volunteers that marshal around the US. This marshal education certainly wouldn’t hurt anyone, and only benefit people in case they are faced with a situation they haven’t faced before.
Because of this experience I will make a commitment this year to come back to Watkins Glen at least once more and try to volunteer for IMSA and/or NASCAR events. Well worth the effort, and I would invite anyone else to join me. The Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York is amazing in the summer time, Seneca Lake, downtown Watkins Glen, NY and especially WGI, it is a world class facility.