Joe Martinez is presenting to a group of Brookfield Middle School students a mock-up fire scenario featuring an electrical device.
It’s easy to assume, because the mock-up has wires, switches and an apparent power source, that the cause of the fire was electrical in nature. But, Martinez, government relations manager for Kirila Fire in Hartford and a former civilian deputy fire chief and fire investigator for the U.S. Air Force, showed the eighth-grade students that no wires were burned through, and the burn pattern on the wood panel that held the power source indicated the fire moved toward the power source, not away from it.
This fire started elsewhere and spread to the electrical device, he said.
The STEM class students have been studying fire, combustion, fire investigation and other investigative techniques, so Martinez’s presentation fell right in with their recent lessons, said teacher Melanie Horn.
“This is real world, instead of just seeing it in a video and a simulated situation, but having an expert in the field,” she said.
About 30 students spent a couple of hours at Kirila Fire on Nov. 11 learning about fire, but also about engineering, computer design and assembly.
“It was pretty amazing; some of the stuff actually blew my mind,” said student Luke Guthrie, who was particularly interested in the welding that goes on to assemble Kirila Fire’s fire-training products.
Kirila Fire custom designs and manufactures training buildings – often made of shipping containers – and steel airplane, helicopter and vehicle trainers for firefighters and hazardous material responders. It is one of only about five companies devoted to this field, said company President Jerry Kirila.
The students saw each phase of the process, meeting with designers who take customers specs and turn them into buildable designs, down to every screw and weld; the material purchasing agent; the assemblers; and the technicians who create the ignition sources to set the creations ablaze so the firefighters can put them out.
“It was actually a pretty cool experience, seeing what everyone can do, and what you can do up here,” said student Zach Coxson, who already has taken to designing household devices.
After the students had gone through several stations, Kirila Fire employees ignited an airplane trainer.
Jerry Kirila noted that he needs expertise from many disciplines on staff, including computer design; civil, electrical, mechanical and structural engineering; project management; welding; and fabrication.
Kirila said he chose to keep all elements of the project in-house, including site installation. His employees travel all over the world.
“We build projects in China, the cheapest place in the world to manufacture,” Kirila said. “We can take all our drawings, take them to China, and say, ‘Build this. This is what we need.’ (Instead,) We choose to keep that at home, have our local people working on it. I’m gonna say 85 percent of our employees are within 15 miles of here. I’m kind of stinky about that.”
Kirila said he was pleased with the interest level some of the students showed, as evidenced by the questions they asked.
“A lot of people are worried about payback,” he said. “I like to pay forward,” which he defined as “helping these kids see and understand different things.”
Kirila pointed out the Brookfield graduates on the staff, and they talked about the training they needed to be able to do the work they do, and the interests they carried from childhood that benefited their career choices.
“I got a lot of information I didn’t know,” said student Tristan Fletcher, especially in the design and engineering realms.
“There’s a lot going into it,” he said. “You need to know the exact dimensions, and what you need to make the buildings.”