Did You Ever Wonder?
The ability to read the fire and predict likely fire behavior is a critical skill for both firefighters and fire officers. Previous posts have examined how to use the B-SAHF scheme to recognize critical fire behavior indicators and identify the stage of fire development, burning regime, and potential for extreme fire behavior such as flashover or backdraft. However, there is something missing!
Experience is critical to adapting standard procedures and practices to a complex and dynamic operational environment. However, learning about fire behavior and changes in fire conditions based on fireground observations are a bit like a black box test. Black box testing is a technique for testing computer software in which the internal workings of the item being tested are not known by the tester. This is not entirely true in the case of fire behavior, but there is much that we don’t know when assessing conditions on the fireground. How long has the fire been burning? What are the specific characteristics of the fuel? What sort of internal compartmentation is present? What exactly is the ventilation profile? Some of these factors can be determined during fire investigation and it is also possible to determine (with some degree of uncertainty) what influence these factors had on the outcome of the incident. Did you ever wonder how fire behavior would have changed if you had used different tactics? Unfortunately, in real life there are no “do overs”!
UL Tactical Ventilation Research Project
One of the people who has asked himself the question of what would have changed if different tactics were used is Underwriters Laboratories Fire Protection Engineer Steve Kerber.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has received a Firefighter Safety Research and Development Grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This research project will investigate and analyze the impact of natural horizontal ventilation on fire development and conditions in legacy (older, more highly compartmented) and contemporary (multi-level, open floor plan) residential structures.
Preliminary work has included review of literature related to horizontal ventilation and incidents in which ventilation had a significant influence on firefighter injuries and fatalities. In addition, UL has done preliminary work on the performance of various structural components such as single and multi-pane windows as preliminary input for design of full scale residential fire experiments.
In mid-December 2009, Steve Kerber met with the project advisory panel comprised of Captain Charles Bailey, Montgomery County (MD) Fire Department; Lieutenant John Ceriello New York City Fire Department, Firefighter James Dalton and Director of Training Richard Edgeworth, Chicago Fire Department, Chief Ed Hartin, Central Whidbey Island (WA) Fire & Rescue, Chief Otto Huber Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department, and Chief Mark Nolan, Northbrook (IL) Fire Department. In addition, the advisory panel includes Fire Protection Engineers Dan Madrzykowski from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Dr. Stefan Svensson, a research and development engineer from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.
Figure 1. Defining Experiment Parameters for the Contemporary Structure
The main task presented to the advisory panel at the first meeting was to aid in defining the parameters for the experiment; including fire location, changes in ventilation profile, timing of these changes, and instrumentation to measure effects on fire development and conditions.
UL Large Fire Research Facility
The ventilation experiments will be conducted at the UL Large Fire Research Facility in Northbrook, IL. From the exterior, this facility simply looks like a large industrial building (see Figure 2). However, the interior of the structure includes a unique facility for fire research.
Figure 2. UL Large Fire Research Facility
One of the facilities inside this building is a 100’ x 120’ (30.48 m x 36.58 m) with a ceiling height that is adjustable up to 50’ (15.24 m) (see Figure 3). All of the smoke resulting from tests in this facility is exhausted through a system designed to oxidize unburned fuel and scrub hazardous products from the effluent prior to discharge to the atmosphere. Tests are monitored from a control room that overlooks the large burn room.
Figure 3. Large Burn Room
Over the next month, the two residential structures to be used for the ventilation experiments will be constructed inside the large burn room at the UL Large Fire Test Facility. After construction is complete, a series of 16 full scale fire experiments is planned to evaluate a range of different horizontal ventilation scenarios.
Research with the Fire Service
Steve Kerber has often stated that it is essential that scientists and engineers conduct research with, not for, the fire service. Engagement between researchers and firefighters on the street is essential in advancement of our profession. With this ventilation research project, Underwriters Laboratories is actively engaged in this process.
The outcome of this project will not simply be an academic paper (but there might be one or more of those as well). As part of the DHS grant, UL will be developing an on-line course to present the results of the experiments and their practical application on the fireground.
Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO
Tags: burning regime, fire behavior, Fire Behavior Training, fire development, fire research, practical fire dynamics, Tactical Ventilation, UL, underwriters laboratories, vent controlled fire, ventilation