Posts Tagged ‘fire behavior indicators’

Reading the Fire 18

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

It has been a busy six weeks since my last post with several trips to Chile and around the United States delivering seminars on Practical Fire Dynamics and Reading the Fire along with finalizing the fire district’s budget for 2014. Spending a full-day on B-SAHF and reading the fire at the Springfield Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 333 professional development seminar and working with our fire district’s members on our adaptation of First Due Questions (see FDQ on Facebook and First Due Tactics on the web) provided inspiration to get back to the Reading the Fire series of blog posts.

spfld_oh_practical_fire
Photo by John Shafer, The Green Maltese

Fireground photos and video can be used to aid in developing and maintaining proficiency in reading the Fire using the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) organizing scheme for fire behavior indicators. This post provides an opportunity to exercise your skills using a video segment shot during a live fire training. While live fire training is a considerably different context than an actual incident, this video provides an opportunity to focus on each of the elements of B-SAHF somewhat more closely than in typical incident video.

In this exercise, the focus will be on identifying specific indicators related to stages of fire development and burning regime (rather than anticipating fire development).

In this video, the fire has been ignited in a room (likely a bedroom) on the Bravo/Charlie corner of the building and the video is being taken from the exterior on the same corner. The ventilation profile is uncertain, but there is likely an opening/entry point on Side Alpha.

  1. As you watch the first 0:43 of the video, identify the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators that can be observed and how they change over time.
  2. What are the first visible indicators?
  3. What indicators are visible on and through the window between 0:43 and 0:56? How do condensation of water or pyrolysis products on window glazing aid in determining burning regime and stages of fire development? How might these indicators differ at locations more remote from the fire?
  4. How do the B-SAHF indicators change between 0:56 and 2:40? Why might this be the case?
  5. After 2:40 flaming combustion appears to increase. What might have influenced this change?
  6. By 3:37, the window on the Bravo/Charlie corner is dark and little flaming combustion can be observed. What might this indicate about burning regime and stages of fire development?
  7. At approximately 3:41, how do smoke and air track indicators change. What might this indicate? If there is no change in ventilation profile, how might the smoke and air track indicators change next?
  8. At 4:10 crews on Side Alpha report fire in a front (Side Alpha) room. Why might fire conditions be significantly different on this side of the building than in the original fire compartment? How might extinguishment of the fire in a room on Side Alpha influence fire development in the original fire compartment (Bravo/Charlie corner)?
  9. The lower portion of a window in the fire compartment on the Bravo/Charlie corner is broken out at 4:24. How does this change the B-SAHF indicators observed from this location? What may be inferred from these observations?
  10. Immediately after the lower portion of the window is broken out, a narrow fog stream is applied in a rotating manner through the window. What effect does this have on fire conditions in the room? How did smoke and air track indicators change during the brief water application? What did these changes indicate?
  11. How did smoke and air track indicators change after the brief application of water into the fire compartment?
  12. After the brief application of water through the window, how long did it take for the fire to resume significant growth in the fire compartment (crews operating from Side Alpha delayed fire attack intentionally).
  13. At 7:09, the upper portion of the window on the Bravo/Charlie corner is removed. How does this change in ventilation influence visible B-SAHF indicators and fire behavior?
  14. How do the B-SAHF indicators change as interior crews begin fire attack?
  15. How might taking the glass in the window(s) on the Charlie side of the building have influenced visible B-SAHF indicators and fire behavior?
  16. Had the window in the fire compartment located on Side Charlie (Charlie/Bravo Corner) failed first, what impact would this have had on flow path? How might this have influenced conditions encountered by the fire attack crew entering from Side Alpha?
  17. At approximately 8:40, interior crews begin hydraulic (negative pressure) ventilation through a window in the fire compartment on the Charlie/Bravo corner. How does this tactic integrate with the natural pressure differences created by the wind? What might be a more effective alternative?

Developing world class knowledge and skill takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. This equates to almost three hours every day, 365 days per year, for 10 years. If you only practice every third day achieving 10,000 hours in 10 years would require just over eight hours per day and if you only spend 2 hours every third day, it would take over 40 hours to achieve 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

How are you coming on your 10,000 hours? Keep at it!

Master Your Craft

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO

ISFSI Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

The International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) in conjunction with the South Carolina Fire Academy and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have released an on-line training program addressing firefighting operations in single family dwellings.

isfsi_course

This training program is comprised of five modules examining current research on fire dynamics and firefighting tactics and its application to operations in single family dwellings.

  • Module 1: Introduction
  • Module 2: Current Conditions
  • Module 3: Ventilation
  • Module 4: Suppression
  • Module 5: Size-Up and Decision Making

ISFSI did an effective job of integrating their own research conducted in South Carolina along with current research from NIST, FDNY, and UL in developing and for the most part have provided an effective learning experience that is well worth the four hours needed to complete the training. Visit the ISFSI learning management system (LMS) at http://learn.isfsi.org/ to complete this course (and ISFIS’s building construction course as well).

Important lessons emphasized in Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack include:

  • The fire environment has changed, resulting in faster fire development and transition to ventilation controlled conditions.
  • Under ventilation controlled conditions, increased ventilation will result in increased heat release rate and temperature.
  • In the modern fire environment, ventilation and fire attack must be closely coordinated. Particularly if resources are limited fire attack should often precede ventilation to minimize the adverse impact of ventilation without concurrent fire attack.
  • Exterior attack can speed application of water into the fire compartment and frequently will have a positive impact on conditions.
  • Speedy exterior attack can be an effective element of offensive operations.
  • Smoke is fuel and presents a significant hazard, particularly at elevated temperatures. Hot smoke overhead should be cooled to minimize potential for ignition.
  • Ongoing size-up needs to consider current and projected fire behavior as well as structural conditions.

While a solid training program, Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack could do a better job of explaining the differences between direct and indirect fire attack and how gas cooling impacts the fire environment to reduce the flammability and thermal hazards by the hot upper layer. The following posts expand on the challenges presented by shielded fires and application of gas cooling:

Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack does a solid job of addressing size-up and decision making, but firefighters and fire officers need to develop a more in-depth understanding of reading the fire. The following posts provide an expanded look at this important topic:

One great feature in Modules 3, 5 and 5 of Single Family Dwelling Fire Attack are brief video presentations by Dan Madrzykowski on Ventilation, Suppression, Size-Up and Decision Making which are also available on YouTube. The video on Ventilation is embedded below as a preview:

Developing Door Control Doctrine

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Door Control Doctrine

As discussed in my last post, doctrine is a guide to action rather than a set of rigid rules. Clear and effective doctrine provides a common frame of reference, helps standardize operations, and improves readiness by establishing a common approach to tactics and tasks. Doctrine should link theory, history, experimentation, and practice to foster initiative and creative thinking.

contro_the_door

One way to frame the discussion necessary to develop doctrine that is applicable to a range of circumstances, is to use a series of scenarios presenting different conditions and examine what is similar and what is different. Ideally, firefighters will work together to integrate this theoretical discussion with their experience to develop sound doctrine based on their own context (e.g., staffing, building and occupancy types).

Fireground Scenarios

Important! Not all of the tactics presented in the questions are appropriate and others may be appropriate in one context, but not necessarily in another. For example, a lightly staffed engine may not have the option of offensive operations until the arrival of additional resources (barring a known imminent life threat), where a company with greater staffing may have greater strategic and tactical flexibility. These questions focus on the impact of strategic (offensive or defensive) tactical options on fire dynamics.

Scenario 1: The first arriving company arrives to find a small volume of smoke showing from around windows and doors and from the eaves on Side Alpha with low velocity, no air inlet is obvious. Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows are closed. Several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) are darkened with condensed pyrolysis products and the home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.

The fire is likely in a ventilation controlled, decay stage. If the ventilation profile does not change prior to entry (e.g., doors are kept closed, windows remain intact), the heat release rate (HRR) from the fire will continue to decline and temperatures within the building will drop (but may still be fairly high when entry is made).

How would opening the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha impact fire development?

Increased ventilation will result in a significant and potentially rapid increase in HRR. The proximity of the door to the fire compartment and temperature in the fire compartment at the time that ventilation is increased will have a direct impact on the speed with which the fire returns to the growth stage (but still remaining ventilation controlled). The closer the air inlet to the fire and the higher the temperature, the more rapidly the fire will return to the growth stage.

How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the (still closed) doorway on Side Alpha?

As noted in the answer to question 2, increased ventilation will result in an increase in HRR. As windows in the fire compartment are in closer proximity to the fire, taking the windows potentially will result in a more rapid return to the growth (but still ventilation controlled) stage. It is also important to consider that a window cannot be unbroken; selecting this ventilation option does not provide an option for changing you mind if you do not like the result.

What would be the impact on fire behavior if the engine company advanced the first hoseline to the windows; took the glass and applied water to the burning fuel inside the fire compartment prior to making entry through the door? How might this change if offensive fire attack was delayed (e.g., insufficient staffing for offensive operations)?

This is an interesting question! Research by UL, NIST, and FDNY has shown the positive impact of exterior application of water into the fire compartment in reducing heat release rate. However, as noted in the answer to the preceding question, a window cannot be unbroken. If this is simply a contents fire in the compartment where the window is broken and water is applied, the result is likely to be favorable with a temporary reduction in HRR due water applied on burning fuel. However, if the fire extended to other areas of the building which shielded from direct attack at this point of application, effectiveness of exterior application from this single location is likely to be limited.

How would opening the front door and horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the doorway on Side Alpha?

Advice on coordination of tactical ventilation and fire attack has typically stated, don’t vent until a charged hoseline is in place. This is good advice, but requires a bit of clarification.

“As soon as the hoseline is deployed to the doorway” may simply mean that a dry line has been stretched and firefighters are donning their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) facepieces while waiting for water. The fire will begin transition back to the growth stage as soon as tactical ventilation is performed. Depending on the time required for the firefighters to mask up, the line to be charged, air bled off, pattern checked, and the charged line advanced to the fire compartment(s), the HRR may increase significantly and conditions are likely to be quite a bit worse than if the door and window had remained closed until the hoseline was in place to begin offensive fire attack from the interior.

If tactical ventilation is performed after the line is charged and firefighters are ready to immediately make entry and quickly advance to the fire compartment, it is likely that the effect of increased ventilation will be positive. There may be some increase in HRR, but it is likely to be minimal due to the short distance and simple stretch from the front door to the fire compartment(s). Once direct attack has begun to control the fire, the increased ventilation will improve conditions inside the building.

Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack, when should the entry point be opened? Assuming that the door is unlocked, how should the fire attack crew approach this task?

Tactical size-up is critical for the crew assigned to offensive fire attack. This includes assessment of B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators, forcible entry requirements, and assessment of fire attack requirements (e.g., flow rate, length of line, and complexity of the stretch).

The door should remain closed until the crew on the hoseline is ready to make entry; hoseline charged, air bled off, nozzle function and pattern checked, SCBA facepeices on, on-air. Check to see if the door is unlocked, but control the door (closed) and check conditions inside (visible fire, level of the hot upper layer, presence of victims inside the doorway) by opening the door slightly. The firefighter on the nozzle should do this check while the tools firefighter opens and controls the door. If hot smoke or flames are evident, the nozzle firefighter should cool the upper layer with one or more pulses of water fog (depending on conditions). The door should be closed while the crew assesses the risk of entry (e.g., floor is intact and fire conditions will permit entry from this location). If OK for entry; the crew can open the door and advance the line inside, while cooling the upper layer as necessary.

See Nozzle Techniques & Hose Handling: Part 3 for additional information on door entry procedure.

Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?

Ideally, the door will be closed after the hoseline is advanced through the doorway to limit the air supplied to the fire. How this is accomplished will depend on staffing. The door may be controlled by the fire attack crew or it may be controlled by the standby crew (two-out).

As discussed in the prior post Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 2, when the door is open, the clock is ticking! In the ventilation controlled burning regime, increased ventilation results in an increasing HRR as the fire returns to the growth stage. The timeframe for increased HRR is dependent on the proximity of the inlet to the fire, configuration of the building, and temperature in the fire area (higher temperature results in faster increase in HRR). Closing the door (even partially) slows the increase in HRR. Once the attack line begins direct attack, the door can be opened as part of planned, systematic, and coordinated tactical ventilation.

Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

As with most questions, the answer here is “it depends”. There are a few missing bits of information that are important to horizontal tactical ventilation. Wind direction and the location of potential openings. To keep things simple, assume that there is no wind and that the only potential openings in the fire compartment are two windows on Side Alpha at the Alpha/Bravo Corner.

Once direct attack has commenced, horizontal tactical ventilation can be performed from Alpha (doorway) to Alpha (windows in the fire compartment). As the top of the door and tops of the windows are likely to be approximately at the same level, there a bi-directional flow path (smoke out at the top and air in at the bottom) is likely to develop. However, the bottom of the door is lower than the windows which will provide increased air movement from the door to the fire compartment.

In discussing this question (and the entire topic of door control for that matter), some firefighters will undoubtedly raise the question of positive pressure attack (PPA) or positive pressure ventilation (PPV). These tactics may provide an effective approach in this scenario, but developing comprehensive tactical ventilation doctrine requires examination of all of the options to control both smoke and air movement, so we are starting with a look at anti-ventilation and tactical ventilation using natural means.

Scenario 2: The first arriving company arrives to find smoke showing with moderate velocity and a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom) from an open door on Side Alpha. A moderate volume of smoke is also pushing from around windows and from the eaves on Side Alpha. Several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) are darkened with condensed pyrolysis products and a glow is visible inside in the room behind these windows. Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows with the exception of the door on Side Alpha are closed. Returning to Side Alpha, the officer observes that the velocity of smoke from the open door has increased and flames at the interface between the smoke and air as it exits the doorway. The home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.

The fire is in a ventilation controlled burning regime (indicators include the limited ventilation provided by the single opening at the front door and flames at the interface between the smoke and air at the door). The open door will likely provide sufficient ventilation for the fire to continue its growth and extension from the compartment of origin along the flowpath to the front door.

How would the officer closing the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha (e.g., when performing the 360) impact fire development?

Based on the reported observations during 360o reconnaissance, the only significant ventilation opening is the front door. The bi-directional air track indicates that this opening is serving as both an inlet and outlet. Closing the door will reduce the air supply to the fire and will reduce the HRR and slow worsening conditions outside the fire compartment. Ideally this would be done prior to starting the 360o reconnaissance.

Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack and the door was closed during the 360, when should the entry point be opened? How should this task be approached?

As in Scenario 1, the door should be opened only when the crew on the hoseline is ready to make entry; hoseline charged, air bled off, nozzle function and pattern checked, SCBA facepeices on, on-air. The same door entry procedure described in Scenario 1 should be used as if the door had been closed on arrival.

How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development is performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the open doorway on Side Alpha?

The outcome of tactical ventilation of the fire compartment will depend on sequence and timing. If the door remained open during initial size-up and while the line was being stretched, he fire would have continued to grow (limited by ventilation provided by the doorway and interior configuration of the building). Additional ventilation in this case would result in a rapid increase in HRR. If the door had been closed during the 360, the increase in HRR on ventilation of the windows would likely be somewhat slower as the HRR and temperature in the fire compartment would have dropped once the door was closed. In either case, HRR will increase while the charged line is being stretched from the entry point to the fire compartment. This is not necessarily a problem if the stretch is quick and the flow rate of the hoseline is adequate. It is essential that the crews stretching the line and performing ventilation understand the influence of their actions on fire behavior and are not surprised at the result.

Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?

As noted in Scenario 1, closing the door to the greatest extent possible after the line is inside will slow fire development until the hoseline is in place to begin a direct attack.

Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

The same basic approach would be taken as in Scenario 1. Once direct attack has commenced, horizontal tactical ventilation can be performed from Alpha (doorway) to Alpha (windows in the fire compartment).

Scenario 3: The first arriving company arrives to find smoke showing with moderate velocity and a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom) from an open door on Side Alpha. A moderate volume of smoke is also pushing from around windows and from the eaves on Side Alpha. Flames are visible from several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) with a bi-directional air track (flames from the upper ¾ of the window with air entering the lower ¼). Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows with the exception of the two windows and door on Side Alpha are closed. Returning to Side Alpha, the officer observes that the velocity of smoke from the open door has increased and flames at the interface between the smoke and air as it exits the doorway. Flames from the windows on Side Alpha are similar to when first observed. The home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.

The fire is likely in a ventilation controlled burning regime (indicators include the limited ventilation provided by the openings at the front door and windows. Existing ventilation will likely be sufficient for the fire to continue its growth and extension from the compartment of origin along the flowpath to the front door. As there are multiple ventilation openings (more cross sectional area), HRR is greater and as a result fire development and spread will be much more rapid than in Scenario 2.

How would the officer closing the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha (e.g., when performing the 360) impact fire development?

As the windows in the fire compartment have failed and are serving as ventilation openings (in addition to the front door), the fire will likely remain in a ventilation controlled growth stage even if the door is closed. However, closing the door will still reduce the air supply to the fire and will slow fire growth. In addition, elimination of the flow path between the fire compartment and front door will reduce heat transfer along this flow path.

Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack and the door was closed during the 360, when should the entry point be opened? How should this task be approached?

As in Scenarios 1 and 2, the door should be opened only when the crew on the hoseline is ready to make entry; hoseline charged, air bled off, nozzle function and pattern checked, SCBA facepeices on, on-air. The same door entry procedure described in the prior scenarios should be used.

How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the open doorway on Side Alpha?

As the windows in the fire compartment have already failed, some ventilation of the fire compartment has already occurred. In that the fire is ventilation controlled, any additional ventilation will significantly increase HRR. With a ventilation controlled growth stage fire and high temperature in the fire compartment, the HRR will increase rapidly.

Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?

As in the previous two scenarios, the door should be closed to as great an extent possible after the hoseline is advanced inside the building. This will limit air to the fire, slow fire development, an reduce the flow path between the fire and the front door.

Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

As the windows in the fire compartment have already failed, they will continue to provide ventilation. Once a direct attack has been initiated, the front door may be opened to increase air flow and the efficiency of the horizontal ventilation from Side Alpha to Side Alpha.

As noted in the previous post, these questions were all based on a similar fire (different development based on the ventilation profile at the time of the first company’s arrival) in the same, simple building, a one story, wood frame dwelling. It is important to examine other levels of involvement and ventilation profiles in this building as well as other types of buildings and fire conditions with similar questions. Also give some thought to the impact of door control when using vertical ventilation in coordination with fire attack.

Additional Examples

The following video of pre-arrival conditions and initial fireground operations provides an additional opportunity to consider the impact of ventilation and the importance of door control.

Video 1: In the first video, the door is closed when the fire department arrives, but the fire has self-vented through a window on Side Delta.

 

How might effective door control have influenced fire development and the safety of companies operating at this incident?

Video 2: In this video, the front door is open when the fire department arrives and it appears that the fire may have self-vented on Side Charlie.

How might effective door control have influenced fire development and the safety of companies operating at this incident?

Video 3: In the last video, the front door is partially open and existing ventilation includes a window on Side Alpha and one or more openings on Side Charlie.

 

How might effective door control have influenced fire development and the safety of companies operating at this incident?

My next post will come back to the final set of questions regarding door control doctrine posed in Close the Door! Where You Born in a Barn?

Close the Door!
Were You Born in a Barn?

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Coming and going as a little kid, I frequently would forget to close the door to the house and my mother would say; close the door! Were you born in a barn? What does this have to do with firefighting operations? As it turns out, it has significant impact!

close_the_door

Research conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) points to the importance of close coordination of tactical ventilation (including opening a door to gain access) and fire attack. While doors are not ordinarily considered a firefighting tool, this post examines door control as an essential element in firefighting operations.

The Fire Environment-A Quick Review

Modern homes have a high fire load (both in mass and heat of combustion of common building contents), are better insulated and more energy efficient, and are larger and have large open, undivided living spaces.

These conditions often result in rapid fire development and transition from a growth stage, fuel controlled burning regime to decay stage, ventilation controlled burning regime prior to the arrival of the fire department. Increased ventilation (without concurrent fire control) will result in increased heat release rate, returning the fire to the growth stage and rapid transition through flashover to a fully developed stage of fire development.

A number of factors influence the speed with which heat release rate accelerates when the air supplied to a ventilation controlled fire increases. These include building and compartment size and geometry, thermal conditions, and size and location of the ventilation openings.

  • In general, fires in smaller compartments will react more quickly, but compartmentation and complex geometry will slow air movement from the inlet to the fire, and resulting increase in HRR.
  • Introduction of air close to the fire will influence HRR more quickly than air introduced at a distance.
  • Exhaust openings that are above the fire (horizontal or vertical) will increase HRR more quickly and to a greater extent than those at the same level (but may be more effective in improving conditions when fire control is established)
  • Larger openings (or multiple smaller openings) will increase HRR to a greater extent and more quickly than smaller (or fewer) openings.

Conditions on Arrival

A critical element of size-up is identification of the current ventilation profile of the building. Remember that ventilation (exchange of the atmosphere inside the building and that outside the building) is always going on to one extent or another. Assessment of the ventilation profile is based on the Building, Smoke and Air Track elements of B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) Fire Behavior Indicators (FBI). Starting with Building factors, consider the nature of current ventilation openings:

  • No significant ventilation openings (normal building leakage only)
  • One or more doors may be open
  • One or more windows may be open
  • Some combination of door(s) and window(s) may be open

In addition to the ventilation openings, it is important to consider if they are exhaust openings, inlets, both exhaust and inlet, and what is visible; flames or smoke:

  • Nothing showing (remember that this means nothing, the fire may be ventilation controlled and in the decay stage, but interior temperatures may be above 425o C (800o F) even when little or nothing is showing from the exterior.
  • Smoke showing from ventilation openings (consider the direction of the air track at each opening, in, out, bi-directional, or pulsing)
  • Smoke and flames showing from ventilation openings (as with smoke, consider the direction of the air track)

Structural Firefighting is Simple

OK this is a bit of an overstatement (actually more than a bit). Generally, there are only two things that firefighters can do to influence fire behavior; change the ventilation or absorb the energy being released by the fire. Read each of the following three scenarios and consider the questions posed. While examining door control, this anti-ventilation tactic is not used alone so there are a few questions that address fire control tactics (which will be the subject of a subsequent post).

Scenario 1: The first arriving company arrives to find a small volume of smoke showing from around windows and doors and from the eaves on Side Alpha with low velocity, no air inlet is obvious. Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows are closed. Several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) are darkened with condensed pyrolysis products and the home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

  1. How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.
  2. How would opening the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha impact fire development?
  3. How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the (still closed) doorway on Side Alpha?
  4. What would be the impact on fire behavior if the engine company advanced the first hoseline to the windows; took the glass and applied water to the burning fuel inside the fire compartment prior to making entry through the door? How might this change if offensive fire attack was delayed (e.g., insufficient staffing for offensive operations)?
  5. How would opening the front door and horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the doorway on Side Alpha?
  6. Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack, when should the entry point be opened? Assuming that the door is unlocked, how should this task be approached?
  7. Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?
  8. Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

Scenario 2: The first arriving company arrives to find smoke showing with moderate velocity and a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom) from an open door on Side Alpha. A moderate volume of smoke is also pushing from around windows and from the eaves on Side Alpha. Several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) are darkened with condensed pyrolysis products and a glow is visible inside in the room behind these windows. Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows with the exception of the door on Side Alpha are closed. Returning to Side Alpha, the officer observes that the velocity of smoke from the open door has increased and flames at the interface between the smoke and air as it exits the doorway. The home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

  1. How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.
  2. How would the officer closing the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha (e.g., when performing the 360) impact fire development?
  3. Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack and the door was closed during the 360, when should the entry point be opened? How should this task be approached?
  4. How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the open doorway on Side Alpha?
  5. Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?
  6. Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?

Scenario 3: The first arriving company arrives to find smoke showing with moderate velocity and a bi-directional air track (smoke out the top and air in the bottom) from an open door on Side Alpha. A moderate volume of smoke is also pushing from around windows and from the eaves on Side Alpha. Flames are visible from several windows on Side Alpha (Alpha Bravo Corner) with a bi-directional air track (flames from the upper ¾ of the window with air entering the lower ¼). Performing a 360o reconnaissance, the officer observes similar smoke and air track indicators on other sides of the building and that all doors and windows with the exception of the two windows and door on Side Alpha are closed. Returning to Side Alpha, the officer observes that the velocity of smoke from the open door has increased and flames at the interface between the smoke and air as it exits the doorway. Flames from the windows on Side Alpha are similar to when first observed. The home appears to have smoke throughout (smoke logged).

  1. How do you think the fire will develop between arrival and initiation of offensive fire attack (assuming that adequate resources are on-scene for offensive operations) assuming no change in ventilation prior to fire attack.
  2. How would the officer closing the front door prior to having a charged line at the doorway on Side Alpha (e.g., when performing the 360) impact fire development?
  3. Assuming that sufficient resources are on-scene to permit an offensive attack and the door was closed during the 360, when should the entry point be opened? How should this task be approached?
  4. How would horizontal ventilation of the fire compartment (Alpha/Bravo Corner) impact fire development if performed as soon as the hoseline is deployed to the open doorway on Side Alpha?
  5. Once the hoseline is deployed into the building through the door on Side Alpha for offensive fire attack, should the door remain fully open or closed to the greatest extent possible? Why?
  6. Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed (describe the flow path from inlet to exhaust)?
  7. Assuming that this is a contents fire and horizontal ventilation will be appropriate, when and where should it be performed?

These questions were all based on a similar fire (different development based on the ventilation profile at the time of the first company’s arrival) in the same, simple building, a one story, wood frame dwelling. It is important to examine other levels of involvement and ventilation profiles in this building as well as other types of buildings and fire conditions with similar questions. Also give some thought to the impact of door control when using vertical ventilation in coordination with fire attack.

Door Control Doctrine

Doctrine is a guide to action rather than a set of rigid rules. Clear and effective doctrine provides a common frame of reference, helps standardize operations, and improves readiness by establishing a common approach to tactics and tasks. Doctrine should link theory, history, experimentation, and practice to foster initiative and creative thinking.

Given what we know about the modern fire environment and the influence of both existing and increased ventilation on ventilation controlled fires, what guidance should we provide to firefighters regarding door control? The following questions are posed in the context of a residential occupancy (one or two-family home, garden apartment unit, townhouse, etc.).

  1. If the door to the fire occupancy is open when the first company arrives, should it be (immediately) closed by the member performing the 360o reconnaissance? If so why? If not, why not?
  2. If the door should be closed immediately there any circumstances under which it should not? If there are circumstances under which the door should not be closed, what are they and why?
  3. If the door is closed on arrival (or you closed the door during the 360o reconnaissance) when and how should it be opened for entry? Think about tactical size-up at the door, forcible entry requirements, and the actual process of opening the door and making entry? How might this differ based on conditions?
  4. After making entry should the door be closed to the greatest extent possible (i.e., leaving room for the hoseline to pass)? If so why? If not, why not?
  5. If the door should be closed to the greatest extent possible, who will maintain door control and aid in advancement of the line? How might this be accomplished with limited staffing?
  6. If you are performing search, should doors to the rooms being searched be closed while searching? If so why? If not, why not? Are there conditions which would influence this decision? If so, what are they?
  7. Should the doors to rooms which have been searched be closed after completing the primary search? If so why? If not, why not? Are there conditions which would influence this decision? If so, what are they?
  8. How else can doors be used to aid in fire control or the protection of occupants and firefighters? Give this some thought!

Review The Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures Part 2 for additional information on the influence of ventilation and door control as an  anti-ventilation tactic.

I plan on posting my thoughts on the questions posed in this post next week. However, it would likely make this much more interesting if you post your perspectives (or additional questions) as a comment!

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

Smoke is Fuel: Recognizing the Hazard

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

There has been an increasing awareness that smoke is fuel and that hot smoke overhead results in thermal insult (due to radiant heat transfer) and potential for ignition. However, the hazard presented by smoke as gas phase fuel can extend a considerable distance from the current area of fire involvement.

Reading the Fire

Print a copy of the B-SAHF Worksheet. Use the worksheet to document observed fire behavior indicators as you watch the first six minutes of the following video of an apartment fire that occurred on May 10, 2013 at the corner of Park Creek Lane and Hill Park Court in Churchville, NY. In particular, focus on fire behavior indicators that may point to changes in conditions. Don’t focus too much on the flame indicators presenting from the area involved, but pay particular attention to Building, Smoke, and Air Track indicators.

The following satellite photo and view of the Alpha/Delta Corner prior to the fire are provided to help orient you to the incident location. You can also go to Google Maps Street View and do a walk around on Sides Alpha (Hill Park Court) and Delta (Park Creek Lane) to view all four sides of the building.

satellite_photo_parklands

alpha_delta_parklands

The following time sequence from the video of this incident illustrates the conditions immediately prior to and during the explosion. The extremely rapid increase in heat release rate during the explosion was not sustained (a transient event) as evidenced by conditions illustrated at 06:25.

time_sequence_parklands_annotated

Building Factors

This building is of Type V construction with a wood truss roof system. In a large apartment building such as this, the trussloft is typically subdivided with draft stops comprised of gypsum board applied to one (or both) sides of a truss to stop rapid spread of fire within the trussloft. Draft stops should be thought of as speed bumps rather than a barrier (such as a firewall that extends through the roofline). While draft stops slow fire and smoke spread, they do not stop it completely and it is common for smoke to spread beyond the fire area despite the presence of draft stops.

draft_stop

The small dimension framing materials used in truss construction have a high surface to mass ratio, increasing the speed with which they can be heated and increasing pyrolysis products in the smoke when heated under ventilation limited conditions.

plot_parklands

Note: The possible location of the draft stops is speculative as specific information regarding the construction of this building was not available at the time of this post. However, draft stops may be provided between the trussloft between units or based on the size of the trussloft without regard to the location of walls between units. Preplan inspections provide an opportunity to examine building factors that may be critical during an incident!

Smoke and Air Track Indicators

An important air track indicator in this incident was the strong wind blowing from the Alpha/Bravo Corner towards the Charlie/Delta Corner. The wind may have had some influence on ventilation in the trussloft above Exposures Bravo and Bravo 2, and definitively influenced other Smoke and Air Track indicators.

From the start of the video light colored smoke is visible at the peak of the roof above Exposure Bravo and Bravo 2, indicating that smoke had infiltrated areas of the trussloft that had not yet become involved in fire. Smoke that is light in color may be comprised of pyrolysis products and air and may be to lean or too rich to burn or it may be explosive See the video Smoke on the Firegear website for a good discussion of the characteristics of smoke (note that this video is currently undergoing validation).

The volume and color (smoke indicators), velocity and direction (air track indicators) above exposure Bravo 2 vary considerably from the start of the video until shortly before the explosion that occurred at 06:12 in the video. At 02:52 a firefighter entered Exposure Bravo 2 and a short time later at 03:47 a hoseline (dry) was stretched into this exposure and charged. It is unknown from watching the video if the firefighters on this line advanced to Floor 2 or if they took any action to change the ventilation profile (other than opening the door on Floor 1, Side Alpha). The exited after the explosion, but without haste, so it is likely that they were not on Floor 2 at the time of the explosion.

Smoke Explosion

Smoke explosion is described in a number of fire dynamics texts including Enclosure Fire Dynamics (Karlsson and Quintiere) and An Introduction to Fire Dynamics (Drysdale). However, Enclosure Fires by Swedish Fire Protection Engineer Lars-Göran Bengtsson (2001) provides the most detailed explanation of this phenomenon. Paraphrasing this explanation:

A smoke or fire gas explosion occurs when unburned pyrolysis products and flammable products of combustion accumulate and mix with air, forming a flammable mixture and introduction of a source of ignition results in a violent explosion of the pre-mixed fuel gases and air. This phenomenon generally occurs remote from the fire (as in an attached exposure) or after fire control.

In some cases, the fire serves as a source of ignition as it extends into the void or compartment containing the flammable mixture of smoke (fuel) and air.

Conditions Required for a Smoke Explosion

The risk of a smoke explosion is greatest in compartments or void spaces adjacent to, but not yet involved in fire. Infiltration of smoke through void spaces or other conduits can result in a well-mixed volume of smoke (fuel) and air. Smoke explosion creates a significant overpressure as the fuel and air are premixed and ignition results in a very large energy release. Several factors influence the violence of this type of explosion:

  • The degree of confinement (more confinement results in increased overpressure)
  • Mass of premixed fuel and air within the flammable range (more premixed fuel results in a larger energy release)
  • How close the mixture is to a stoichiometric concentration (the closer to an ideal mixture the faster the deflagration)

Potential Smoke Explosion Indicators

It is very difficult to predict a smoke explosion. However, the following indicators point to the potential for this phenomenon to occur:

  • Ventilation controlled fire (inefficient combustion producing substantial amounts of unburned pyrolysis products and flammable products of incomplete combustion)
  • Relatively cool (generally less than 600o C or 1112o F) smoke
  • Presence of void spaces, particularly if they are interconnected
  • Combustible structural elements
  • Infiltration of significant amounts of smoke into uninvolved compartments in the fire building or into exposures

Preventing a Smoke Explosion

As it is difficult to predict a smoke explosion, there are challenges to preventing their occurrence as well. However, general strategies would include 1) preventing smoke from accumulating in uninvolved spaces or 2) removing smoke that has accumulated remote from the fire (e.g., in attached exposures), or 3) a combination of the first two approaches.

Tactics to implement these strategies may include:

  • Pressurizing uninvolved spaces with a blower to prevent infiltration of smoke. This involves use of a blower for anti-ventilation by applying pressure without creating an exhaust, similar to what is done to pressurize a highrise stairwell. It is essential to check for extension prior to implementing this tactic!.
  • Horizontal ventilation of attached exposures to remove smoke, checking for extension, and then pressurization with a blower to prevent continued infiltration of smoke. If fire extension is found, pressurization without an exhaust opening must not be implemented!

Additional Resources

The following previous posts on the CFBT-US Blog may also be of interest in exploring the smoke explosion phenomena.

References

Bengtsson, L. (2001). Enclosure Fires. Retrieved May 12, 2013 from https://www.msb.se/RibData/Filer/pdf/20782.pdf .

 

Explosion at Harrington NJ Commercial Fire

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Updated with Additional Video

On March 10, 2013 five Harrison, New Jersey firefighters were injured in an explosion while working at a commercial fire at 600-602 Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard. The fire originated in a two-story commercial building at the corner of Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard North and Davis Street and extended into Exposures Charlie and Delta, two-story residential buildings.

Figure 1. Alpha/Bravo Corner and Exposure Charlie

600-602 Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard

Image from Google Maps, click on the link to walk around using Street View.

Reading the Fire

Before watching the video (or watching it again if you have already seen it), download and print the B-SAHF Worksheet. Using the pre-fire photo (figure 1) and observations during the video, identify key B-SHAF indicators that may have pointed to potential for extreme fire behavior in this incident.

Important! Keep in mind that there is a significant difference between focusing on the B-SAHF indicators in this context and observing them on the fireground. Here you know that an explosion will occur, so we have primed the pump so you can focus (and are not distracted by other activity).

Backdraft or Smoke Explosion

While smoke explosion and backdraft are often confused, there are fairly straightforward differences between these two extreme fire behavior phenomena. A smoke explosion involves ignition of pre-mixed fuel (smoke) and air that is within its flammable range and does not require mixing with air (increased ventilation) for ignition and deflagration. A backdraft on the other hand, requires a higher concentration of fuel that requires mixing with air (increased ventilation) in order for it to ignite and deflagration to occur. While the explanation is simple, it may be considerably more difficult to differentiate these two phenomena on the fireground as both involve explosive combustion.

  1. Did you observe any indicators of potential backdraft prior to the explosion?
  2. Do you think that this was a backdraft?
  3. What leads you to the conclusion that this was or was not a backdraft?
  4. If you do not think this was a backdraft, what might have been the cause of the explosion?

For more information in Backdraft, Smoke Explosion, and other explosive phenomena on the fireground, see:

Back at it!

I would like to say thanks to all of you who have sent e-mail or contacted me on Facebook inquiring about the status of the CFBT-US blog. The last several years have been extremely busy at Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue and my focus has been almost exclusively on the fire district. However, I am renewing my commitment to developing knowledge of practical fire dynamics throughout the fire service and will endeavor to return to posting on a regular basis. In addition, I am working on a series of short (10-minute) drills on fire dynamics that will be cross posted on the CFBT Blog and the Fire Training Toolbox.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO

Explosions During Structural Firefighting

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Video of several incidents involving explosions during structural firefighting operations have been posted to YouTube in the last several weeks. Two of these videos, one from New Chicago, IN and the other from Olathe, KS involve residential fires. The other is of a commercial fire in Wichita, KS.

When a video shows some sort of spectacular fire behavior there is generally a great deal of speculation amongst the viewers about what happened. Was it a smoke (fire gas) explosion, backdraft, flashover, or did something else happen? Such speculation is useful if placed in the framework of the conditions required for these phenomena to occur and the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame (B-SAHF) indicators that provide cues of to current fire conditions and potential fire behavior.

Occasionally, what happened is fairly obvious such as flashover resulting from increased ventilation under ventilation controlled conditions. However, the phenomena and its causal factors are often much more of a puzzle.

Download and print three copies of the http://globalditta.org/propranolol-hcl.com/ taking propranolol B-SAHF Worksheet.

Residential Fire-Olathe, KS

Limited information was posted along with this pre-arrival video of a residential fire in Olathe, KS. The home was unoccupied when the fire occurred.

Watch the thirty seconds (0:30) of the video. First, describe what you observe in terms of the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame Indicators; then answer the following five standard questions (based only on what you observe during the first thirty seconds of the video)?

  1. What additional information would you like to have? How could you obtain it?
  2. What stage(s) of development is the fire likely to be in (incipient, growth, fully developed, or decay)?
  3. What burning regime is the fire in (fuel controlled or ventilation controlled)?
  4. What conditions would you expect to find inside this building?
  5. How would you expect the fire to develop over the next two to three minutes

Watch remainder of the video and consider the following questions:

  1. Did fire conditions progress as you anticipated?
  2. What changes in the B-SAHF indicators did you observe?
  3. What may have caused the explosion (consider all of the possibilities)?
  4. Were there any indications that may have given warning of this change in conditions?

Residential Fire-New Chicago, IN

Companies from New Chicago and Hobart were dispatched to a reported house fire at 402 Madison in New Chicago, IN on February 17, 2012.

Watch the thirty seconds (0:30) of the video. First, describe what you observe in terms of the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame Indicators; then answer the following five standard questions (based only on what you observe during the first thirty seconds of the video)?

  1. What additional information would you like to have? How could you obtain it?
  2. What stage(s) of development is the fire likely to be in (incipient, growth, fully developed, or decay)?
  3. What burning regime is the fire in (fuel controlled or ventilation controlled)?
  4. What conditions would you expect to find inside this building?
  5. How would you expect the fire to develop over the next two to three minutes

Watch remainder of the video and consider the following questions:

  1. Did fire conditions progress as you anticipated?
  2. What changes in the B-SAHF indicators did you observe?
  3. What may have caused the explosion (consider all of the possibilities)?
  4. Were there any indications that may have given warning of this change in conditions?

Commercial Fire-Wichita, KS

Wichita Fire Department on scene of a working building fire in large, non-combustible commercial building. Extreme heat and fire conditions cause an unknown cylinder to explode.

Keep in mind that gas cylinders and other closed containers can result in explosions during structural firefighting operations. Unlike backdraft and smoke explosion, the only clue may be building factors related to occupancy (and this may not be a good indicator when operating at a residential fire).

Wichita Fire Department on scene of a working building fire in a large metal structure. Extreme heat and fire conditions cause an unknown cylinder to explode. If you listen close, you can hear it vent before it goes off. Concussion actually cuts out my audio for just a couple seconds. No one was injured.

Video by Sean Black Photography http://seanblackphotography.smugmug.com/

Firefighter Safety

Potential for explosions related to extreme fire behavior such as backdraft and smoke explosion may be recognized based on assessment and understanding the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators. Other types of explosions such as those resulting from failure of closed containers (e.g., containing liquids or gases) may be a bit more difficult as this potential is likely to be present in most types of occupancies. However, commercial and industrial occupancies present greater risks.

Recognizing that even with sound experienced judgment, there may be undetected hazards on the fireground. Managing the risk requires developing a solid knowledge base and skills and operating within sound rules of engagement such as the IAFC Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting. However, considering the hazards presented by rapid fire progression and potential for changes in conditions following explosive events, I would add the following:

  • Base your strategies and tactics on current and anticipated fire behavior and structural stability.
  • Ensure that members correctly wear complete structural firefighting clothing and SCBA when working in the hazard zone and practice good air management. Buddy check before entry!
  • Crews operating on the interior should have a hoseline or be directly supported by a crew with a hoseline. If conditions deteriorate, a hoseline allows self-protection and provides a defined egress path.
  • Have well practiced battle drills for tactical withdrawal and abandoning the building (depending on conditions). See Battle Drill, Battle Drill Part 2, and Battle Drill Part 3.

Next…

My next post will address the impact of a closed door on tenability during a residential fire as the ninth tactical implication identified in the UL study on the Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction.

Subsequent posts will come back to the Olathe, KS and New Chicago, IN residential fires to examine potential impacts on fire behavior and explosions that resulted during these incidents.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO

Reading the Fire 16

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Residential Fire

This post examines fire development during a residential fire in Lyons, New York.

Download and the where to get viagra cheap B-SAHF Worksheet.

Watch the first minute and thirty seconds (1:30) of the video. First, describe what you observe in terms of the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame Indicators; then answer the following five standard questions?

  1. What additional information would you like to have? How could you obtain it?
  2. What stage(s) of development is the fire likely to be in (incipient, growth, fully developed, or decay)?
  3. What burning regime is the fire in (fuel controlled or ventilation controlled)?
  4. What conditions would you expect to find inside this building?
  5. How would you expect the fire to develop over the next two to three minutes

In addition, consider how the answers to these questions impact your assessment of the potential for survival of possible occupants.

Now watch the video clip from 1:30 until 2:00. Now answer the following questions:

  1. Did fire conditions progress as you anticipated?
  2. What changes in the B-SAHF indicators did you observe?
  3. What indications of fire stream effectiveness did you observe?
  4. What potential avenues of fire extension would you consider based on the type of construction and building design?

As you watch the remainder of the video, consider the changes in observed conditions and what information this might provide the Incident Commander. What information should interior crews report to Command during this stage of incident operations.

More on Reading the Fire

See the following posts for more information on reading the fire:

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

 

Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures:
Tactical Implications Part 8

Friday, January 13th, 2012

The eighth and tenth tactical implications identified in the Underwriters Laboratories study of the Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2011) are the answer to the question, can you vent enough and the influence of pre-existing openings or openings caused by fire effects on the speed of progression to flashover.

The ninth implication; the effects of closed doors on tenability for victims and firefighters, will be addressed in the next post.

Photo Credit: Captain Jacob Brod, Pineville (NC) Fire Department

Kerber (2011) indicates that firefighters presume that if you create enough ventilation openings that the fire will return to a fuel controlled burning regime. I am not so sure that this is the case. Until fairly recently, the concept of burning regime and influence of increased ventilation on ventilation controlled fires was not well recognized in the US fire service. However, there has been a commonly held belief that increased ventilation will improve interior conditions and reduce the potential for extreme fire behavior phenomena such as flashover. In either case, the results of the experiments conducted by UL on the influence of horizontal ventilation cast considerable doubt on the ability to accomplish either of these outcomes using horizontal, natural ventilation.

The Experiments

In order to determine the impact of increased ventilation, Kerber (2011) compared changes in temperature with varied numbers and sizes of ventilation openings. The smallest ventilation opening in the experiments conducted in both the one and two story houses was when the door on Side A was used to provide the only opening. The largest number and size of ventilation openings was in the experiments where the front door and four windows were used (see Figures 1 and 3)

The area of ventilation openings in experiments conducted in the one-story house ranged from 1.77 m2 (19.1 ft2) using the front door only to 9.51 m2 (102.4 ft2) with the front door and four windows. In the two-story house the area of ventilation openings ranged from 1.77 m2 (19.1 ft2) with front door only to 14.75 m2 (158.8 ft2) using the front door and four windows.

The most dramatic comparison is between Experiments 1 and 2 where a single opening was used (front door) and Experiments 14 and 15 where five openings were used (door and four windows).

One Story House

Experiment 1 was conducted in the one-story house using the door on Side A as the only ventilation opening. The door was opened eight minutes after ignition (480 seconds). Experiment 14 was also conducted in the one-story house, but in this case the door on Side A and four windows were used as ventilation openings. Windows in the living room and bedrooms one, two, and three were opened sequentially immediately after the door was opened, providing more than five times the ventilation area as in Experiment 1 (door only).

Figure 1. Ventilation Openings in the One-Story House

In both Experiment 1 (door only) and Experiment 14 (door and four windows), increased ventilation resulted in transition to a fully developed fire in the compartment of origin (see Figure 2). In Experiment 1, a bi-directional air track developed at the door on Side A (flames out the top and air in the bottom). In Experiment 14, a bi-directional air track is visible at all ventilation openings, with flames visible from the door and window in the Living Room on Side A and flames visible through the window in Bedroom 3. No flames extended out the ventilation openings in Bedrooms 1, 2, and 3. The upper layer in Bedroom 3 is not deep, as such there is little smoke visible exiting the window, and it appears to be serving predominantly as an inlet. On the other hand, upper layer in Bedroom 2 is considerably deeper and a large volume of thick (optically dense) smoke is pushing from the window with moderate velocity. While a bi-directional air track is evident, this window is serving predominantly as an exhaust opening.

Figure 2. Fire Conditions at 600 seconds (10:00)

As illustrated in Figure 3, increased ventilation resulted in a increase in heat release rate and subsequent increase in temperature. It is important to note that the peak temperature in Experiment 14 (door and four windows) is more than 60% higher than in Experiment 1 (door only).

Figure 3. Living Room Temperature 0.30 m(1’) Above the Floor One-Story House

Note. Adapted from Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (p. 298), by Steve Kerber, 2011, Northbrook, IL: Underwriters Laboratories.

Based on observed conditions and temperature measurement within the one-story house, it is evident that increasing the ventilation from 1.77 m2 (19.1 ft2) using the front door to 9.51 m2 (102.4 ft2) with the front door and four windows did not return the fire to a fuel controlled burning regime and further, did not improve interior conditions.

It is important to note that these experiments were conducted without coordinated fire control operations in order to study the effects of ventilation on fire behavior. Conditions changed quickly in both experiments, but the speed with which the fire transitioned from decay to growth and reached flashover was dramatically more rapid with a larger ventilation area (i.e., door and four windows).

Two Story House

Experiment 2 was conducted in the two-story house using the door on Side A as the only ventilation opening. The door was opened ten minutes after ignition (600 seconds). Experiment 15 was also conducted in the two-story house, but in this case the door on Side A and four windows were used as ventilation openings. One window in the Living Room (Floor 1, Side A, below Bedroom 3) Den (Floor 1, Side C, below Bedroom 2) and two windows in the Family Room (Side C) were opened sequentially immediately after the door was opened, providing more than eight times the ventilation area as in Experiment 2 (door only).

Figure 4. Ventilation Openings in the Two-Story House

In both Experiment 2 (door only) and Experiment 15 (door and four windows), increased ventilation resulted in transition to a fully developed fire in the compartment of origin. Flames were seen from the family room windows in Experiment 15 (see Figure 5). However, in Experiment 2, no flames were visible on the exterior (due to the distance between the fire compartment and ventilation opening) and a bi-directional air track developed at the door on Side A (smoke out the top and air in the bottom). In Experiment 15, a bi-directional air track is visible at all ventilation openings, with flames visible from the windows in the family room on Side C. No flames extended out the ventilation openings on Side A or from the Den on Side C (see Figure 5). The upper layer is extremely deep (particularly considering the ceiling height of 16’ in the family room and foyer atrium. The velocity of smoke discharge from ventilation openings is moderate.

Figure 5. Fire Conditions at 780 seconds (13:00)

As illustrated in Figure 6, increased ventilation resulted in a increase in heat release rate and subsequent increase in temperature. It is important to note that the peak temperature in Experiment 15 (door and four windows) is approximately 50% higher than in Experiment 2 (door only).

Figure 6. Living Room Temperature 0.30 m(1’) Above the Floor One-Story House

Note. Adapted from Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (p. 299), by Steven Kerber, 2011, Northbrook, IL: Underwriters Laboratories.

Another Consideration

Comparison of these experiments answers the questions if increased horizontal ventilation would 1) return the fire to a fuel controlled state or 2) improve interior conditions. In a word, no, increased horizontal ventilation without concurrent fire control simply increased the heat release rate (sufficient for the fire to transition through flashover to a fully developed stage) in the involved compartment.

Examining thermal conditions in other areas of the building also provides an interesting perspective on these two sets of experiments. Figure 7 illustrates temperatures at 0.91 m (3’) during Experiment 1 (door only) and Experiment 14 (door and four windows) in the one-story house.

Figure 7. Temperatures at 0.91 m (3’) during Experiments 1 and 14

Note. Adapted from Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (p. 99, p. 162), by Steven Kerber, 2011, Northbrook, IL: Underwriters Laboratories.

Thermal conditions not only worsened in the fire compartment, but also along the flow path (for a more detailed discussion of flow path, see UL Tactical Implications Part 7) and in downstream compartments. Temperature in the hallway increased from a peak of just over 200o C to approximately 900o C when ventilation was increased by opening the four additional windows.

Unplanned Ventilation

Each of the experiments in this study were designed to examine the impact of tactical ventilation when building ventilation was limited to normal leakage and fire conditions are ventilation controlled (decay stage). In each of these experiments, increased ventilation resulted in a rapid increase in heat release rate and temperature. Even when ventilation was increased substantially (as in Experiments 14 and 15), it was not possible to return the fire to a fuel controlled burning regime.

It is also possible that a door or window will be left open by an exiting occupant or that the fire may cause window glazing to fail. The impact of these types of unplanned ventilation will have an effect on fire development. Creation of an opening prior to the fire reaching a ventilation controlled burning regime will potentially slow fire progression. However, on the flip side, providing an increased oxygen supply will allow the fire to continue to grow, potentially reaching a heat release rate that will result in flashover. If the opening is created after the fire is ventilation controlled, the results would be similar to those observed in each of these experiments. When the fire is ventilation controlled, increased ventilation results in a significant and dramatic increase in heat release rate and worsening of thermal conditions inside the building.

If the fire has self-ventilated or an opening has been created by an exiting occupant, the increased ventilation provided by creating further openings without concurrent fire control will result in a higher heat release rate than if the openings were not present and will likely result in rapid fire progression.

What’s Next?

I will be at UL the week after next and my next post will provide an update on UL’s latest research project examining the influence of vertical ventilation on fire behavior in legacy and contemporary residential construction.

Two tactical implications from the horizontal ventilation study remain to be examined in this series of posts: the impact of closed doors on tenability and the interesting question can you push fire with stream from a hoseline?

The last year has presented a challenge to maintaining frequency of posts to the CFBT Blog. However, I am renewing my commitment to post regularly and will be bringing back Reading the Fire, continuing examination of fundamental scientific concepts, and integration of fire control and ventilation tactics.

References

Kerber, S. (2011). Impact of ventilation on fire behavior in legacy and contemporary residential construction. Retrieved July 16, 2011 from http://www.ul.com/global/documents/offerings/industries/buildingmaterials/fireservice/ventilation/DHS%202008%20Grant%20Report%20Final.pdf

Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures:
Tactical Implications Part 7

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

The seventh tactical implication identified in the Underwriters Laboratories study of the Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2011) is the influence of changes in ventilation on flow path.

“Every new ventilation opening provides a new flow path to the fire and vice versa. This could create very dangerous conditions when there is a ventilation limited fire” (Kerber, 2011).

Air Track and Flow Path

Air track and flow path are closely related and provide an excellent framework for understanding the influence of changes in ventilation on fire development and flow path.

Air Track: Closely related to flow path, air track is the movement of air and smoke as observed from the exterior and inside the structure. Air track is used to describe a group of fire behavior indicators that includes direction of smoke movement at openings (e.g., outward, inward, pulsing), velocity and turbulence, and movement of the lower boundary of the upper layer (e.g., up, down, pulsing).

Observation of air track indicators may provide clues as to the potential flow path of air and hot gases inside the fire building. As discussed in previous posts in this series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6), movement of air to the fire has a major impact on fire development. Movement of hot gases away from the fire is equally important!

Flow Path: In a compartment fire, flow path is the course of movement hot gases between the fire and exhaust openings and the movement of air towards the fire.

Both of these components of flow path are important! Movement of hot gases between the fire an exhaust openings is a major factor in heat transfer outside the compartment of origin and presents a significant thermal threat to occupants and firefighters. When the fire is in a ventilation controlled burning regime, movement of air from to the fire provides the oxygen necessary for fire growth and increased heat release rate (impacting on conditions in the flow path downstream from the fire.

Flow path can significantly influence fire spread and the hazard presented to occupants and firefighters.

Reading the Fire

Before engaging in the meat of this UL Tactical Implication, quickly review essential air track indicators used in the Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame (B-SAHF) fire behavior indicators organizing scheme.

Figure 1. Air Track Indicators

As illustrated in Figure 1, key indicators include wind direction and velocity (consider this before you even arrive on-scene), directions in which the air and smoke are moving, and the velocity and flow of smoke and air movement.

Take a look at Figure 2. Consider all of the B-SAHF indicators, but pay particular attention to Air Track. What is the current flow path? How might the flow path change if one or more windows on Floor 2 Side A are opened prior to establishing fire control?

Figure 2. Residential Fire in a 1 ½ Story Wood Frame Dwelling

Photo courtesy of Curt Isakson, County Fire Tactics

UL Focus on Flow Path

Tactical implications related to flow path identified in Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2011) focus on creation of additional openings and changes in flow path as a result of “crews venting as the go” (p. 296). This is only one issue related to flow path!

The UL experiments showed that increasing the number of flow paths resulted in higher peak temperatures, a faster transition from decay to growth stage and more rapid transition to flashover. However, this is not the only hazard!

As previously discussed in the series of posts examining the fire in a Washington DC townhouse that took the lives of Firefighters Anthony Phillips and Louis Matthews, operating in the flow path presents potential for significant thermal hazard.

In this incident, the initial attack crew was operating on the first floor of a two-story townhouse with a daylight basement. When crews opened the sliding glass doors in the basement (on Side C), a flow path was created between the opening at the basement level on Side C, up an open interior stairway to the first floor, and out the first floor doorway (on Side A). Firefighters working in this flow path were subjected to extreme thermal stress, resulting in burns that took the lives of Firefighters Phillips and Mathews and serious injuries to another firefighter.

Figure 1. Perspective View of 3146 Cherry Road and Location of Slices

Note: From Simulation of the Dynamics of the Fire at 3146 Cherry Road NE Washington D.C., May 30, 1999, NISTR 6510 (p. 15) by Dan Madrzykowski and Robert Vettori, 2000, Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute for Standards and Technology.

Figure XX illustrates thermal conditions, velocity and oxygen concentration at various locations within the flow path.

Figure 10. Perspective Cutaway, Flow/Temperature, Velocity, and O2 Concentration

The temperature of the atmosphere (i.e., smoke and air) is a significant concern in the fire environment, and firefighters often wonder or speculate about how hot it was in a particular fire situation. However, gas temperature in the fire environment is a bit more complex than it might appear on the surface and is only part of the thermal hazard presented by compartment fire.

Convective heat transfer is influenced by gas temperature and velocity. When hot gases are not moving or the flow of gases across a surface (such as your body or personal protective equipment) is slow, energy is transferred from the gases to the surface (lowering the temperature of the gases, while raising surface temperature). These lower temperature gases act as an insulating layer, slowing heat transfer from higher temperature gases further away from the surface. When velocity increases, cooler gases (which have already transferred energy to the surface) move away and are replaced by higher temperature gases. When velocity increases sufficiently to result in turbulent flow, hot gases remain in contact with the surface on a relatively constant basis, increasing convective heat flux.

For a more detailed discussion of this incident and the influence of radiative and convective heat transfer in the flow path, see the prior posts on the Washington DC Townhouse Fire Case Study.

Wind Driven Fires & Flow Path

While operating in the flow path presents serious risk, when fire behavior is influenced by wind, conditions in the flow path can be even more severe. In experiments conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) demonstrated that under wind driven conditions, both temperature and heat flux, which were twice as high in the “flow” portion of the corridor as opposed to the “static” portion of the corridor (where there was no flow path). See the previous posts on Wind Driven Fires for more information on flow path hazards under wind driven conditions:

Discussion

The sixth and seventh tactical implications identified in the UL Horizontal Ventilation Study are interrelated and can be expanded to include the following key points:

  • Heat transfer (convective and radiative) is greatest along the flow path between the fire and exhaust opening.
  • Exhaust openings located higher than the fire will increase the velocity of gases along the flow path (further increasing convective heat transfer).
  • Flow of hot gases from the fire to an exhaust opening is significantly influenced by air flow from inlet openings to the fire (the greater the inflow of air, the higher the heat release rate and flow of hot gases to the exhaust opening).
  • Flow path can be created by a single opening that serves as both inlet and exhaust (such as an open door or window).
  • Thermal conditions in the flow path can quickly become untenable for both civilian occupants and firefighters. As noted in an earlier NIST Study examining wind driven fires, under wind driven conditions this change can be extremely rapid.
  • Closing an inlet, exhaust opening, or introducing a barrier (such as a closed door) in the flow path slows gas flow and reduces the hazard downstream from the barrier.
  • When the fire is ventilation controlled, limiting inflow of air (e.g., door control) can slow the increase in heat release rate and progression to a growth stage fire.
  • Multiple openings results in multiple flow paths and increased air flow to the fire, resulting in more rapid fire development and increased heat release rate.

What’s Next?

The next tactical implication identified in the UL Horizontal Ventilation study examines an interesting question: Can you vent enough (to return the fire to a fuel controlled burning regime)? This question may also be restated as can you perform sufficient natural horizontal ventilation to improve internal conditions. The answer to this question will likely be extended through the Vertical Ventilation Study that will be conducted by UL in early 2012!

References

District of Columbia (DC) Fire & EMS. (2000). Report from the reconstruction committee: Fire at 3146 Cherry Road NE, Washington DC, May 30, 1999. Washington, DC: Author.

Kerber, S. (2011). Impact of ventilation on fire behavior in legacy and contemporary residential construction. Retrieved July 16, 2011 from http://www.ul.com/global/documents/offerings/industries/buildingmaterials/fireservice/ventilation/DHS%202008%20Grant%20Report%20Final.pdf

Madrzykowski, D. & Kerber, S. (2009). Fire Fighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions. Retrieved (in four parts) February 28, 2009 from http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files//PDF/Research/Wind_Driven_Report_Part1.pdf; http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files//PDF/Research/Wind_Driven_Report_Part2.pdf;http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files//PDF/Research/Wind_Driven_Report_Part3.pdf;http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files//PDF/Research/Wind_Driven_Report_Part4.pdf.

Madrzykowski, D. & Vettori, R. (2000). Simulation of the Dynamics of the Fire at 3146 Cherry Road NE Washington D.C., May 30, 1999, NISTR 6510. August 31, 2009 from http://fire.nist.gov/CDPUBS/NISTIR_6510/6510c.pdf

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (1999). Death in the line of duty, Report 99-21. Retrieved August 31, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face9921.html