Radford University students use burn trailer to learn fire investigations

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RADFORD, Va. (WDBJ7) The men and women who will one day investigate what causes fires are getting some first-hand experience before graduation.

Radford University students spent Tuesday afternoon with the Virginia Department of Fire Program's "burn trailer." It was a unique opportunity as the burn trailer is one of only three in the country and two in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In fact the unit, which hold three burn cells, is exactly what Public Fire Investigators use when they're training.

Before the students investigated what caused three fires in the burn trailer, they watched as the third blaze was set and attacked by Radford firefighters.

Radford Senior Patrice Malone, who’s majoring in Criminal Justice recalled, “When I saw the fire burn, I turned my head for like two seconds and I turned back and the whole room was engulfed. So I thought that was pretty amazing how quick fires are set and how quick they can be put out too.”

That cell was set up like a bedroom. The other two were a living room and kitchen.

Once the fire was out, the students got right into the rooms.

Radford Senior Nickolas Brown, who is also majoring in Criminal Justice, described going in as, “Instantly the smell, I wasn't expecting it to be that strong, but definitely it was a lot more crispy than I expected. It was really hard to even imagine a room was there before.”

Their instructor, Todd Jones, is a Fire Investigator for the Virginia Farm Bureau and an Adjunct Faculty Member at Radford University.

He spent ten weeks leading up to this just showing pictures of his investigations. Then, it was time for the real deal.

“Being able to put them in an environment that may be a little uncomfortable, and the suits are a little uncomfortable, gives them that take away that, 'I may like this as a career,' or, 'I may not, I may want to do something else,’” Jones said.

With that being the case, students were asked after their time in the trailer if it drew them to want a career in this field or pushed them away.

Brown answered, “I've always been into investigations and stuff like that, so this is right up the alley. Fire investigation is unique because no one fire is the same, so it's always going to be something new, you're always going to be able to find something else to do.”

Jones said doing the training was all thanks to partnerships, and new this year were two drones over head from the Criminal Investigations and Geology Departments.

He said drone technology has been becoming more and more important and useful in fire investigations. So having them out there was even better practice for the investigators of tomorrow.

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