The flames were real; the situation wasn't

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) The flames were real, the emergencies weren't.

Firefighters have spent the past few days attending this year's Fire Shows West at the Grand Sierra Resort. There were lectures, classes and a trade show.

"We have an education portion inside in the GSR where we have speakers from all over and then we an area out here where we can put into practice manipulative skills in action to put fires out, "says Fire Instructor Nick Corona.. "It's pretty cool."

They were ending this gathering with some of that hands-on training. A pair of scenarios, actually.

One was staged inside a huge trailer, the interior of which can be configured to simulate the complex interior of a building in which they might have to fight a fire.

Contrary to the way Hollywood portrays it, in real life these fights often take place in near total darkness. The flames inside here can't create that kind of smoke.

They can give firefighters the experience of a flash-over, the sudden involvement of a room or an area in flames from floor to ceiling--something that can test the resolve of someone battling a blaze in close quarters.

"What they are getting is experience in is putting the fires out, having all the correct nozzle patterns, having the communication skills inside of a structure," says Corona.

The second scenario is much more complicated than it might appear.

Dealing with a car fire may seem relatively straight forward, low risk. In fact, it's anything but.

Modern cars contain devices that, when exposed to heat, present unexpected hazards to occupant and firefighter. Hydraulic shocks behind the bumpers, when heated, can become missiles that can cut a firefighter off at the knees. Air bag devices can become projectiles.

Each move, the angles at which firefighters approach, when and how they enter a vehicle, what pattern of spray they use and when, is calculated to protect the men and women in the crew and any occupant they are trying to save.

Techniques like these need periodic updates and practice.

"What they are able to do is reapply skills that they learned once upon a time, being able to utilize it, take it back to their departments and gain a better understanding how fire behavior works."