Tag Archives: Fire Training

Watkins Glen Motorsport Safety Seminar by NASCAR

The 2017 Watkins Glen Motorsport Safety Seminar is in the books, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to participate.

Training is crucial in this highly dangerous hobby that we choose to do, and not a lot of places provide it on a regular basis. Certainly none is offered by the SCCA in the New York City metropolitan area, but five hour drive north at Watkins Glen International, RSI and NASCAR put a very thorough and educational program together every year to both teach the newbies and refresh the skills of the old hands that attend. There were newbies for all specialties, from flaggers to fire fighters. And there were plenty of old hands who wanted to handle a fire extinguisher which we seldom get a chance to do with “on the job” training. The fire rescue folks had about half a dozen cars they got to cut up with the jaws of life, AMKUS tool – the official tool of NASCAR. People from Pocono Raceway helped with the training and rescue folks came from as far as Calabogie Canada to receive this training. It was essential and awesome at the same time. I really enjoyed it!

This is a two day event. Day 1 it snowed… not much when I arrived, but there were icebergs and fresh snow on the ground at the track.

It was also freezing!

The beauty of this training, whether for fire fighters or us flaggers, many of the things taught were meant not just for the track, but everyday life. Street cars were used for extrication practice to show how they ought to be cut correctly… whether for road accident or track accident (for track and club days, non-pro events). similarly caged cars were cut to practice specifically race car extrications.

I cashed in a favor and CouchSurfed in downtown Watkins Glen.

My host invited me to check out their neighbors barn bar… it was pretty awesome. Always nice to nibble on venison sausages and beer! These are real NASCAR fans… “So who’s your driver?”

Day two was significantly warmer. We got to shoot the extinguishers:

Same cut-away car from two years ago, but it works well!

That’s me.

Not sure what this fella was up to.

Chief really knew his shit, and presented it in understandable manner.

The wind was coming in from the front, blowing the extinguisher powder back at us. So some adjustment in positioning was required.

Everyone had a go… I went last.

By the time I got the bottle there was barely enough pressure to reach the fire.

So I sprayed, and I sprayed, and I sprayed… and I have a feeling one of the fire fighters cut the propane so the flame went out on its own.

But boy was it fun just doing it. Pulling the trigger. The excitement of fighting a fire. Better to do it under these circumstances and knowing what to expect than during a racing event when a car pulls up on fire and you’re the closet one with a bottle there. It’s nice to know what to expect from it once you’ve called for help.

Thank you RSI. Thank you WGI. Thank you NASCAR!

NASCAR Track Services On-Site Training

Following some thirty (30) self-paced online training modules hosted by NASCAR & IMSA Track Services this is the final, on-site module: Motorsport Safety Seminar at Watkins Glen International.

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Why is this such a big deal?

Because, since I started marshaling in the US back in 2012, this was my first opportunity for some proper classroom training. I had gone through a very similar set of modules over a course of a few months in Singapore back in 2011, in preparation for the Singapore GP but as far as I knew nothing of this sort was available here in the states, and I was vocally critical of the lack of such training. Turns out I was wrong. RSI, WGI and NASCAR have been hosting this MSS event at Watkins Glen for the past twenty-seven (27) years.

I couldn’t be more wrong. To be fair I didn’t know where to look. People mentioned MSS to me as early as 2012 when I first volunteered with RSI at Watkins Glen, but I didn’t know what “MSS” meant. And frankly I was busy scheduling events to volunteer, so when the MSS was hosted I was elsewhere, being trackside flagging an event. Not this time. And I can say with some confidence that I will give this training priority in years to come because it really is important.

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What did I learn from the MSS?

Much of the theory behind subjects covered in the actual seminar were already covered in the online training modules. However, some things were new, especially those presented by fellow volunteers with the RSI. My favorite were the videos that Jimmy Wheeler showed the room full of people while doing a mock Race Control call with Terry. Jim did an excellent job of capturing some real incidents over the past year (or possibly more) using his GoPro. And having those videos in this learning environment proved their worth because quite a few videos showed incidents that Wow’d the crowd. From simple spins to actual impacts. From sports cars to open wheelers. Incidents happen in all forms of racing. And its out job to deal with them. Seeing the video allows people to learn a lesson that they would only otherwise learn when being at that incident themselves. I believe in videos so much more than just telling stories and making people imagine an incident, because hardly ever are incidents just like what you picture in your head, whereas the video shows exactly what actually happens.

The presentation on OSHA compliance was an eye opener for me because it explained a lot of things. Many things that people badmouth WGI about, but when it comes to OSHA compliance the track has done an excellent job of doing the right thing. And I totally commend them for it. Most importantly the crucial role of Communication was repeated over and over again, and that to me was the most important part of the training.

Our training concluded with a thorough description of fire extinguisher capabilities, the types of fires and how to fight them (as well as knowing your limits, knowing when to back off, and importance of calling for help immediately before making the decision to fight the fire). The fire chief that made the presentation was perfectly clear in his message and engaging with the audience. I thought it was very valuable. But the hands on training was the highlight of my entire trip. I wrote a separate post about it, but I’ll say it again that after five years of marshaling it felt good pulling a pin on the bottle and spraying the fire because it felt quite different from what I thought it would feel like.

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I want to take this opportunity again to thank Race Services, Inc., and Watkins Glen International for facilitating this training. And to NASCAR for providing training materials and props for us to learn from. I appreciate this training and can only wish it was offered to all marshals that volunteer around the US. Knowledge of how to do things properly wouldn’t hurt anyone. In fact it would save lives!


Fire Training Completed Thank You RSI, WGI & NASCAR!

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.

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Fire demo by one of the Watkins Glen International Chiefs

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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.

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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.

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