Posts Tagged ‘Fire Behavior Training’

The Door Control Debate Continues

Monday, July 7th, 2014

doorway

Fire Rescue magazine Editor in Chief Tim Sendelbach recently raised a number of questions related to door control in his recent on-line article, Becoming Better Informed on the Fireground(2014). This article, has generated a fair bit of on-line discussion around the following issue: Which is a better tactic to provide a more tenable environment for the occupants; closing the door to limit inward air flow and reducing heat release rate (HRR) or leaving it open to reduce smoke logging of the space and provide an inward flow of air to aid in occupant survivability?

The debate may be broken down into a number of more specific question that frame the larger issue in a simpler way (or a more complex way, depending on your perspective):

  • Will reducing the oxygen concentration to limit the HRR also have a negative effect on survivability of occupants due to the oxygen deficient atmosphere?
  • Which results in a more toxic atmosphere, closing the door or leaving the door open?
  • Which presents the larger and most significant threat, fire development or the toxicity of the atmosphere?

As always there are no simple answers to these questions. The answers depend on a number of variables that are unlikely to be known during fireground operations. However, we cannot be paralyzed by this complexity as strategic and tactical decisions must be made in a timely manner.

Place the Questions in Context

In order to frame the questions, consider a fire scenario which could result in serious injury or fatality to one or more building occupants: A fire in a one story, three bedroom, single family dwelling, occurring in the late evening or early morning hours, resulting from ignition of bedding as the result of contact with a cigarette (USFA, 2013a, 2013b). Bedroom 1 is the room of origin and has an open door to a hallway leading to the remainder of the house. Bedroom 2 is immediately adjacent to Bedroom 1 and has a closed door. Bedroom 3 is slightly further away from Bedroom 1 (than Bedroom 2) and has an open door. The home has functioning smoke alarms and the occupant of Bedroom 3 was alerted to the fire by alarm activation and was able to escape. The occupants of Bedrooms 1 and 2 were not alerted by the smoke alarm and remained in their respective bedrooms.

Lasix Scenario 1: The occupant of Bedroom 3 exited the home, leaving the front door open. Bedroom windows are closed and remain intact. These conditions remain constant until the arrival of the first fire company.

http://viagrapillsforsale.org/ find Scenario 2: The occupant of Bedroom 3 exited the home, closing the front door. Bedroom windows are closed and remain intact. These conditions remain constant until the arrival of the first fire company.

In both of these scenarios, companies arrive to find one occupant who has exited the building, and two occupants reported with a last known location in Bedrooms 1 and 2.

Fire Development in Scenario 1

In this scenario, the open bedroom door provides an adequate supply of oxygen to allow the fire to quickly progress from the incipient to the growth stage and transition through flashover. This results in untenable conditions in the fire compartment. A bi-directional air track exists in the flow path between the front door and the fire. Hot gases will exit the fire compartment and flow towards the front door at the upper level. Prior to flashover the fire will become ventilation limited and will continue in this state as the fire becomes fully developed in Bedroom 1 and flames extend into the hallway.

Conditions will vary considerably throughout the dwelling depending on location and height above the floor. Close to the fire, the hot upper layer will be well defined, but radiant heat flux at floor level will likely make conditions thermally untenable. Smoke production will be substantial and will likely fill any areas open to the fire (e.g., living spaces open to the hallway and bedroom with an open door). As distance from the fire increases, smoke will cool somewhat and smoke will be present in both the hot upper layer and the cooler layer below. Air moving from the open front door to the fire, will provide some cooling and a higher oxygen concentration along the flow path. However, continued fire development will result in increased smoke production and will likely overwhelm the ventilation provided by the open front door, causing increased velocity of smoke discharge and lowering of the upper layer. Flames will extend down the hallway and towards the front door, increasing radiant heat flux, pyrolizing fuel, and will likely result in a growth stage fire along the flow path.

Conditions at the lower levels remote from the fire may remain tenable for some time and even with close proximity to the fire compartment, Bedroom 2 with the closed door is also likely to provide tenable conditions for some time.

Fire Development in Scenario 2

In Scenario 2, the basic conditions at the start of the fire are the same. However, in this case, the exiting occupant closes the front door. Initially, there will be little difference in fire development as oxygen from throughout interconnected compartments will sustain fire growth. A bi-directional air track exists in the flow path between uninvolved spaces and the fire compartment. Hot gases will exit the fire compartment and flow into the hallway, filling areas open to the fire compartment at the upper level. Prior to flashover the fire will become ventilation limited and become more ventilation limited as the fire becomes fully developed in Bedroom 1 and flames extend into the hallway. As oxygen inside the house is used by the fire and oxygen concentration decreases, HRR and flaming combustion will be reduced. However, combustion will continue in the fire compartment and heat transfer in adjacent areas will result in continued pyrolysis, increasing the concentration of gas phase fuel in the smoke.

As in Scenario 1, conditions will vary considerably throughout the dwelling depending on location and height above the floor. However, areas open to the fire compartment are likely to be smoke logged (filled with smoke). Temperatures will be lower and oxygen concentration will likely be higher in areas remote from the fire. As the HRR continues to decrease, temperatures will slowly begin to drop throughout the building.

Conditions at the lower levels remote from the fire may remain tenable for some time and even with close proximity to the fire compartment, Bedroom 2 with the closed door is also likely to provide tenable conditions for some time.

Alternate Scenarios

The two scenarios presented are but a small fraction of possible conditions that could exist in this building. Failure of a window, partial closing of a door (or doors), fuel type, the specific location of the occupants (on the bed versus on the floor) can all impact on potential fire conditions and survivability. All of which are not fully known to responding firefighters (who simply know that they have persons reported, and their observation of B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators.

Tactical Options

This tactical discussion will focus on the issue of door control, and as such the variable of fire control tactics will be held constant by stating that given building configuration and access, the fastest approach to getting water into the fire compartment is by making access through the front door.

There are two basic decision points related to door control. Should the position of the door be changed immediately (e.g., during 360o reconnaissance) and should the door be open or controlled (partially closed) from the time the hoseline is stretched to the interior until water is effectively applied to the fire.

door_control_options

Each of these decisions must be made in a timely manner and knowing when and if you will control the door should be a key element of your firefighting doctrine. In making this decision, it is essential to recognize that tenable conditions for trapped occupants and control of the fire environment to permit entry for fire control and primary search are both important considerations.

Close the Door: If the door is open, closing it will have several impacts on fire behavior. HRR will diminish and temperature within the building will be reduced. However, the smoke level will likely drop lower to the floor, but this effect will vary with location.

Open the Door: If the door is closed, opening it prior to a charged hoseline being in place will introduce fresh air (and oxygen). However, the effects of this action will occur primarily along the flow path between the opening and the fire (having limited effect on occupants in any other location). In addition, the additional air will increase the HRR from the fire. Increased HRR will likely overwhelm the limited ventilation provided by the opening, causing the upper layer to drop, with a small area of clear air at floor level just inside the door.

Door Control After Entry: If the door is controlled (partially closed) after entry, the flow of both hot smoke and air in the flow path between the fire and the front door will be reduced, limiting the increase in HRR and slowing fire progression in the upper layer between the fire and the entry point. Controlling the door after entry generally requires commitment of at least one member to door control and aiding in movement of hose through the controlled opening.

Door Open After Entry: If the door is open after entry, flow of hot smoke and air between the fire and the front door will increase as the fire receives additional oxygen and HRR increases. Extension of flames and ignition of gas phase fuel in the upper layer between the fire and the entry point is likely and should be anticipated. Access and egress through the door and for advancement of hose is unimpeded if the door remains in an open position.

The outcome of each of these choices is impacted by the distance between the entry point/ventilation opening and the fire (this influences both the speed with which the fire reacts to additional air and the time that it will take to advance the hoseline into a position where a direct attack can be made on the fire).

Unanswered Questions

Research conducted by the Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute (UL FSRI) and others have measured temperature, heat flux oxygen concentration, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide in the fire environment during full scale experiments (Kerber, 2011, 2013). Other tests have examined the range of toxic products in the fire environment and determined that carbon monoxide is not an effective proxy measure for overall risk of exposure to toxic products (Fabian, Baxter, & Dalton, 2010; Regional Hazardous Materials Team HM 09-Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Office of State Fire Marshal, 2011; Bolstad-Johnson, D., Burgess, J., Crutchfield, C., Storment, S., Gerkin, R., &Wilson, J., 2000).

Toxic effects resulting from exposure to products of combustion and pyrolysis are dependent on the dose (concentration x time) and the time over which that dose is received. However, potential survival is also impacted by potential thermal insult which depends on temperature, heat flux, and time. The potential variations in specific combustion and pyrolysis products present and thermal conditions in the fire environment is not limitless, but is nearly so. So what actions can be taken to reduce the risk to occupants who have been unable to egress the building prior to the arrival of fire companies?

Proactive Action Steps

While this post examines tactical options, the ideal outcomes is to prevent the fire from occurring in the first place, to increase the potential for occupants to escape prior to the development of untenable conditions, or for occupants to take refuge in a manner that will provide a tenable environment until the fire service can remove the threat or aid the occupants in their escape. Proactive steps would include the following:

  • Home safety surveys to identify fire hazards and reduce the risk of fire occurrence as well as ensuring that homes have working smoke detectors and a home fire escape plan.
  • Public education and fire code requirements to encourage or require residential sprinklers to increase the potential time for occupants to escape.
  • Public education on the value of sleeping with your door closed and closing doors when escaping from a fire.
  • Dispatch protocols to prompt occupants to close doors as they exit or to take refuge behind a closed door if they cannot escape.
  • Train other emergency response personnel such as law enforcement and emergency medical services regarding the importance of not increasing ventilation to vent limited fires.

However, once a fire occurs and the fire department responds, our actions can have a significant impact on the outcome.

Firefighting Doctrine

The starting point for defining doctrine is to first, recognize that there is no single answer or silver bullet that will provide an optimal outcome under all circumstances. A second consideration is that you will never (this is one of the only absolutes) have enough information to clearly and definitively know exactly what is happening, what will happen next, and what impact your actions will have (you should have a good idea, but will not know with complete certainty). Starting points for thinking about integrating door control and anti-ventilation into your firefighting doctrine include:

  • Research (Kerber, 2011, 2013) has provided solid evidence that when water cannot be immediately applied to the fire, closing the door will generally improve conditions on the interior. That said, there may be times when door control may not be necessary or may be contraindicated.
  • If water can immediately be applied to the fire from the point of entry or within close proximity to the point of entry (e.g., the fire is not shielded), door control may not be needed prior to direct attack (but likely will not make things worse if it is performed).
  • Control of doors in the flow path to confine hot smoke and fire gases may make operations safer and improve tenability for both trapped occupants and firefighters (think about the Isolate in Vent, Enter, Isolate, and Search (VEIS)).

Doctrine should be based on evidence provided by research and fireground experience. Both are necessary, but neither is sufficient.

The purpose of research is not to choose sides; it’s simply to provide data to help validate the debatable points of a chosen tactic and provide a greater degree of certainty for a recommended tactic. Keep in mind, with facts in hand, the fireground remains a dynamic situation and no tactic can or should ever be considered absolute. The goal is to provide as much factual information as possible so we can make informed decisions before, during and after the fire (Sendelbach, 2014).

Understanding the evidence provided by fire dynamics research cannot be developed by simply reading the Tactical Considerations or Executive Summary of a research report. Dig a bit deeper and examine the research questions and how the research was conducted. Consider the evidence, as research continues additional questions will be answered and our understanding of the fire environment and impact of tactical operations will continue to improve and likely have further impact on what we do on the fireground.

References

Sendelbach, T.(2014). Becoming better informed on the fireground. Retrieved July 5, 2015 from http://www.firefighternation.com/article/command-and-leadership/becoming-better-informed-fireground.

United States Fire Administration (USFA). (2013a). Civilian fire fatalities in residential buildings (2009–2011). Retrieved July 5, 2014 from http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/v14i2.pdf

United States Fire Administration (USFA). (2013b) One- and two-family residential building fires (2009-2011). Retrieved July 5, 2014 from http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/v14i10.pdf

Kerber, S. (2011). Impact of ventilation on fire behavior in legacy and contemporary residential construction. Retrieved July 5, 2014 from http://www.ul.com/global/documents/offerings/industries/buildingmaterials/fireservice/ventilation/DHS%202008%20Grant%20Report%20Final.pdf

Kerber, S. (2013). Study of the effectiveness of fire service vertical ventilation and suppression tactics in single family homes. Retrieved July 17, 2013 from http://ulfirefightersafety.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/UL-FSRI-2010-DHS-Report_Comp.pdf

Fabian, T., Baxter, C., & Dalton, J. (2010). Firefighter exposure to smoke particulates. Retrieved July 5, 2014 from http://www.ul.com/global/documents/offerings/industries/buildingmaterials/fireservice/WEBDOCUMENTS/EMW-2007-FP-02093.pdf

Regional Hazardous Materials Team HM 09-Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Office of State Fire Marshal (2011). A study on chemicals found in the overhaul phase of structure fires using advanced portable air monitoring available for chemical speciation. Retrieved July 5, 2014 from http://www.oregon.gov/osp/sfm/documents/airMonitoringreport.pdf

Bolstad-Johnson, D., Burgess, J., Crutchfield, C., Storment, S., Gerkin, R., &Wilson, J. (2000). Characterization of firefighter exposures during fire overhaul. Retrieved July 5, 2014 from http://www.firefightercoexposure.com/CO-Risks/

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:

FAQ-Fire Attack Questions: Part 2

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

nozzle_technique

Captain Mike Sullivan with the Mississauga Ontario Fire Department and I are continuing our dialog with another series of questions related to the science behind fire attack and fire control methods. Mike’s next several question deal with gas and surface cooling.

I know the best way to extinguish a fire is to put water on it but my questions below deal with a situation of large, open concept homes where you can see the entire main floor except the kitchen cooking area, in many cases this area is not separate from the open floor plan but around the corner so we can’t hit the fire until we get around that corner. My questions are all geared around how to cool the environment as you make your way to the fire (if you need to go to the very back of the house to get to the fire, fire can’t be seen).

When you answered the question about the effects of flowing a straight/solid stream across the ceiling it sounds as if this is really only surface cooling and not effectively gas cooling. If this is true then I was wondering what the value of doing this is, what are the main benefits of cooling the ceiling, walls and floor (and any furniture etc. the water lands on)? Also, what do you recommend to those departments that only use solid bore nozzles?

Use of a solid (or straight) stream off the ceiling has some effect on cooling the gases, but this is limited as the droplets produced are quite large and do not readily vaporize in the hot upper layer (great for direct attack, but not so much for gas cooling). The value of doing this is that any energy taken out of the hot upper layer (buy cooling the gases or by cooling surfaces and subsequent transfer of energy from hot gases to the cooler surfaces) will have some positive effect. In addition, hot combustible surfaces, depending on temperature are likely pyrolizing and adding hot, gas phase fuel to the upper layer. Cooling reduces pyrolysis and the fuel content of the smoke overhead.

The following video of the “Nozzle Forward”, Aaron Fields, Seattle Fire Department demonstrates some excellent hose handling techniques and also provides an illustration of how a solid stream nozzle can be used to cool hot gases by breaking up the stream on contact with compartment linings. Have a look at the video between 2:00 and 2:30 where the nozzle is being rotated as in a combination attack while advancing down a hallway. Note that the stream breaks up on contact with the ceiling and walls, providing a distribution of large droplets in the overhead area.

This technique can be quite effective when faced with a large volume of fire and ventilation is provided in front of the fire attack. However, if the hallway is not involved in fire, but there is a hot layer of smoke overhead, this approach is less effective as large droplets are less efficient in cooling the hot gases and much of the water will end up on the floor, not having done appreciable work.

While this will likely generate some hate and discontent, I would recommend that departments using only solid stream nozzles reconsider their choice. This type of nozzle has a number of great characteristics, but also has a number of significant limitations, principal among which is limited ability to cool the hot upper layer when dealing with shielded fires. That said, the firefighter riding backwards or company officer in the right front seat may have limited impact on this decision (at least in the short term). If all you have to work with is a solid stream nozzle, directing the stream off the ceiling to break up the pattern and provide limited gas cooling when dealing with extremely hot gases overhead are likely a reasonable option.

I understand how penciling a fog stream in the hot gas layer is the best way to cool the gases. My concern is this, where I work there are many new homes with open concept, large rooms and little compartmentation. I like the idea of cooling the gases above my head but I still have a large room full of gases that could still flash. Sure I’m cooling the gases around me but if the gases at the other end of the open space flash, I am still in the same room and in trouble. I would prefer to cool that area before I get there. What are your recommendations for this situation?

As a point of clarification, we use the term “penciling” in reference to an intermittent straight stream application. Gas cooling is most effectively accomplished with pulsed or intermittent application of water fog. We refer to this technique as “pulses” (to differentiate this from penciling with a straight or solid stream)

We also have quite a few large residential occupancies with open floor plans. The issue of large area or volume compartments also applies in commercial and industrial building as well. Gas cooling simply provides a buffer zone around the hose team, but other than in a small compartment does not change conditions in the upper layer throughout the space. Gas cooling must be a continuous process while progressing towards a shielded fire. The upper limit of area (or more appropriately volume) is an unanswered question. My friend Paul Grimwood, Principal Fire Safety Engineer with the Kent Fire and Rescue Service in the UK holds that the upper limit with a relatively normal ceiling height is approximately 70 m2 (753 ft2). Paul’s perspective is anecdotal and not based on specific scientific research. However, this is not unreasonable, given the reach of a narrow fog pattern and vaporization of water as it passes through the upper layer. Given the higher flow rates used by the North American fire service, it may be possible to control a somewhat larger area than Paul suggests, but this remains to be determined.

As to an answer to this problem, pulsed application does not always mean short pulses, multiple long pulses with a narrow pattern or a sweeping long pulse may be used to cover a larger area. In addition, large area compartments or open floor plan spaces may require multiple lines to adequately control the environment. The purpose of the backup line is to protect the means of egress for the attack line and this is of paramount importance in an open plan building.

The following two videos demonstrate the difference between short and long pulses. At 115 lpm (30 gpm) the flow rates in these two videos are low by North American standards, but are fairly typical for gas cooling applications in many parts of the world. Short pulses can be used effectively up to approximately 570 lpm (150 gpm) with minimal water hammer, for higher flow rates, long pulses are more appropriate.

When we do these quick bursts of fog to cool the gases we are not using much water compared to the feeling that the best way to handle this is to flow a large amount of water and basically soak the entire area down before you advance through it. I was hoping you could comment on this.

As noted in the answer to your previous question, pulses are sometimes, but not always quick. In a typical legacy residence (small compartments) short pulses are generally adequate to cool hot gases overhead. When accessing a shielded fire, and cooling the hot gases overhead it is not generally necessary to cool hot surfaces and fuel packages such as furniture (it may be a different story in the fire compartment). Water remaining on the floor or soaked into contents did not do significant work and simply added to fire control damage. We should not hesitate to use an adequate amount of water for fear of water damage, but tactical operations should focus on protecting property once (or while) we are acting to ensure the safety of occupants and firefighters.

We often enter house fires where the house is full of smoke but the smoke is not necessarily very hot. In these cases we would not normally cool the gases. From what we understand now, smoke is fuel and with open concept homes this smoke could ignite close to the fire therefore igniting the smoke nearer to us. What I was wondering is what are you teaching in regards to cooling the smoke, do you do it only when you feel a lot of heat or start cooling regardless?

As the temperature of the upper layer drops, the effectiveness of application of pulsed water fog diminishes. That said, if the upper layer is hot enough to vaporize some of the water (i.e. above 100o C), application of water will further cool the gases and provide some thermal ballast (the water will have to be heated along with the gases for ignition to occur).

When presented with cold (< 100o C) smoke, firefighters still face a hazard as gas phase fuel can still be ignited resulting in a flash fire (if relatively unconfined) or smoke explosion. The only real solution to this hazard is to create a safe zone by removing the smoke through tactical ventilation.

Mike and I will continue this dialog next week with a discussion of the protective capabilities of fog streams.

“Flashover Training”

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

This week’s questions focus on training firefighters to recognize, prevent, and if necessary react appropriately to flashover conditions. Casey Lindsay of the Garland, Texas Fire Department sent an e-mail to a number of fire behavior instructors regarding how they conduct “flashover training”

One of the challenges we face in discussing fire behavior training, particularly live fire training is the result of variations in terminology. Differences exist in the way that live fire training props are described and in fire control techniques. For this discussion, CFBT-US defines the type of prop pictured below as a “split level demo cell”. This terminology is derived from the original purpose of this design as conceived by the Swedish Fire Service in the 1980s. The split level cell is intended for initial fire behavior training focused on observation of fire development. As used in the United States (and some other parts of the world) it is described as a “flashover simulator” or “flashover chamber”. This provides a disconnect in context as this prop is not intended and does not subject the participants in training to flashover conditions, but simply provides an opportunity to observe fire development through the growth stage and recognize some potential cues of impending flashover.

DSC_0013

Note: The prop illustrated above is a Split level cell at the Palm Beach County Fire Training Center.

Container based props can be configured in a variety of ways for both demonstration and fire attack training. Most commonly single compartment cells are single level or split level design. Multiple compartment cells are arranged in a variety of ways with containers placed in an “L”, “H” or other configuration.

Do you currently teach firefighters that “Penciling control techniques can be used to give firefighters additional time to escape a flashover”?

We define penciling as an intermittent application using a straight stream as compared to pulsing which uses a fog pattern or painting which is a gentle application of water to hot surfaces. We do not teach penciling, pulsing, or painting as a technique to give firefighters additional time to escape flashover. We use gas cooling (short or long pulses) and coordination of fire attack and ventilation to control the environment and prevent or reduce the potential for firefighters to encounter flashover. However, long pulses (or continuous application) while withdrawing is taught as a method of self-protection if fire conditions exceed the capability of the crew engaged in fire attack.

In response to Casey’s questions, Jim Hester, with the United States Air Force (USAF) presents an alternative perspective:

No! We do not teach penciling or 3D Fog attack anymore. We did temporarily after receiving our training as instructors in the flashover trainer. We gave the technique an honest look and conducted research using Paul Grimwood’s theories. We decided there are too many variables. For example; what works in a room and contents [fire] will not work in heavy fire conditions inside a commercial. The last thing we want is someone penciling any fire, inside any structure, that requires constant water application until the fire is darkened down. That’s what we teach.  Open the nozzle for as long as it takes to get knock down and then shut the nozzle down. [It is as] simple as that. If you take that approach, even in the flashover trainer you will alleviate confusion or misapplication of your fire stream.

While I have a considerably different perspective, Jim raises several good points. I agree that there are many variables related to fire conditions and room geometry. If firefighters are trained in lock step manner that short pulses are used to control the temperature overhead, there will definitely be a challenge in transitioning from the container to a residential fire and even more so when confronted with a commercial fire. However, if firefighters are introduced to the container as a laboratory where small fires are used to develop understanding of nozzle technique, rather than a reflection of real world conditions, this presents less of an issue.

As Jim describes, fire conditions requiring constant application in a combination attack with coordinated tactical ventilation, may not be controlled by short pulses. However, when cooling hot smoke on approach to a shielded fire, constant application of water will likely result in over application and less tenable conditions (too much water may not be as bad as too little, but it presents its own problems).

Most firefighters, even those that advocate continuous application, recognize that a small fire in a trash can or smoldering fire in a upholstered chair or bed does not require a high flow rate and can easily be controlled and extinguished with a small amount of water. On the other hand, a fully developed fire in a large commercial compartment cannot be controlled by a low flow handline. To some extent this defines the continuum of offensive fire attack, small fires easily controlled by direct application of a small amount of water and large fires that are difficult to control without high flow handlines (or multiple smaller handlines). There is not a single answer to what is the best application for offensive fire attack. Shielded fires require control of the environment (e.g., cooling of the hot upper layer) to permit approach and application of direct or combination attack. Fires that are not shielded present a simpler challenge as water can be brought to bear on the seat of the fire with less difficulty.

Nozzle operators must be trained to read conditions and select nozzle technique (pulsed application to cool hot gases versus penciling or painting to cool hot surfaces) and fire control methods (gas cooling, direct attack, indirect attack, or combination attack) based on an assessment of both the building and fire conditions.

What flashover warning signs do you cover during the classroom portion of flashover training?

We frame this discussion in terms of the B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators used in reading the fire (generally, not just in relation to flashover).

B-SAHF_PHOTO

Building: Flashover can occur in all types of buildings. Consider compartmentation, fuel type, and configuration, ventilation profile, and thermal properties of the structure. Anticipate potential for increased ventilation (without coordinated fire control) to result in flashover when the fire is burning in a ventilation controlled regime (most fires beyond the incipient stage are ventilation controlled). Note that these indicators are not all read during the incident, but are considered as part of knowing the buildings in your response area and assessing the building as part of size-up.

Smoke: Increasing volume, darkening color and thickness (optical density), lowing of the level of the hot gas layer.

Air Track: Strong bi-directional (in at the bottom and out at the top of an opening), turbulent smoke discharge at openings, pulsing air track (may be an indicator of ventilation induced flashover or backdraft), and any air track that shows air movement with increasing velocity and turbulence.

Heat: Pronounced heat signature from the exterior (thermal imager), darkened windows, hot surfaces, hot interior temperatures, observation of pyrolysis, and feeling a rapid increase in temperature while working inside (note that this may not provide sufficient warning in and of itself as it is a late indicator).

Flame: Ignition of gases escaping from the fire compartment, flames at the ceiling level of the compartment, isolated flames in the upper layer (strong indicator of a ventilation controlled fire) and rollover (a late indicator).

How do you incorporate the thermal imaging camera into your flashover class?

We do not teach a “flashover” class. We incorporate learning about flashover (a single fire behavior phenomena) in the context of comprehensive training in practical fire dynamics, fire control, and ventilation (inclusive of tactical ventilation and tactical anti-ventilation). Thermal imagers (TI) are used in a variety of ways beginning with observation of small scale models (live fire), observation of fire development (with and without the TI) and observation of the effects of fire control and ventilation.

Do you allow students to operate the nozzle in the flashover chamber?

We use a sequence of evolutions and in the first, the students are simply observers watching fire development and to a lesser extent the effects of water application by the instructor. In this evolution, the instructor limits nozzle use and predominantly sets conditions by controlling ventilation. If necessary the instructor will cool the upper layer to prevent flames from extending over the heads of the participants or to reduce the burning rate of the fuel to extend the evolution. Students practice nozzle technique (short and long pulses, painting, and penciling) outside in a non-fire environment prior to application in a live fire context. After the initial demonstration burn, students develop proficiency by practicing their nozzle technique in a live fire context.

When working in a single level cell rather than a split level cell (commonly, but inaccurately referred to as a “flashover chamber” or “flashover simulator”) we expand on development of students proficiency in nozzle technique by having them practice cooling the upper layer while advancing and importantly, while retreating. In addition, students practice door entry procedures that integrate a tactical size-up, door control, and cooling hot gases at the entry point.

Do you maintain two-in/two-out during flashover chamber classes?

We comply with the provisions of NFPA 1403 and provide for two-in/two-out by staffing a Rapid Intervention Crew/Company during all live fire training.

What is your fuel of choice for the 4×8 sheets (OSB, Particleboard or Masonite)?

We have used a variety of fuel types, but commonly use particle board. OSB tends to burn quickly, but can be used if this characteristic is recognized. We have also used a low density fiberboard product (with less glue) which performs reasonably well. The key with fuel is understanding its characteristics and using the minimum quantity of fuel that will provide sufficient context for the training to be conducted. I recommend that instructors conduct test burns (without students) when evaluating fuel packages that will be used in a specific burn building or purpose built prop (such as a demo or attack cell).

Do you have benches or seating in the flashover chamber?

No, firefighters are expected to be in the same position that they would on the fireground, kneeling or in a tripod position. When we work in a demo cell (“flashover chamber”) with benches, we keep the students on the floor.

Do you teach any flashover survival techniques, other than retreat/evacuate?

We focus first on staying out of trouble by controlling the environment. Second, we teach firefighters the skill of retreating while operating the hoseline (generally long pulses to control flames overhead). There are not really any options other than control the fire of leave the environment (quickly)! This is similar to James Hester’s answer of continuous flow, with a sweeping motion (long pulses can be applied in a sweeping manner, particularly in a large compartment). It is important to understand that a short pulse is extremely short (as fast as you can open the nozzle) and a long pulse is anything else (from several seconds to near continuous application, depending on conditions).

Refer to the series of CFBT Blog on Battle Drills for additional discussion developing proficiency in reaction to deteriorating conditions.

Additional Thoughts

Our perspective is that discussion of flashover should be framed in the context of comprehensive fire behavior training, rather than as a “special” topic. Practical fire dynamics must be integrated into all types of structural firefighting training, in particular: Hose Handling, Fire Control, and Tactical Ventilation (but the list goes on). When working with charged hoselines, take the time to practice good nozzle technique as well as moving forward and backward (do not simply stand up and flow water when performing hose evolutions). In fire control training (live fire or not), practice door control, tactical size-up, and door entry procedures. When training on the task activity of tactical ventilation (e.g., taking glass or cutting roof openings), make the decision process explicit and consider the critical elements of coordination and anticipated outcome of you actions.

FDIC

Plan on attending Wind Driven Fires in Private Dwellings at Fire Department Instructors Conference, Indianapolis, IN on Wednesday April 24, 2013 in Wabash 3. Representing Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue, Chief Ed Hartin will examine the application of NIST research on wind driven fires to fires in private dwellings. This workshop is a must if the wind blows where you fight fires!

wind_driven_fires_private_dwellings

 

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 6

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

The sixth tactical implication identified in the Underwriters Laboratories study of the Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2011) identifies potential hazards and risks related to the tactic of Vent Enter Search (VES).

Kerber (2011) provides a straightforward explanation of this tactic.

It can be described as ventilating a window, entering through the window, searching that room and exiting out the same window entered…A primary of objective of VES is to close the door of the room ventilated to isolate the flow path…

Origins and Context

While it is difficult to identify or isolate the origins of many fireground tactics, VES has been practiced by FDNY for many years and is described in detail in the Firefighting Procedures Volume 3, Book 4: Ladder Company Operations at Private Dwellings manual (FDNY, 1997). As described in Ladder Company Operations at Private Dwellings, FDNY truck companies are staffed with an officer, apparatus operator, and four firefighters and are divided into two teams; inside team and outside team. While tactics are dependent on the type of structure and fire conditions; VES is performed by the outside team while the inside team works in conjunction with an engine company, supporting fire attack and searching from the interior. In this context, VES is part of a coordinated tactical operation.

It is also important to recognize the impact of changes in the fire environment since the development of this tactic (likely in the 1960s). Changes in the speed of fire development are graphically illustrated in the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) test of fire development with modern and legacy furnishings.

The tremendous fuel load, development of ventilation limited conditions, and rapid transition from tenable to untenable conditions for firefighters following increased ventilation (without initiation of fire control), reduce the time for Firefighters to make entry and control the door when performing VES in the modern fire environment.

Influence on Fire Behavior

The following incident illustrates the rapid changes in conditions that can result during VES operations. This information was originally presented in the post titled Criticism Versus Critical Thinking. This incident involved VES at a residential structure where rapid fire progress required the Captain conducting the search to perform emergency window egress from a second floor window onto a ladder.

Companies were dispatched to a residential fire at 0400 hours with persons reported. On arrival, cars were observed in the driveway and neighbors reported the likely location of a trapped occupant on the second floor.

Given fire conditions on Floor 1, the Captain of the first in truck, a 23 year veteran, determined that Vent, Enter, and Search (VES) was the best option to quickly search and effect a rescue.

The following video clip illustrates conditions encountered at this residential fire:


Find more videos like this on firevideo.net

In his, vententersearch.com post Captain Van Sant provided the following information about his observations and actions:

When we vent[ed] the window with the ladder, it looks like the room is burning, but the flames you see are coming from the hallway, and entering through the top of the bedroom doorway. Watch it again and you’ll see the fire keeps rolling in and across the ceiling.

When I get to the window sill, the queen-sized bed is directly against the window wall, so there is no way to “check the floor” … Notice that you continue to see my feet going in, because I’m on the bed.

Believe me, in the beginning, this was a tenable room both for me and for any victim that would have been in there…

My goal was to get to the door and close it, just like VES is supposed to be done. We do it successfully all the time.

When I reached the other side of the bed, I dropped to the floor and began trying to close the door. Unfortunately, due to debris on the floor, the door would not close [emphasis added].

Conditions were still quite tenable at this point, but I knew with the amount of fire entering at the upper level, and smoke conditions changing, things were going to go south fast…

I kept my eyes on my exit point, and finished my search, including the closet, which had no doors on it. Just as I was a few feet from the window, the room lit off…

Tactical Considerations

Is VES an appropriate tactic for primary search in private dwellings? This question must be placed into operational context bounded by fire dynamics, resources and staffing, experience level of the firefighters involved, potential for survivable occupants, and the fireground risk management philosophy of the department. Consider the following:

  • There have been instances where VES has resulted in saving of civilian life.
  • There have been instances where VES has resulted in significant thermal injury to firefighters.
  • The UL ventilation tests (Kerber, 2011) demonstrate that conditions rapidly become untenable for civilian occupants in rooms with open doors. Rooms with closed doors remain tenable for civilian occupants for a considerable time.
  • VES may result in rapid search of specific threatened areas.
  • VES is a high risk tactic that involves working alone (but if a second firefighter remains at the entry point this is similar to oriented search).
  • VES (as normally practiced) involves working without a hoseline.
  • VES changes the ventilation profile and places firefighters in the flow path between the fire and an exhaust opening (unless or until the door to the compartment is closed)
  • As demonstrated in the UL ventilation tests (Kerber, 2011), thermal conditions change from a tenable operating environment for firefighters to untenable and life threatening in a matter of seconds.

Based on these factors, you may determine that VES is not an appropriate tactic for primary search under any circumstances, or you may determine that it might be appropriate under specific circumstances. The following tactical scenarios may provide a framework for discussion of these issues.

Scenario 1:You have responded to a fire in a medium sized, two-story, wood frame, single-family dwelling at 02:13 hours. You observe a smoke issuing at moderate velocity from the eaves and condensed pyrolizate on the inside of window glazing. A dull reddish glow can be observed through several adjacent windows on the Charlie Side (back of the house), Floor 1.

Given your normal first alarm assignment and staffing Is VES an appropriate option for primary search given the conditions described and potential for possible occupants? Why or why not?

Scenario 2: You have the same building, smoke, air track, heat, and flame indicators as in Scenario 1, but a female occupant meets you on arrival and reports that her husband is trying to rescue their daughter who was sleeping in a bedroom on Floor 2 at the Alpha/Bravo corner of the house.

Given your normal first alarm assignment and staffing Is VES an appropriate option for primary search given the conditions described and reported occupants?  Why or why not?

Scenario 3: You have the same building, smoke, air track, heat, and flame indicators as in Scenario 1, and observe two occupants, an adult male and a female child in a window on Floor 2 at the Alpha/Bravo corner of the house. Smoke at low velocity is issuing from the open window above the occupants. However, before you can raise a ladder to rescue the occupants in the window, they disappear from view and the volume and velocity of smoke discharge from the window increases.

Given your normal first alarm assignment and staffing Is VES an appropriate option for primary search given the conditions described and initial observation of occupants? Why or why not?

Vertical Ventilation Study

UL has commenced a study on the Effectiveness of Vertical Ventilation and Fire Suppression Tactics using the same legacy and contemporary residential structures used in their study of horizontal ventilation. This research project will examine a range of vertical ventilation variables including the size, location, and timing of openings. In addition, further research will be conducted on the effectiveness of exterior streams and their impact on interior conditions.

Preliminary design parameters for the study were developed in conjunction with a technical panel representing a wide range of jurisdictions and types of fire service agencies, including:

  • Atlanta Fire Department (GA)
  • Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue (WA)
  • Chicago Fire Department (IL)
  • Cleveland Fire Department (OH)
  • Coronado Fire Department (CA)
  • Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) (NY)
  • Loveland-Symmes Fire Department (OH)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) (MD)
  • Northbrook Fire Department (IL)
  • Milwaukee Fire Department (WI)
  • Lake Forest Fire Department (IL)
  • Phoenix Fire Department (AZ)

Full scale tests are anticipated to begin in January 2012. I will provide updates as this research project progresses.

References

Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY). (1997) Firefighting prodedures volume 3 book 4: Ladder company operations at private dwellings. New York: 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

Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 4

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

The fourth 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 that fire attack and (tactical) ventilation must be coordinated. This recommendation has been repeated in National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Death in the Line of Duty Reports for many years. In fact, most reports on firefighter fatalities related to rapid fire progression contain this recommendation.

Importance of Coordination

Coordination of (tactical) ventilation and fire attack as a tactical implication is closely related to the first two tactical implications identified in the UL study; potential changes in fire behavior based on stages of fire development, burning regime, and changes in ventilation profile that increase oxygen supplied to the fire.

If air is added to the fire and water is not applied in the appropriate time frame the fire gets larger and the hazards to firefighters increase. Examining the times to untenability provides the best case scenario of how coordinated the attack needs to be. Taking the average time for every experiment from the time of ventilation to the time of the onset of firefighter untenability conditions yields 100 seconds for the one-story house and 200 seconds for the two-story house. In many of the experiments from the onset of firefighter untenability until flashover was less than 10 seconds. These times should be treated as very conservative. If a vent location already exists because the homeowner left a window or door open then the fire is going to respond faster to additional ventilation openings because the temperatures in the house are going to be higher at the time of the additional openings (Kerber, 2011, p. 289-290)

The Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction Underwriters Laboratories (UL) on-line course and report provide an example of firefighters are at risk when ventilation is performed prior to entry, fire attack is delayed, and other tactical operations such as primary search are initiated.

In UL’s hypothetical example, the firefighters make entry into the one-story house, search the living room (fire compartment), the kitchen, and dining room shortly after forcing the door and ventilating a large window in the fire compartment. Consider a somewhat different scenario, with the same fire conditions.

Companies respond to a residential fire with persons reported during the early morning hours. A truck and engine arrive almost simultaneously and while the engine lays a supply line from a nearby hydrant, the truck company forces entry, ventilates a window on Side A, and begins primary search (anticipating that the engine crew will be right behind them to attack the fire). The engine completes a forward lay and begins to stretch an attack line after the search team has made entry.

Figure 1. Timeline and Progression of Primary Search

Figure 2. View of the Living Room (Fire Compartment) from the Door on Side A

As illustrated in Figure 3, visible flaming combustion when the door is opened at 08:00 is limited to a small flame from the top of the couch just inside the door on Side A. However, in the 30 seconds that it takes for the search team to make entry, flaming combustion has resumed and flames are near or at the ceiling above the couch. The search team may estimate that they have time to complete a quick search of the bedrooms (likely location of the reported persons). However, fire development progresses to untenable conditions within a minute, trapping the crew on Side D of the house.

Figure 3. Fire Progression in the Living Room 00:08:00 to 00:10:00

As the search team completes primary search of Bedroom 2 and moves towards Bedroom 3 in the hallway, conditions have deteriorated to an untenable level. Figure 4 illustrates the change in temperature at the 3’ level in the Living Room (fire compartment). Shortly before the search team reached Bedroom 2, fire conditions in the living room began to change dramatically, with temperature at the 3’ level transitioning from ordinary to extreme, quickly becoming untenable in the living room, hallway and adjacent compartments. In addition to this significant change in temperature, flames (with temperatures higher than the gas temperature at the 3’ level) significantly increase radiant heat transfer (flux) to the surface of both fuel packages and firefighters protective equipment.

Figure 4. Temperature at the 3’ Level

Note: Figure 4 illustrates temperature conditions starting eight minutes after ignition. The fire previously progressed through incipient and growth stages before beginning to decay due to lack of ventilation.

Why the Dramatic Change in Conditions?

As discussed in UL Tactical Implications Part 1, Fires in the contemporary environment progress from ignition and incipient stage to growth, but often become ventilation controlled and begin to decay, rather than continuing to grow into a fully developed fire. This ventilation induced decay continues until the ventilation profile changes (e.g., window failure due to fire effects, opening a door for entry or egress, or intentional creation of ventilation openings by firefighters. When ventilation is increased, heat release rate again rises and temperature climbs with the fire potentially transitioning through flashover to the fully developed stage (see Figure 4 and 5).

Figure 5. Fire Development in a Compartment

Captain James Mendoza of the San Jose (CA) Fire Department and CFBT-US Lead Instructor demonstrates the influence of ventilation on fire development using a small scale prop developed by Dr. Stefan Svensson of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.

The prop used in this demonstration is a small, single compartment with a limited ventilation opening on the right side (which in a full size building could be represented by normal building leakage or a compartment opening that is restricted such as a partially open door or window). The front wall of the prop is ceramic glass to permit direct observation of fire conditions within the compartment.

As you watch this demonstration, pay particular attention to how conditions change as the fire develops and then enters the decay stage. In addition, observe how quickly the fire returns to the growth stage and develops conditions that would be untenable after the window is opened at 12:17.

Download Doll’s House Plans (or Doll’s House Plans: Metric) for directions on how to construct a similar small scale prop.

Fire development and changes in conditions following ventilation in this demonstration mirror those seen in the full scale experiments conducted by UL. Increasing ventilation to a ventilation controlled fire, results in increased heat release rate and transition from decay to the growth stage of fire development.

The same phenomena can be observed under fireground conditions in the following video clip of a residential fire in Dolton, Illinois (this is a long video, watch the first several minutes to observe the changes in fire behavior).

It appears that the front door was open at the start of the video clip and the large picture window on Side A was ventilated at approximately 00:47. Fire conditions quickly transition to the growth stage with flames exiting the window and door, causing firefighters on an uncharged hoseline that had been advanced into Floor 1, to quickly withdraw.

As discussed in UL Tactical Implications: Part 1:

  • Fires that have progressed beyond the incipient stage are likely to be ventilation controlled when the fire department arrives.
  • Ventilation controlled fires may be in the growth, decay, or fully developed stage.
  • Regardless of the stage of fire development, when a fire is ventilation controlled, increased ventilation will always result in increased HRR.
  • Firefighters and fire officers must recognize that the ventilation profile can change (e.g., increasing ventilation) as a result of tactical action or fire effects on the building (e.g., window failure).
  • Firefighters and fire officers must anticipate potential changes in fire behavior related to changes in the ventilation profile and ensure that fire attack and ventilation are closely coordinated.

Coordinated Tactical Operations

Understanding how fire behavior can be influenced by changes in ventilation is essential. But how can firefighters put this knowledge to use on the fireground and what exactly does coordination of tactical ventilation and fire attack really mean?

Tactical ventilation can be defined as the planned, systematic, and coordinated removal of hot smoke and fire gases and their replacement with fresh air. Each of the elements of this definition is important to safe and effective tactical operations.

Ventilation (both tactical and unplanned) not only removes hot smoke, but it also introduces fresh air which can have a significant effect on fire behavior.

Tactical ventilation must be planned; these two elements speak to the intentional nature of tactical ventilation. Tactics to change the ventilation profile must be intended to influence the fire environment or fire behavior in some way (e.g., raise the level of the upper layer to increase visibility and tenability). The ventilation plan must also consider the flow path (e.g., vent ahead of, not behind, the attack team; vent in the immediate area of the fire, not at a remote location).

Tactical ventilation must be systematic, exhaust openings should generally be made before inlet openings (particularly when working with positive pressure ventilation or when taking advantage of wind effects).

And as pointed out in the UL Study (Kerber, 2011), tactical ventilation must be coordinated. Coordination of ventilation and other tactical operations requires consideration of sequence and timing:

Sequence: Ventilation may be completed before, during, or after fire attack has been initiated. Sequence will likely depend on the stage of fire development, burning regime, time required to reach the fire.

If the fire is small and staffing is limited, it may be appropriate to control the fire and then effect ventilation (e.g., hydraulic ventilation performed by the attack team). This approach minimizes potential fire growth,

In general, when the fire is ventilation controlled (as those beyond the incipient stage are likely to be), ventilation should not be completed unless the attack line(s) can quickly apply water to the seat of the fire. In a small, single family dwelling this may mean that the attack team is on-air, the line is charged, and the entry door is unlocked or has been forced and is being controlled (held closed). In a larger building, this may mean that the attack line has entered the structure and is in position to move onto the fire floor or into the fire area.

The key questions that must be answered prior to implementing tactical ventilation are:

  1. What influence will these ventilation tactics have on fire behavior?
  2. Are charged and staffed attack line(s) in place?
  3. Will the attack team(s) be able to quickly reach the fire?
  4. How will this impact crews operating on the interior of the building?

Coordination requires clear, direct communication between companies or crews assigned to ventilation, fire attack, and other tactical functions that are or will be taking place inside the building.

Important: While not a tactical implication directly raised by the UL study, another important consideration is the hazard of working without or ahead of the hoseline. While a controversial topic in the US fire service (where truck company personnel generally work on the interior without a hoseline), searching with a hoseline provides a means of protection and a defined exit path. Staffing is another key element of the operational context. If you do not have enough personnel to control the fire and search; in most cases it is likely the best course of action to control the fire and ensure a safer operating environment for search operations.

What’s Next?

The next tactical implication identified in the UL study (Kerber, 2011) examines information that may be obtained by reading the air track at the entry point opening. This implication will be expanded with a broader discussion of air track indicators and how related hazards can be mitigated to improve firefighter safety.

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

 

Note: Figure 4 illustrates temperature conditions starting eight minutes after ignition. The fire previously progressed through incipient and growth stages before beginning to decay due to lack of ventilation.

Why the Dramatic Change in Conditions?

As discussed in UL Tactical Implications Part 1 [LINK], Fires in the contemporary environment progress from ignition and incipient stage to growth, but often become ventilation controlled and begin to decay, rather than continuing to grow into a fully developed fire. This ventilation induced decay continues until the ventilation profile changes (e.g., window failure due to fire effects, opening a door for entry or egress, or intentional creation of ventilation openings by firefighters. When ventilation is increased, heat release rate again rises and temperature climbs with the fire potentially transitioning through flashover to the fully developed stage (see Figure 4 and 5).

Figure 5. Fire Development in a Compartment

Safe & Effective Live Fire Training or Near Miss?

Monday, July 4th, 2011

A recent video posted on the firevideo.net [http://firecamera.net/] web brought to mind a number of painful lessons learned regarding live fire training in acquired structures. When watching video of fire training or emergency incidents, it is essential to remember that video provides only one view of the events. This video, titled Probationary Live House Burn shows a live fire evolution from ignition through fire attack with the comment “Burnin up the probies… LOL”.

This video shows multiple fire locations and an extremely substantial fire load (well in excess of what is necessary to bring typical residential compartments to flashover). I am uncertain if the comment posted with the video “burnin up the probies…LOL [laughing out loud]” was posted by an instructor or learner. Likely this is considered as just a joke, but comments like this point to our collective cultural challenges in providing safe and effective live fire training.

Fuel Load & Ventilation in Live Fire Training

NFPA 1403 Standard on Live Fire Training is reasonably explicit regarding the nature of acceptable fuel, extent of fuel load, as well as number and location of fires used for live fire training in acquired structures.

4.3.1 The fuels that are utilized in live fire training evolutions shall have known burning characteristics that are as controllable as possible.

4.2.17 Combustible materials, other than those intended for the live fire training evolution, shall be removed or stored in a protected area to preclude accidental ignition.

4.3.3* Pressure-treated wood, rubber, and plastic, and straw or hay treated with pesticides or harmful chemicals shall not be used.

A.4.3.3 Acceptable Class A materials include pine excelsior, wooden pallets, straw, hay, and other ordinary combustibles.

Fuel materials shall be used only in the amounts necessary to create the desired fire size.

A.4.3.4 An excessive fuel load can contribute to conditions that create unusually dangerous fire behavior. This can jeopardize structural stability, egress, and the safety of participants.

4.3.5 The fuel load shall be limited to avoid conditions that could cause an uncontrolled flashover or backdraft.

4.4.15 Only one fire at a time shall be permitted within an acquired structure.

4.4.16 Fires shall not be located in any designated exit paths.

While quite explicit regarding fuel requirements and limitations, NFPA 1403 (2007) has little to say about the ventilation with the exception of a brief mention that roof ventilation openings that are normally closed but may be opened in an emergency are permitted (not required as many believe). However, the Appendix has a much more important statement regarding the importance of ventilation to fire development:

A.4.3.7 The instructor-in-charge is concerned with the safety of participants and the assessment of conditions that can lead to rapid, uncontrolled burning, commonly referred to as flashover. Flashover can trap, injure, and kill fire fighters. Conditions known to be variables affecting the attainment of flashover are as follows:

(1) The heat release characteristics of materials used as primary fuels

(2) The preheating of combustibles

(3) The combustibility of wall and ceiling materials

(4) The room geometry (e.g., ceiling height, openings to rooms [emphasis added])

In addition, the arrangement of the initial materials to be ignited, particularly the proximity to walls and ceilings, and the ventilation openings [emphasis added] are important factors to be considered when assessing the potential fire growth.

The building in this video appeared to have been used for multiple evolutions prior to the one depicted in the video. A number of the windows appeared to be damaged, providing increased ventilation to support combustion. The fuel load of multiple pallets and excelsior or straw (acceptable types of fuel) provided an excess of fuel required to reach flashover in typical residential rooms (which may have been an intended outcome and level of involvement given the transitional attack (defense to offense)). If in fact the sets were in multiple rooms, this would be inconsistent with the provisions of NFPA 1403 limiting acquired structure evolutions to a single fire.

It is essential for those of us who conduct live fire training to remember that most of the provisions of NFPA 1403 (2007) are based on line-of-duty deaths of our brothers and sisters. Safe and effective live fire training requires that instructors be technically competent, well versed in the requirements or relevant regulations and standards, and that individually and organizationally we have an appropriate attitude towards safe and effective learning and the process of passing on the craft of firefighting.

One useful case to focus discussion of these issues is the death of Firefighter/Paramedic Apprentice Rachael Wilson of the Baltimore City Fire Department:

Live Fire Training: Remember Rachael Wilson

Live Fire Training Part 2: Remember Rachael Wilson

NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty F2007-09

Independent Investigation Report: Baltimore City Fire Department Live Fire Training Exercise

Door Entry

At 4:56 in the video, accumulation of a layer of smoke is clearly visible under the porch roof. No comment is made about this by the instructors and no action is taken to mitigate the hazard. At 5:55, flames exiting a broken window to the left of the door ignite the smoke layer just prior to when the attack team opens the door.

Figure 1. Fire Gas Ignition Sequence

It is essential to recognize that smoke is fuel and that ignition of this gas phase fuel overhead results in a rapid and signfiicant increase in radiant heat flux (which is dependent largely on temperature and proximity). Cooling the gases overhead and use of good door entry technique can minimize risk of this thermal insult to firefighters and potential for transition to other types of extreme fire behavior such as flashover.

Fire Streams

This video also shows some interesting aspects of fire stream application. A solid (or straight) stream can be quite effective in making a direct attack on the fire. However, when the fire is shielded, the effectiveness of this type of stream is limited. While limited steam production is often cited as an advantage of solid (and straight) streams, initial application of water through the doorway in this video results in significant steam production and limited effect on the fire. This is likely due to shielding of the burning fuel by interior configuration and compartmentation. Remember than no single type of fire stream is effective for all applications.

Perspective

Consider the question posed in the title of this post: Was this a safe and effective live fire training session or a near miss? I suspect that the learners in the video enjoyed this live fire training session and that the instructors desired to provide a quality learning experience. It is even likely that this evolution was conducted substantively (but likely not completely) in compliance with the provisions of NFPA 1403. Like most training exercises and emergency incidents, it is easy to watch a video and criticize the actions of those involved. I do not question the intent of those involved in this training exercise, but point to some issues that we (all of us) need to consider and reflect on as we go about our work and pass on the craft to subsequent generations of firefighters.

What’s Next?

I am working hard at getting back into a regular rhythm of posting and hope to have a post looking at another of the Tactical Considerations from the UL ventilation study up within the next week.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

References

National Fire Protection Association. (2007). NFPA 1403 Standard on live fire training. Quincy, MA: Author.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2002). Death in the line of duty, F2007-09. Retrieved February 19, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/pdfs/face200709.pdf

Shimer, R. (2007) Independent investigation report: Baltimore city fire department live fire training exercise 145 South Calverton Road February 9, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2009 from http://www.firefighterclosecalls.com/pdf/BaltimoreTrainingLODDFinalReport82307.pdf.

Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 2

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Is making entry with a hoseline for fire attack, ventilation? Is entering through a doorway when conducting search, ventilation? While many firefighters do not think about ventilation when performing these basic fireground tasks, the answer is a resounding yes!

Making Entry is Ventilation

While the Essentials of Firefighting (IFSTA, 2008) defines ventilation as “the systematic removal of heated air, smoke, and fire gases from a burning building and replacing them with cooler air” [emphasis added] (p. 541), the main focus of most ventilation training is on the exhaust opening. In discussing compartment fire development, the 6th Edition of Essentials (IFSTA, 2008) includes a discussion of the concept of fuel and ventilation controlled burning regimes. In addition, the section of the text addressing the positive effects of ventilation such as reducing potential for flashover and backdraft, Essentials (IFSTA, 2008) cautions that increasing ventilation to ventilation limited fires may result in rapid fire progression. However, these concepts were not included in earlier additions and the connection between openings made for the purpose of ventilation and openings made for other reasons is often overlooked.

Ventilation versus Tactical Ventilation

Despite the definitions given in fire service text that describe ventilation in terms of actions taken by firefighters, ventilation is simply the exchange of the atmosphere inside a building with that which is outside. Normal air exchange between the interior and exterior of a building is expressed as the number of complete air exchanges (by volume) per hour and varies depending on the purpose and function of the space. In residential structures, the air in the building is completely exchanged approximately four times per hour. In commercial and industrial buildings this rate may be significantly higher, depending on use. When firefighters arrive to find smoke issuing from a building, ventilation is occurring and when firefighters open a door to make entry, the ventilation profile changes as ventilation has been increased. Remember:

  • If smoke exits the opening (air is entering somewhere else) ventilation is occurring.
  • If air enters the opening (smoke is exiting somewhere else), ventilation is occurring.
  • If smoke exits and air enters the opening ventilation is occurring.

The entry point is a ventilation opening and if the fire is ventilation controlled, any ventilation opening will increase heat release rate (HRR)!

Ventilation Controlled Fires

As discussed in Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 1 [LINK], compartment fires that have progressed beyond the incipient stage are likely to be ventilation controlled when the fire department arrives. Firefighters and fire officers must recognize the potential for a rapid increase in HRR when additional atmospheric oxygen is provided to ventilation controlled fires. This is particularly important when considering door entry and door control during fire attack, search, and other interior operations. The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) research project Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2011) examined fire behavior in a small, single-story, wood frame house and a larger, two-story, wood frame house (see Figures 1 & 2) Figure 1. Single-Story Legacy Dwelling

Figure 2. Two-Story Contemporary Dwelling

Each of the fires in these experiments occurred in the living room (one-story house) or family room (two-story house). While the fuel load was essentially the same, the family room had a much greater volume as it had a common cathedral ceiling with an atrium just inside the front door. Experiments one and two examined fire behavior in each of these structures with the front door being opened at the simulated time of arrival of the fire department. Figure 3 illustrates the changes in temperature during UL Experiment 1 (Single Story-Door as Vent Opening) and Experiment 2 (Two-Story-Door as Vent Opening). Figure 3. Living/Family Room Temperature Curves-Door as Ventilation Opening

As illustrated in Figure 3, temperature conditions changed dramatically and became untenable shortly after the front door was opened. In the one-story experiment (Experiment 1) temperature:

  • Was 180 °C (360 °F) at ventilation (480 s),
  • Exceeded the firefighter tenability threshold of 260 °C (500 °F) at 550 s
  • Reached 600 °C (1110 °F) at 650 s and transitioned through flashover to a fully developed fire in the living room

In the two-story experiment (Experiment 2) temperature:

  • Was 220 °C (430 °F) at ventilation (600 s)
  • Exceeded the firefighter tenability threshold of 260 °C (500 °F) at 680 s
  • Reached 600 °C (1110 °F) at 780 s and transitioned through flashover to a fully developed fire in the family room

When the door is opened the clock is ticking! HRR will increase and the tenability within the fire compartment and adjacent spaces will quickly deteriorate unless water can be applied to control the fire. Keeping the door closed until ready to make entry delays starting the clock. Closing the door after entry (leaving room for passage of your hoseline) slows fire development and buys valuable time to control the fire environment, locate the fire, and achieve fire control.

Just as in the UL experiments on the influence of ventilation in residential structures, heat release rate will increase and fire conditions can change dramatically when a door is opened for access and entry.

In 2008, two firefighters from the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department in Prince Georges County Maryland recently were surprised by a flashover in a small, single family dwelling. In the first photo, firefighters from Engine 813 and Truck 807 prepare to make entry. Note that the front door is closed, the glass of the slider and windows are darkened, and smoke can be observed in the lower area of the front porch. Six seconds later it appears that the front door has been opened, flames are visible through the sliding glass door, and the volume of smoke in the area of the porch has increased. However, the smoke is not thick (optically dense). Forty eight seconds later, as the crew from Truck 807 makes entry to perform horizontal ventilation the volume of smoke from the front door increases and thickens (becomes more optically dense).

Figure 4. Ventilation Induced Flashover-Door as a Ventilation Opening

Note: Photos by Probationary Firefighter Tony George, PGFD The crew from Engine 813 experienced a burst hoseline, delaying fire attack. Two minutes after the first photo, and shortly after the crew from Truck 807 made entry, flashover occurred. For additional information on this incident, see Situational Awareness is Critical.

Door Control

The issue of door control presents a similar (and related) paradox as ventilation. Ventilation is performed to improve interior tenability and to support fire control, but when presented with a ventilation controlled fire, increased air supply increases HRR and can result in worsening tenability and potential for extreme fire behavior. Firefighters often chock doors open to provide ease of hoseline deployment and an open egress path, but when the fire is ventilation controlled, this (ventilation) opening starts the clock on increased HRR and rapid fire development. It is useful to consider door control in two phases, door entry procedures and control of the door after entry.

Size-Up: Door entry begins with a focused size-up as you approach the building. Assessment of conditions is not only the incident commander or officer’s job. Each member entering the building should perform a personal size-up and predict likely conditions. When making entry, size-up becomes more closely focused on conditions observed at or near the door and includes an assessment of potential forcible entry requirements as well as B-SAHF (Building-Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame) indicators. If available, a thermal imaging camera (TIC) can be useful, but remember that temperature conditions may be masked by the thermal characteristics of the building. If a thermal imaging camera is not available, application of a small amount of water to the door may indicate temperature and the level of the hot gas layer (water will vaporize on contact with a hot door).

Size-up begins as you exit the apparatus and approach the building, but continues at the door and after you make entry!

At the door, pay close attention to air track and heat (door temperature) indicators as these can provide important clues to conditions immediately inside the building!

Prior to Entry: If the door is open, close it. If it is closed, don’t open it until you are ready. If the door is unlocked, control is generally a simple process (see Nozzle Techniques and Hose Handling: Part 3 for detailed discussion of door entry when the door is unlocked).

If the door is locked and must be forced, this adds an element of complexity to the door entry process. In selecting a forcible entry method, consider that the door must remain intact and on its hinges if you are going to maintain control of the air track at the opening.

This is fairly easy with outward opening doors. Inward opening doors present a greater challenge. A section of webbing or rope can be used to control an inward door by placing a cinch hitch around the door knob (see Figure 5). As the the door is forced, it can be pulled closed. However, if the door was not locked with a deadbolt, it may re-latch when pulled closed. Figure 5. Door Control with Web or Utility Rope

Figure 5. Door Control with Webbing or Utility Rope

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Alternately, a Halligan or hook may be used to capture the door and pull it substantially closed after it is forced (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Door Control with a Tool

If B-SAHF (Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, & Flame) indicators point to hazardous conditions on the other side of the door, forcible entry must be integrated with good door entry procedure to control potential hazards. After Entry: The most effective way to control the door after entry and provide ease of egress is to have a firefighter remain at the opening to control the door and feed hose to the hose team working inside (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Door Control After Entry

Note: The Firefighter maintaining door control would be wearing complete structural firefighting clothing and breathing apparatus (this is simply an illustration of door control with a hoseline in place)!

Unfortunately, many companies do not have sufficient staff to maintain a nozzle team of two and leave another firefighter at the door. In these cases, it may be possible for the standby firefighters (two-out) to control the door for the crew working inside until additional resources are available.

Nozzle Technique & Hose Handling

Prior posts on nozzle technique and hose handling included a series of drills to develop proficiency in critical skills.

Review these nine drills and then extend your proficiency by integrating forcible entry with good door entry procedure by maintaining control of the door.

Drill 10-Door Entry-Forcing Inward Opening Doors: Many doors (particularly interior and exterior residential) open inward. In this situation forcible entry, door control, and nozzle operation must bee closely coordinated. Practicing these techniques under a variety of conditions (e.g., wall locations, compartment sizes) is critical to developing proficiency.

Drill 11-Door Entry-Forcing Outward Opening Doors: Commercial (and some interior residential doors) open outward. While less complex, Firefighters must develop skill in integration of forcible entry, door control, and nozzle technique in this situation as well.

Hose Handling and Nozzle Technique Drills 11 & 12 Instructional Plan

In both of these drills, focus on maintaining control of the door during forcible entry and limit air intake by keeping the door as closed as possible while passing the hoseline as it is advanced.

References

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

International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA). (2008) Essentials of firefighting (6th ed.). Stillwater, OK: Fire Protection Publications.

Gas Cooling: Part 5

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

This is the last post in the series examining the science of gas cooling as a fire control tactic. Be forewarned, there is math ahead! I have made an attempt at providing sufficient explanation to allow firefighters, fire officers, and instructors to develop an understanding the scientific concepts underlying this fire control technique. My next post will return to the topic of extreme fire behavior and ventilation with discussion of the most recently released NIOSH report, Death in the Line of Duty 2010-10.

The Mathematical Explanation

Dr. Stefan Särdqvist provides a mathematical explanation of volume changes during smoke/gas cooling In Water and Other Extinguishing Agents (Särdqvist,2002). Stefan’s text includes a graph that illustrates volume changes based on the extent to which the upper layer is cooled and the percentage of the water that is vaporized in the hot gases versus on contact with hot surfaces. As illustrated in Figure 1, the relative volume (expansion or contraction) of the upper layer during gas cooling is dependent on the percentage of water vaporizing as water passes through the hot gases of the upper layer and the percentage of water vaporizing on contact with hot surfaces such as compartment linings.

Figure 1. Volume Changes During Gas Cooling

Note: Adapted from Water and Other Extinguishing Agents (p. 155), by Stefan Särdqvist, 2002, Karlstad, Sweden: Räddnings Verket. Copyright 2002 by Räddnings Verket

If 100% of water applied for cooling vaporizes in the upper layer, the total volume of the hot fire gases and steam in the upper layer will be 79% of the original volume of the hot gases alone. If approximately 30% of the cooling water vaporizes in the upper layer and 70% vaporizes on contact with hot surfaces such as compartment linings (e.g., ceiling, walls) the volume of the upper layer will remain the same. However, if less than 30% of the cooling water is vaporized in the upper layer and the remainder is vaporized on contact with hot surfaces, the volume of the upper layer (hot fire gases and steam) will increase.

Understanding why this is the case requires a good understanding of the ideal gas law and a willingness to work through the math. As Greg Gorbett and Jim Pharr observe in the math review chapter of Fire Dynamics (2010), “The term algebra inspires dread in many otherwise competent, confident people” (p. 16).

Gas Cooling and the Ideal Gas Law

Gas Cooling: Part 4, examined the expansion ratio of steam using the Ideal Gas Law, providing a worked example to illustrate how to solve for the change in volume when water is vaporized to steam. As illustrated below, the Ideal Gas Law can also be used to determine relative influences of contraction of the upper layer and expansion of steam during gas cooling.

Before the application of water:

After the application of water:

Where:

P=Pressure (Pa)

V= Volume (m3)

T=Temperature (K)

n=Moles

Ru=Universal Gas Constant (8.3145 J/mol K)

Subscript of 1 refers to initial conditions where the upper layer consists of hot smoke and air

Subscript of 2 refers to conditions at (later) time where the upper layer consists not only to the hot smoke and air, but also to the water applied for cooling (the number of molecules in the upper layer increases, and temperature changes).

Another way of expressing the initial and final conditions using the two gas laws is to set them equal to one another:

Pressure (P) in the fire compartment and adjacent compartments remains relatively constant (due to compartment openings and other leakage). For example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 92A Standard for Smoke Control Systems Using Barriers and Pressure Differences (2009) specifies a design pressure difference of 24.9 Pa (0.0036 psi) to exclude smoke from a protected area (such as a stairwell) in a non-sprinklered building with 2.7 m (9’) ceilings. As atmospheric pressure is 102325 Pa (14.7 psi) the pressure difference, while significant enough to influence smoke movement is actually quite small in most cases. Given that pressure is relatively constant and the Universal Gas Constant (Ru) is the same for all ideal gases, these factors will have the same effect on initial and final conditions (allowing both Ru and P to be factored out of the ideal gas equations used to determine changes in upper layer volume.

After factoring out Ru and P, the relationship between the upper layer volume before and after application of water is as follows:

Lots Going On!

When water is applied to cool the upper layer, there is quite a bit going on. Energy is transferred from the upper layer to the water, lowering the temperature of the upper layer and raising the temperature of the water to its boiling point, vaporizing the water, and raising the temperature of the resulting steam. As the absolute temperature of the upper layer is reduced, its volume is proportionally reduced. However, as water is vaporized at its boiling point and the absolute temperature of the resulting steam is increased its volume increases. The important question is where was the water vaporized? Water vaporized in the upper layer, absorbed energy from the hot gases, lowering their absolute temperature. However, water that passes through the hot gas layer and vaporizes on contact with hot surfaces such as compartment linings (e.g., ceiling, walls) did not absorb significant energy from the upper layer and did not significantly reduce the temperature of the upper layer. Steam produced as a result of water vaporizing on contact with hot surfaces can absorb energy from the upper layer, but this has far less impact than water vaporized within the upper layer due to the large difference between the specific heat of steam and the latent heat of vaporization of water.

While some energy is lost as a result of convection of hot gases out compartment openings and conduction through compartment linings and other structural materials, these factors are not considered in this analysis of the effect of gas cooling. In this analysis the compartment defines the bounds of the thermodynamic system and the gas cooling process is considered to be adiabatic (no energy is gained or lost by the system).

Step by Step

I have made a few revisions to the explanation of gas cooling in Water and Other Extinguishing Agents (Särdqvist,2002), most significant of which is inclusion of the energy required to raise the temperature of the water applied for cooling to its boiling point (100o C). While the amount of energy is not large, this addition provides a more complete picture of the process involved in gas cooling. Other changes include consistent use of J/mol as units for specific heat and latent heat of vaporization, and minor variations in notation.

The mathematical explanation of gas cooling starts out in the same place as the concrete example provided in Gas Cooling Parts 1 and 2, determining the energy that must be transferred from the upper layer to water applied for cooling in order to achieve a specific reduction in temperature and the amount of water required to accomplish this. However, unlike an example using a specific compartment in which the units for specific heat and latent heat of vaporization were J/kg, the mathematical explanation uses J/mol (the reason for this will become clear as we dig a bit deeper).

The relationship between J/mol and kJ/kg as units of measure for specific heat and latent heat of vaporization is fairly straightforward as illustrated below:

The following equation explains the energy balance between hot gases in the upper layer and water applied for cooling. At first glance, this equation seems extremely complex, but if each segment is examined individually, it is fairly straightforward.

Where

Cp,g=Specific heat capacity of fire gases/smoke (approximately the same as air, 33.2 J/mol K at 1000 K).

Cp,st=Specific heat capacity of steam (41.2 J/mol K at 1000 K)

Cp,w=Specific heat capacity of water (76.663 J/mol K at 215.15 K)

LV,w=Latent heat of vaporization of water 40,680 J/mol

Tu=Temperature of the upper layer (K)

Tw=Temperature of water (K)

n=Moles

Subscript of 1 refers to initial conditions

Subscript of 2 refers to conditions at (later) time 2

First examine the left side of the equation which deals with the hot gases in the upper layer.

The left side of the equation determines the energy that must be transferred from the hot gases in the upper layer in order to result in a specific reduction in temperature. As this example does not deal with a specific compartment, the mass of the upper layer is unknown. A challenge resolved through the use of moles to define the amount of hot fire gases present in the upper layer. Remember that moles are a measure of the number of molecules present.

Multiplying the molar specific heat of smoke (Cp,g) in J/mol K by the number of moles (n) determines the energy that must be transferred from the upper layer to change its temperature 1 K. Multiplying that value by the change in absolute temperature (T1-T2) determines the total energy that must be transferred to achieve the specified change in absolute temperature.

Now examine the right side of the equation which deals with the water applied for cooling:

The right side of the equation determines the energy that must be transferred to the water applied for cooling in order to increase the temperature of the water (as steam) by the same extent as the reduction in upper layer temperature.

The first step is to determine the amount of water applied (remember the assumption that all water applied is vaporized either in the gas layer or on contact with surfaces). This is accomplished by subtracting the amount of hot gases in the upper layer (in Moles) from the amount of hot gases, and steam in the upper layer after cooling the gases (n2 – n1).

When vaporized in the upper layer, energy is transferred from the hot gases in the upper layer to 1) raise the temperature of the water to its boiling point of 373.15 K (100o C), 2) to change its state from liquid phase to gas phase, and 3) to raise the temperature of the steam until reaching equilibrium (hot gases and steam are at the same temperature). When water is vaporized on contact with a hot surface, it did not absorb significant energy while traveling through the hot gasses of the upper layer. The energy necessary to raise the temperature of the water to its boiling point and vaporize it is absorbed from the surface. Steam produced in this manner will also absorb energy from the hot gases of the upper layer (but the process of increasing the temperature of the water in liquid form and vaporization did not take significant energy from the hot gasses of the upper layer).

Figure 2. Gas Versus Surface Cooling

As water that is vaporized in the upper layer absorbs energy from the hot gases to raise its temperature to boiling and vaporize.

The temperature increase required for water to reach its boiling point is determined by subtracting the initial temperature of the water (Tw,1) from its boiling point of 373.15 K. The increase in the temperature of the water in liquid form is multiplied by the specific heat of water (Cp,w) to calculate the total energy required for this temperature increase (Cp,w (373.15- Tw,1)).

The latent heat of vaporization (LV,w) is added to the energy required to raise the temperature of the water from Tw1 to its boiling point of 373.15 K (100o C).

After water is vaporized (either while traveling through the upper layer or on contact with a hot surface) it continues to absorb energy from the upper layer until the temperature of the steam and the hot gases in the upper layer reach the same temperature and are in thermal equilibrium. The specific heat of steam (Cp,w) is multiplied by the difference between 373.15 K (100o C) and the final temperature of the upper layer (Tu2). This determines the energy required for the steam and the hot gases in the upper layer to reach thermal equilibrium ( ).

As with the calculations examining the smoke and hot gases in the upper layer, moles are a measure of the amount of water applied for cooling. As the thermodynamic system of the compartment is being treated as adiabatic (no energy leaves the system, it is simply transferred between the hot gases of the upper layer and the water applied for cooling), the left and right sides of the equation must be equal.

Solving for n, this equation may also be written:

Given that:

The left side of the equation can be simplified to solve for the amount of molecules in the upper layer before cooling (n1) and after application of water (n2) as follows:

Solving for n allows the energy exchange equation to be combined with the two ideal gas laws used to describe changes in volume associated with gas cooling.

As the energy exchange equation is equal to the initial amount of gas molecules in the upper layer before gas cooling divided by the amount of gas molecules in the upper layer after the application of water, the energy balance equation can be inserted in the ideal gas law in place of the amount of molecules (n1 and n2) as illustrated below:

This formula looks quite complex, but in actuality most of the values are constants such as the specific heat of water (Cp,w), latent heat of vaporization of water (LVw), and specific heat of steam (Cp,st). After plugging in these constants, the only variables on the right side of the equation are the temperature of the upper layer before and after cooling and the percentage of water vaporized in the upper layer.

The volume of the upper layer after cooling divided by the volume of the upper layer before cooling is the percentage change in volume of the upper layer.

Worked Examples

While explaining the equations is important, there is nothing quite so useful in developing understanding as actual worked examples. In each of these examples, the initial upper layer temperature is 773.15 K (500o C), the initial temperature of the cooling water is 293.15 K (20o C) and the final temperature of the upper layer is 473.15 K (200o C).

Example 1: All (100%) of the water applied for cooling is vaporized in the upper layer.

In this example where all of the water applied for cooling is vaporized in the upper layer, the volume of the upper layer is reduced by 27% and the lower boundary of the upper layer would rise. This illustrates the ideal (but likely not achievable) application of gas cooling to reduce temperature and raise the lower boundary of the upper layer.

Example 2: None (0%) the water applied for cooling is vaporized in the upper layer; all of it is vaporized on contact with hot compartment linings or other surfaces.

In this example where none of the water applied for cooling is vaporized in the upper layer, but vaporizes on contact with hot surfaces, the volume of the upper layer would double. If the upper layer filled more than half the volume of the compartment, the upper layer would then fill the entire compartment with hot gases and steam at 473.15 K (200o C), providing an untenable environment for both firefighters and trapped occupants. This is why an indirect attack is not used from inside the compartment or in compartments where there may be savable victims.

Example 3: One third (33.3%) of the water applied for cooling vaporizes in the upper layer and the remainder (66.6%) is vaporized on contact with hot compartment linings or other surfaces.

In this example, the volume of the upper layer is unchanged, but considerably cooler than before the application of water. If firefighters had adequate working area below the upper layer before applying cooling water, this would be unchanged, but the temperature of the gases overhead would be considerably reduced. With good technique and an appropriate flow rate, more than 33.3% of the water applied for cooling can be vaporized in the upper layer, providing practical results somewhere between a 3% (Example 3) and 27% (Example 1) reduction in the volume of the upper layer. However, it is important to remember that the fireground is much more dynamic than the simple analysis presented in this post.

Different Parts of the Elephant

Firefighter’s perspectives on the use of water fog for interior structural firefighting can be compared to the Indian fable of The Six Blind Men and the Elephant (Saxe, 1963). In this fable, the six men tried to determine what an elephant was. As none of the men could see, they used their sense of touch. However, each grasped a different part of the elephant. One touched the side and thought an elephant was like a wall, another the trunk and thought an elephant was like a snake, and so forth. What you believe may be limited by your point of observation.

Many firefighters in the United States find it hard to believe that the volume of the upper layer can be reduced and the bottom of the upper layer raised by application of water. This is inconsistent with their experiences in the field. The explanation provided in this post illustrates how this is possible. If flow rate and application technique used result in more than 70% of cooling water vaporizing on contact with hot surfaces, the upper layer will increase in volume and the level of the hot gas layer in a confined area such as a compartment will become lower (consistent with many firefighters experience when using water fog for interior structural firefighting). However, this does not have to be the case. Where the water is vaporized and the resulting effects are dependent on application technique, flow rate, and duration of application!

I would like to extend a great deal of thanks to Stefan Särdqvist for providing the basis for this explanation and to Lieutenant Felipe Baeza Lehnert of Valdivia (Chile) Fire Department Company 1 (Germania) for his patience in helping me sort though the math.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

References

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). (2009). Standard 92A Standard for Smoke Control Systems Using Barriers and Pressure Differences. Quincy, MA: Author.

Saxe, J. (1963). The blind men and the elephant. New York: McGraw-Hill

Särdqvist, S. (2002) Water and other extinguishing agents. Karlstad, Sweden: Räddnings Verket