Fire Research Shared by NIST

GAITHERSBURG, MD – As firefighters’ workplaces change, it’s important they adapt. But, are they?

NIST Fire Protection Engineer Dan Madrzykowski posed that question to more than 250 firefighters during a tour of the Maryland facility last week.

Madrzykowski strongly urged the crowd to not only embrace but utilize the research when they establish fire ground operating procedures.

Although structure fires and civilian deaths are down, that’s unfortunately not the case for firefighters.

Despite extensive studies conducted by NIST, UL and others, there is no national standard for firefighting.

Also, there is limited instruction about fire behavior in most acdemies. With research available, Madrzykowski said there’s a lot to catch up with.

“You must control flow path to improve firefighter safety,” he told the crowd, adding that fire can’t be pushed.

Controlling the doors and windows are essential to stop the flow path.

Following experiments, they’ve also proven that crews don’t have to be on top of the fire to flow water and make a difference.

Studies at NIST and UL have shown flashovers occurr faster and therefore, reduce the time to escape. That’s why a coordinated plan is essential.

Changing the way firefighters go about quelling the flames will take time especially in departments where there’s a mindset of “this is how we’ve always done it.”

While interior fire attack is still the most effective, researchers have determined the gases need to be cooled as soon as possible. It’s also important to know that you can’t push fire with water.

Another study is examining the effects of heat on electronic safety equipment including PASS devices and radios.

Fire Protection Engineer Michelle Donnelly explained that studies thus far have shown the decibel of some PASS devices decrease significantly when exposed to high temperatures.

They also learned that while some alarms returned to full strength after cooling, others didn’t.

Another ongoing project is looking at the effects of heat on radios during high heat exposures. During some tests, they drifted off frequency. And, in other cases, the remote speakers, buttons and cables melted.

“Our goal is protect you while you are protecting us,” she told the audience.

While data obtained by NIST and other researchers may provide a unique insight to the environment, changing SOPs isn’t that easy, said LA County Battalion Chief Derek Alkonis.

But, he added that his department although spread out over a wide area is making strides.

“It’s important we’re all on the same sheet of music,” Alkonis said.

After fires, the incident commander fills out a form discussing such things as door control and flow path. More and more he’s seeing new terminology like those included.

In addition, firefighters are helping to produce videos on a myriad of fire ground tactics.

Alkonis said the training videos are popular and well-received because they are made by crews rather than an officer.

Developments in research also has led to Cleveland officers making changes as well, explained Sean DeCrane, Cleveland Battalion Chief.

Previous SOPs in the Ohio department said the officer shall, which didn’t give them any leeway. Now, the handcuffs are off.

DeCrane added that fire behanvior lessons are now being including in basic training.

“We stress the three Cs – communicate, coordinate and control the air flow,” he explained.

He and Alkonis agree that changing operational procedures based on research is imperative to keeping firefighters safe as they do their jobs.

During a tour of a NIST lab, firefighters watched as Dr. Matthew Bundy conducted a test in which a flame grew several feet.

He explained that a well-controlled fire from a natural gas tube burner was used to calibrate the heat release rate measurement of one of the four large fire calorimeters at the NFRL. The heat release rate of the calibration burner was set to 1 MW, 3 MW and 5 MW. The largest hood allows study of fires up to 20 MW in size.

The flame temperature did not significantly change during this experiment, however the radiant heat from the fire and the temperature of hot gas plume above the fire increased proportionally with the fire size.

Some stepped back as the flame's intensity grew.

Fire officials also had the opportunity to watch robots perform a variety of tests. NIST researchers put them through a number of exercises so agencies considering purchase can determine the one that will best fit their needs.

They provide the resulting data, but do not make specific recommendations.
Source: News

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