Archive for the ‘Fire Control’ Category

NIST Wind Driven Fire Experiments:
Wind Control Devices & Fire Suppression

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Continuing examination of NIST’s research on Firefighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions, this post looks at the results of experiments involving use of wind control devices and external water application.

In my last post, I posed several questions about wind control devices to “prime the pump” regarding wind driven fires and potential applications for use of wind control devices.

Questions

Give some thought to how wind can influence compartment fire behavior and how a wind control device might mitigate that influence.

  • How would a strong wind applied to an opening (such as the bedroom window in the NIST tests) influence fire behavior in the compartment of origin and other compartments in the structure?
  • How would deployment of a wind control device influence fire behavior?
  • While the wind control device illustrated in Figure 5 was developed for use in high-rise buildings, what applications can you envision in a low-rise structure?
  • What other anti-ventilation tactics could be used to deal with wind driven fires in the low-rise environment?

Answers: Thornton’s Rule indicates that the amount of oxygen required per unit of energy released from many common hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon derivatives is fairly constant. Each kilogram of oxygen used in the combustion of common organic materials results in release of 13.1 MJ of energy. Fully developed compartment fires are generally ventilation controlled (potential heat release rate (HRR) based on fuel load exceeds the actual HRR given the atmospheric oxygen available through existing ventilation openings). Application of wind can dramatically increase heat release rate by increasing the mass of oxygen available for combustion. In addition to increasing HRR, wind can significantly increase the velocity of hot fire gases and flames (and resulting convective and radiant heat transfer) between the inlet and outlet openings.

Deployment of a wind control device to cover an inlet opening (window or door), limits oxygen available for combustion to the air already in the structure and normal building leakage. In addition, blocking the wind will also reduce gas and flame velocity between the inlet and outlet.

While wind driven fires are problematic in high-rise buildings, the same problem can be encountered in low-rise structures and wind control devices may prove useful in some circumstances. However, exterior attack (discussed later in this post) is more feasible than in a high-rise building and other tactics such as door control may also prove essential in managing hazards presented by wind.

Test Conditions

As outlined in my earlier post, Wind Driven Fires, NIST conducted a number of different wind driven tests using the same multi-compartment structure. Experiment 3 involved evaluation of anti-ventilation tactics using a large wind control device placed over the bedroom window. Wind conditions of 6.7 m/s to 8.9 m/s (15 mph-20 mph) were maintained throughout the test.

As with the baseline test, two ventilation openings were provided. A ceiling vent in the Northwest Corridor and a window (fitted with glass) in the bedroom (compartment of origin). During the test the window failed due to fire effects and was subsequently fully cleared by the researchers to provide a full window opening for ventilation.

Figure 1. Isometric Illustration of the Test Structure

test_floor_plan_wind

Note: The location of fuel packages in the bedroom and living room is shown on the Floor Plan provided in Wind Driven Fires post.

Experiment 3 Wind Driven Fire

This experiment was one of several that investigated wind driven fire behavior and the effectiveness of a wind control device deployed over the bedroom window to limit inward airflow. The fire was ignited in the bedroom and allowed to develop from incipient to fully developed stage in the bedroom.

The fire progressed in a similar manner as observed in the baseline test described in my earlier post NIST Wind Driven Fire Experiments: Establishing a Baseline. In this experiment the fire involving the initial fuel packages (bed and waste container) and visible smoke layer developed slightly more slowly. However, the bedroom window failed more completely and 11 seconds earlier than in the baseline test.

Almost immediately after the window failed, turbulent flaming combustion filled the bedroom and hot gases completely filled the door between the living room and corridor and were impinging on the opposite wall. At 222 seconds (15 seconds after the window was completely cleared) flames were visible in the corridor and the hollow core wood door in the target room was failing with flames breaching the top corners of the door and a smoke layer developing in the target room. While most of the hot gases and flames were driven through the interior (towards the ceiling vent in the corridor), flames continued to flow out the top of the window opening (against the wind).

At 266 seconds conditions had further deteriorated in all compartments with no visibility in the corridor and increased deterioration of the door to the target room. At this point the air track at the window was completely inward (no flames outside the window).

The wind control device was deployed at 270 seconds. Unfortunately soot on the video cameras lenses precluded a good view of interior conditions. However, video from the thermal imaging camera no longer showed any flow of hot gases into the corridor (only high temperature).

At 330 seconds, shortly after removal of the wind control device flames were visible in the bedroom and the fire quickly progressed to a fully developed state. At 360 seconds, flames were pulsing out the window opening (against the wind).

The experiment was ended at 380 seconds and the fire was extinguished.

Heat Release Rate

As with the baseline test NIST researchers recorded heat release rate data during Experiment 3. As discussed earlier in this post, application of wind increased the amount of oxygen available for combustion and resulting heat release rate in comparison to the baseline test.

Figure 2. Heat Release Rates in Experiments 1 (Baseline) and 3 (Wind Driven)

hrr_experiment3

Note: Adapted from Firefighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions.

Questions: Examine the heat release rate curves in Figure 2 and answer the following questions:

  • What effect did deployment of the wind control device have on HRR and why did this change occur so quickly?
  • How did HRR change when the wind control device was removed and why was this change different from when the window was vented?
  • What factors might influence the extent to which HRR changes when ventilation is increased to a compartment fire in a ventilation controlled burning regime?

Wind Control Device Research and Application

NIST has continued research into the practical application of wind control devices with tests in Chicago and New York involving large apartment buildings and realistic fuel loading. For additional information on these tests and video of wind control device deployment, visit the NIST Wind Driven Fires webpage.

Fire Control Experiments

NIST researchers also conducted a series of experiments in the same structure examining the impact of various fire control tactics. These included application of water using solid stream and combination nozzles (using a 30o fog pattern with continuous application). In addition, they examined the influence of coordinated deployment of a wind control device and low flow water application of water fog). In each of these tests, water was applied from the exterior of the structure through the bedroom window.

Water Fog Application: Experiment 6 involved application of water using a hoseline equipped with a combination nozzle at 90 psi (621 kPa) nozzle pressure, providing a flow rate of 80 gpm (303 lpm). The fog stream was initially applied across the window (no discharge into the bedroom). This had a limited effect on conditions on the interior. When applied into the room, the 30o fog pattern was positioned to almost completely fill the window. This action resulted in a brief increase (approximately 4 MW) and then a dramatic reduction in HRR.

Solid Stream Application: Experiments 7 and 8 involved application of water using a hoseline equipped with a 15/16″ smooth bore nozzle at 50 psi (345 kPa) nozzle pressure, providing a flow rate of 160 gpm (606 lpm). The solid stream was initially directed at the ceiling and then in a sweeping motion across the ceiling. In Experiment 8, the stream was then directed at burning contents in the compartment. Application of the solid stream had a pronounced effect, dramatically reducing heat release rate in both experiments.

Conditions varied considerably between these three tests (Experiments 6-8). This makes direct comparison of the results somewhat difficult. However, several conclusions can be drawn from the data:

  • Exterior application of water can be effective in reducing HRR in wind driven fires.
  • Both solid stream and fog application can be effective in reducing HRR under these conditions.
  • Continuous application of water fog positioned to nearly fill the inlet opening develops substantial air flow which can increase HRR (this works similar to the process of hydraulic ventilation, but in reverse).
  • A high flow solid stream may be more effective (but not necessarily more efficient) than a lower flow fog pattern if a direct attack on burning contents can be made.

Coordinated WCD Deployment and Water Application: Experiments 4 and 5 involved evaluations of anti-ventilation and water application using a small wind control device and 30 gpm (113.6 lpm) spray nozzle from under the wind control device. The effectiveness of the wind control device was similar to other anti-ventilation tests and application of low flow water fog resulted in continued decrease in HRR throughout the experiment.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

References

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

Shielded Fires Part 2

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

The previous post (Shielded Fires) examined US Navy research on the effectiveness of different nozzle techniques when dealing with shielded fires conducted on the ex-USS Shadwell, the US Navy full scale damage control research facility (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. USS Shadwell

uss_shadwell

The researchers tested two different methods for controlling flaming combustion overhead while moving from the entry point to a location in a compartment where firefighters could make a direct attack on the seat of the fire. The first method involved use of a straight stream or narrow fog pattern and the second involved the use of a medium (60o) fog pattern directed upward at a 45o angle. In both cases, one to three second pulses were used in application of water into the hot gas layer.

US Navy Findings

Analysis of this series of tests resulted in identification of a number of specific findings related to tactics, equipment, and training. Three of these findings were particularly relevant to the differences between straight stream/narrow fog and medium fog applied to control flaming combustion in the upper layer.

  • Pulsed application with a medium fog pattern directed upward at a 45o angle resulted in less disruption of the thermal layer than use of a straight stream/narrow fog pattern.
  • Use of a straight stream/narrow fog resulted in production of a large amount of steam. This was attributed to the fact that the hose streams had to be deflected compartment linings.
  • Water management is important when controlling fire in the upper layer, particularly when using a straight stream/narrow fog. Excess water will only result in excess steam production.

Discussing the findings, the researchers observed that pulsed application of medium fog appeared to be an effective tactic for controlling flaming combustion in the upper layer. This conclusion is supported by consistent reduction of upper layer temperature over the course of the tests involving use of pulsed application of a medium fog pattern. Previous concerns that this approach would result disruption of thermal layering and excess steam production appeared to be unfounded. This conclusion is supported by the heat flux data at 0.9 M (7′ 10″) and 2.9 M (3′) above the floor. Disruption of thermal layering is indicated by an upward spike in lower level heat flux or equalization of heat flux at the lower and upper levels.

Questions

Several questions about the outcome of these tests were posed at the end of the Shielded Fires post.

  • Why did the application of water in a straight stream/narrow fog pattern fail to effectively control flaming combustion in the upper layer?
  • Why did the upper layer temperature fluctuate when a straight stream/narrow fog was used?
  • Why did the upper layer temperature drop consistently when a medium angle fog pattern was used?
  • How did the heat flux measurements correlate with the upper layer temperatures in these two tests?
  • What are the implications of the heat flux data recorded during these tests on tenability within the compartment for both firefighters and unprotected occupants?

Water converted to steam on contact with compartment linings or other hot objects cools the surfaces. This indirectly lowers gas layer temperature as the hot gases will continue to transfer heat to compartment linings and other cooler objects in an attempt to equalize temperature. However, the effect on upper layer temperature is limited, minimizing effectiveness of stream application in controlling flaming combustion in the upper layer. In addition, as gas temperature is not significantly reduced, steam produced on contact with hot surfaces is added to the volume of hot gases, resulting in a less tenable environment.

Ineffectiveness of straight stream/narrow fog attack in controlling flaming combustion in the upper layer and the perception of increased steam production with this type of attack likely have a common cause. Conversion of water to steam requires much more energy than simply heating water from ambient temperature to its boiling point. When water changes phase from liquid to gas (steam) while in the hot gas layer, the temperature of the gases is reduced. This has several consequences. First, sufficient reduction in temperature results in extinguishment of flaming combustion. Second, reduction of gas layer temperature causes a proportional reduction in gas volume. As illustrated in Figure 2, if 35% of the water is truned to steam in the hot gas layer, the total volume of steam and hot fire gases is less than the original volume of hot fire gases alone (Srdqvist, 2002). As this is often difficult to understand, I will provide a more detailed explanation of this in a subsequent post.

Figure 2. Gas Temperature and Relative Volume

gas-surfacecooling

Note. Adapted from Water and Other Extinguishing Agents (p. 155) by Stefan Srdqvist, 2002, Karlstad, Sweden: Raddningsverket. Copyright 2002 by Stefan Srdqvist and the Swedish Rescue Services Agency.

Production of the same volume of steam can have far different consequences depending on where it is produced (in the hot gas layer versus on contact with hot surfaces!

Total heat flux includes energy transferred through radiation, convection, and conduction. However, in these full scale fire tests, radiant and convective heat transfer was most significant. Radiant heat transfer is dependent on the temperature of upper layer gases and flaming combustion. Convective heat transfer is dependent on gas temperature, movement of hot gases, and moisture. Reduction in upper layer temperature while maintaining thermal layering minimizes total heat flux at the lower level where firefighters are working.

Other Considerations

These tests were conducted on a ship (see Figure 1) with most of the compartment linings being metal (rather than gypsum board, plaster, or wood as typically encountered in buildings. The fire compartment did not have windows or other ventilation openings that may exist in more typical buildings encountered by structural firefighters. These differences are significant, but do not diminish the importance of the results of these tests and findings by the researchers.

These tests provide substantive evidence in support of the effectiveness of water converted to steam in the hot gas layer (as opposed to on surfaces) in controlling flaming combustion in the hot gas layer. However, this does not diminish the importance of direct application of water onto burning fuel in a direct attack to complete the process of extinguishment.

Reference

Srdqvist, S. (2002). Water and other extinguishing agents. Karlstad, Sweden: Swedish Rescue Services Agency.

Scheffey, J., Siegmann, C., Toomey, T., Williams, F., & Farley J. (1997) 1994 Attack Team Workshop: Phase II-Full Scale Offensive Fog Attack Tests, NRL/MR/6180-97-7944. Washington, DC: United States Navy, Naval Sea Systems Command

Remember the Past

In Myth of the Self-Vented Fire I pointed out that every week represents the anniversary of the death of one or more firefighters as a result of extreme fire behavior. Some firefighters have heard about these incidents, but many have not. In an ongoing effort to encourage us to remember the lessons of the past and continue our study of fire behavior, I will occasionally be including brief narratives and links to NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty reports and other documentation in my posts.

February 11, 1998 – 1030
Firefighter Paramedic Patrick Joseph King
Firefighter Anthony E. Lockhart
Chicago Fire Department, Illinois

Firefighter King and Firefighter Lockhart responded on different companies to a report of a structural fire in a tire shop. No visible fire was encountered, there was no excessive heat, and only light smoke was found in most of the building with heavier smoke in the shop area. Ten firefighters were in the interior of the structure when an event that has been described as a flashover or backdraft occurred. The firefighters were disoriented by the effects of the backdraft. Some were able to escape but Firefighter King and Firefighter Lockhart were trapped in the structure. A garage door that self-operated due to fire exposure may have introduced oxygen into the fire area and may have been a factor in the backdraft. The exit efforts of firefighters were complicated by congestion in the building. Within minutes of the backdraft, the building was completely involved in fire and rescue efforts were impossible. Both firefighters died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to inhalation of smoke and soot. Further information related to this incident can be found in NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation 98-F-05.

February 9, 2007
Firefighter-Paramedic Apprentice Racheal Michelle Wilson
Baltimore City Fire Department, Maryland

Firefighter Wilson and the members of her fire academy class were attending a live fire training exercise in a vacant rowhouse in Baltimore.

Firefighter Wilson was assigned to a group of apprentices and an instructor designated as Engine 1. Her group advanced a dry attack line into the structure. As they climbed the stairs, the line was charged. Engine 1 encountered and extinguished fire on the second floor but did not check the rest of the second floor for fire prior to proceeding to the third floor. On the third floor, they again encountered and began to extinguish fire.

Fire conditions began to worsen with a marked increase in smoke and heat that appeared to be coming from the second floor. Engine 1 firefighters who were on the stairs began to receive burns from the fire conditions. The instructor for Engine 1 climbed out a window at the top of the stairs and helped one burned firefighter escape to the roof.

Firefighter Wilson appeared at the window in obvious distress and attempted to escape. The windowsill was unusually high (41 inches) and she was unable to escape. Firefighter Wilson momentarily moved away from the window, at which time she advised other firefighters to go down the stairs to escape. When she returned to the window, her SCBA facepiece was off and she was beginning to receive burns. She was able to get her upper body out of the window but she could not make it through. Firefighters on the exterior were unable to pull her through until firefighters were able to gain access on the interior and assist with the effort.

When Firefighter Wilson was pulled to the roof, she was in full cardiac and respiratory arrest. She was immediately removed from the roof and received advanced life support care and transportation to the hospital. She was pronounced dead at 1250 hours. Firefighter Wilson received total body surface burns of 50 percent. The cause of death was listed as thermal burns and asphyxiation.

Further information related to this incident can be found in NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation F2007-09 and the Independent Investigation Report on the Baltimore City Fire Department Live Fire Training Exercise, 145 South Calverton Road, February 9, 2007.

My next post will examine the incident in which Rachael Wilson lost her life in greater detail.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO

Shielded Fires

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Fire control and extinguishment is a fairly straightforward process when water can be applied directly to the burning fuel. In the case of burning ordinary combustibles, the energy required to heat the water to its boiling point and convert it to steam cannot be used to continue the process of pyrolysis and lowers fuel temperature to the point where the fire goes out.

However, this process is complicated when the fire is shielded from direct application of water. Assuming that an offensive strategy is appropriate, there are several options for attacking a shielded fire: 1) Make an indirect attack from the exterior (assuming you can access the involved compartment(s) from an exterior location) or 2) Move inside the building to a point inside the building where a an indirect attack can be made from outside the involved compartment(s), or 3) Move inside to a location where a direct attack can be initiated.

When adequate resources are available offensive attack from the interior addresses both life safety and fire control priorities. Proper hoseline placement and coordination of fire control and ventilation tactics protects civilian occupants and provides a safer work environment for firefighters.

The Ongoing Debate

The topic of fire stream selection (fog versus straight or solid stream) likely generates more energy than a fully developed compartment fire. Firefighters bring a great deal of passion based on experience, knowledge, and ignorance to the discussion.

There is not a single answer to the question of which type of fire steam is best. Fog and straight or solid streams have different performance characteristics and are best suited for different applications. Keep in mind that:

  • An effective fire stream puts the appropriate amount of water in the right form and right location to achieve the desired result.
  • An efficient fire stream accomplishes this with the smallest volume of water and least water damage.

Understanding the effectiveness and efficiency of fire stream application requires both qualitative and quantitative evidence. Firefighters can observe the effects of fire stream application and make a judgment as to effectiveness and efficiency. However, this understanding can be deepened by scientific examination that measures the impact of fire stream application methods.

US Navy Research

In 1994, the United States Navy conducted a series of tests to investigate the aggressive use of water fog for shipboard firefighting (Scheffey, Siegmann, Toomey, Williams, & Farley, 1997). Prior to this time, shipboard firefighting either involved direct attack with a straight stream or narrow fog pattern or indirect attack from outside the involved compartment. This series of tests compared the use of pulsed application of a medium (60o) fog pattern with use of a straight stream in controlling shielded fires and fire conditions involving high temperature and thick smoke conditions that impeded location of the seat of the fire.

The conditions (heat, smoke, and fire gases) associated with these fire scenarios typically does not prevent initial entry into the fire compartment. However, the extra time that it takes to maneuver within a space to locate and attack the seat of the fire does present a significant threat, primarily due to the stage of the fire. Uncontrolled, these fires may continue grow rapidly, potentially resulting in flashover conditions. This is particularly true where the fire is ventilation limited…and entry by the attack team introduces additional air [emphasis added].

While the Navy is concerned with shipboard firefighting, ventilation controlled, shielded fires are commonly encountered by structural firefighters as well.

Test Conditions

The tests were conducted on the ex-USS Shadwell, the Navy’s full-scale damage control research and development platform and involved several different fire scenarios. This post will examine tests involving Fire Threat 1, a growth stage fire involving multiple fuel packages within a compartment to create a well developed growth stage fire approaching flashover (upper layer temperatures in the range of 400o-600o C (752o-1152o F)). In addition, obstructions were placed to preclude the possibility of direct attack from the point of entry. Firefighters were required to control flames in the upper layer in order to penetrate deep enough into the compartment to make a direct attack on the fire.

Compartment Size and Configuration: The compartment used for the test was irregularly shaped (see Figure 2) with approximate dimensions of 8.5 M x 5.4 M (28′ x 17′ 7″) for an approximate floor area of 45.9 M2 (494 ft2).

Figure 1. Compartment Configuration

shadwell_floorplan

Fuel Load: Varied fuel types, including wood (red oak) cribs of varied dimensions, 1200 mm x 2400 mm (4′ x 8′) sheets of particle board (two layers of 6.4 mm particle board nailed together to provide a thickness of 13 mm (0.5″), and cardboard boxes of crumpled newspaper. All of the boxes were 457 mm x 381 mm x 305 mm (18″ x 15″ x 12″) and were taped closed after being loosely filled with newspaper. These fuel packages were distributed between three separate fire areas see (Figure 1).

  • Fire Area 1 included a triangular wood crib, three particleboard panels (placed vertically against the compartment walls), and nine cardboard boxes filled with newspaper. Fire in these fuel packages was initiated using 2.8 L (0.5 gallon) of heptanes in a 610 mm (24″) pan.
  • Fire Area 2 included a square wood crib and nine cardboard boxes filled with newspaper. Fire in these fuel packages was initiated using 18.9 L (5 gallons) of heptanes in a 914 mm (36″) square pan.
  • Fire area 3 included a rectangular wood crib and three particleboard panels (placed vertically against the compartment walls). Fire in these fuel packages was initiated using 2.8 L (0.5 gallon) of heptanes in a 610 mm (24″) pan.

Ventilation Profile: Temperature in the upper layer was monitored using thermocouples. Watertight Doors 2-22-2 and 2-21-2 were used to control the air supply to the fire and maintain consistent temperature conditions and flaming combustion in the hot gas layer for each test. When the attack team entered the compartment, air also entered the fire compartment through the entry point at Joining Door 2-16-0 (see Figure 1).

Tactical ventilation was not used in coordination with fire attack during these evolutions. The only ventilation provided while the attack team was engaged in firefighting operations involved the entry point as both exhaust and inlet opening.

Fire Control Procedures: In each of the tests the fire attack team used a 38 mm (1.5″) hoseline with a combination nozzle delivering 360 L/min (95 gpm) at 700 kPa (100 psi). For the pulsed water fog attack, the nozzle team applied oneto three second pulses with a 60o fog pattern directed upward at a 45o angle. For the straight stream attack, the tactics were the same, but a straight stream or narrow fog pattern was used.

Note: It is important to note that the researchers and Navy firefighters involved in these tests considered a narrow fog pattern and straight stream equivalent within the context of shipboard firefighting. While the characteristics of a narrow fog pattern and straight or solid stream are different, both will penetrate through the hot gas layer and result in conversion of water to steam on contact with compartment linings (rather than within the hot gas layer)

The Tests

Test 14 was performed using traditional straight stream tactics. The nozzle operator applied two pulses with a narrow fog pattern in an attempt to control fire in upper layer. This water application produced a large amount of steam, but failed to control flaming combustion in the hot gases. After application of three more short pulses, the attack team moved to Fire Area 2 (see Figure 1) and commenced a direct attack on the fire in Fire Areas 2 and 3. However, 150 seconds (2 minutes 30 seconds) after commencing fire attack, the fire in Fire Area 1 reignited and flaming combustion in the hot gas layer caused the attack team to withdraw towards the entry point and attempt to regain control of the overhead fire. This was unsuccessful and the attack team withdrew to the entry point. A second attempt was made to enter and control the fire overhead using three long (five second) straight stream application from the doorway. These had minimal effect with continued flaming combustion overhead and involvement of fuel packages in all three fire areas. 420 seconds (seven minutes) after the initial attack, the evolution was terminated.

Test 17 replicated conditions used in Test 14, but pulsed application of a medium (60o) fog pattern was used to control fire in the upper layer, rather than a narrow fog/straight stream. Immediately after making entry, the nozzle operator applied three short pulses directed upward at a 45o Angle in the direction of Fire Area 2. The first pulse appeared to cause the flaming combustion to increase in Fire Area 2, but subsequent pulses controlled flaming combustion overhead. Visibility was reduced slightly, but the attack team was able to advance and make a direct attack on the seat of the fire. The fuel packages in Fire Area 1 reignited, but the fire was quickly controlled.

Influence on the Fire Environment

Quantitative data on factors such as upper level temperature and heat flux (heat transfer per unit area) within the compartment were recorded in addition to qualitative observations by the firefighters and researchers involved in the test. Figure 2 illustrates the temperature changes in the fire compartment during Tests 14 (straight stream/narrow fog) and 17 (medium angle fog) attacks.

Figure 2. Average Upper Layer Temperature: Tests 14 and 17

shadwell_temp

Total heat flux (e.g., radiant and convective) was recorded 2.4 M (7′ 10″) and 0.9 M (3′) above the floor. Figures 3 and 4 illustrate conditions recorded during Test 14 (straight stream/narrow fog) and Test 17 (medium angle fog).

The dashed gray lines are provided as a point of reference at 20 kW/m2, 12.5 kW/m2, and 4.5 kW/m2. These correspond to heat flux conditions required for rapid auto ignition of ordinary combustibles, sufficient pyrolysis for piloted ignition of ordinary combustibles, and second degree burns to exposed skin within 30 seconds respectively.

Figure 3. Heat Flux Test 14

shadwell_heatflux_ss

Figure 4. Heat Flux Test 17

shadwell_heatflux_fog

Questions

Based on the information on the US Navy tests presented in this post, consider the following questions:

  1. Why did the application of water in a straight stream/narrow fog pattern fail to effectively control flaming combustion in the upper layer?
  2. Why did the upper layer temperature fluctuate when a straight stream/narrow fog was used?
  3. Why did the upper layer temperature drop consistently when a medium angle fog pattern was used?
  4. How did the heat flux measurements correlate with the upper layer temperatures in these two tests?
  5. What are the implications of the heat flux data recorded during these tests on tenability within the compartment for both firefighters and unprotected occupants?

More to Follow

My next post will examine the answers to these questions and the conclusions reached by the Navy researchers as a result of this series of tests.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

References

Scheffey, J., Siegmann, C., Toomey, T., Williams, F., & Farley J. (1997) 1994 Attack Team Workshop: Phase II-Full Scale Offensive Fog Attack Tests, NRL/MR/6180-97-7944. Washington, DC: United States Navy, Naval Sea Systems Command

Fire Extinguishment
A Historical Perspective

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Broken Links

Thanks to Lieutenant Matt Leech of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue for letting me know that there are a number of broken links in my earlier blog posts. A fix is in the works and hopefully all links will be functional by next Monday.

Historical Perspective

While researching the Iowa Fire Flow Formula, I came across some interesting information (trivia?) related to the use of water fog for firefighting. In The Safe and Effective Use of Fog Nozzles: Research and Practice, John Bertrand and John Wiseman observed that fog nozzles have been in existence for more than 100 years.. Early versions of this type of nozzle were imported to the United States from Europe.

In 1924, Glenn Griswold, a firefighter from Colorado Springs moved to California and joined the newly formed Los Angeles County Fire Protection District. He quickly rose to the rank of Captain and was assigned to Station 17 in Santa Fe Springs. Captain Griswold applied his prior education as a hydraulic engineer to the practice of firefighting and experimented with development of a nozzle to break water into small droplets. Eventually he patented the design under the name Fog Nozzle.

Subsequent innovations in the design of combination nozzles resulted in nozzles that could maintain the same flow rate regardless of pattern, adjustable flow nozzles could be set to provide different flow rates while maintaining consistent flow for all patterns, and finally automatic nozzles that maintained a relatively constant nozzle pressure through a specific flow range.

However, there was a reference to the January 1877 issue of Scientific American in Nelsons Qualitative Fire Behavior that intrigued me. He stated that this article extolled the virture of little drops of water and the latent heat of steam and that it attempted to point out in a scientific manner that spray or fog nozzles could greatly increase the efficiency of the fire service.

I located a copy of the magazine in the archives of the Portland State University library. The article that Nelson referenced, was actually a letter to the editor written by Charles Oyston of Little Falls, NY.

Scientific American, January 1877

To the Editor of the Scientific American

In our issue of December 30, you recommend discharging water through perforated pipes in the form of spray for extinguishing fire. If water in the form of spray be a good extinguisher, as it undoubtedly is, as numbers of proofs exist in our factories and picker rooms, why do not our fire departments use it in that form in all cases where they can? Leaving firemen to answer that question, I will proceed to adduce a few facts in support of the theory that a spray is the true method of applying water wherever the burning object can be reached by it.

Water operates, in extinguishing fire, by absorbing the heat and reducing the temperature of the burning substance so low that fire cannot exist; and as the amount of heat that water will absorb depends on the amount of surface of water in contact with the fire, the more surface we can cover with a given amount of water the better. As flame is the principle propagator of fire, to arrest it is the first thing to do; and as it is more than three thousand times lighter than water, and in most cases a mere shell or curtain, a fraction of an inch thick, the extreme absurdity of trying to subdue it with solid streams of water will be apparent. If a man in the character of a sportsman were to fire an inch ball into a flock of humming birds, with the intention of killing as many as possible, he would be regarded as a fool; but if he were to melt the inch ball up, and cast it into shot one thirtieth of an inch in diameter, he would have twenty-seven thousand such shot, and their aggregate surface would be thirty times greater than the inch ball. If he were to load his gun with this shot and fire into the flock, at proper distance, the slaughter of the little beauties would be terrible; and if a fireman would divide up his stream into spray, so that he could cover thirty times more flame, he might expect a corresponding result. The globules of water would be so small that a large portion of them would be heated through and converted into steam; and as steam contains five more heat (latent) than boiling water, we gain a great advantage in this. Steam is also an excellent extinguisher, and this is an additional advantage. As a large portion of this water is converted into steam when applied in the form of a pray, a small amount serves, and the damage by water is very small.

If the first two engines that reached the burning Brooklyn theater could throw five hundred gallons of water each minute, and divide every cubic inch of water into sixty thousand drops, in two minutes the smoke and heat would have been sufficiently subdued to have enabled outsiders to enter and rescue the unfortunate inmates. I am well aware that this statement may seem extremely absurd to firemen who have never experimented in this line; but before they condemn it, let them take out a couple of engines and try the experiment. The barbarous system now in use that so frequently desolates portions of our cities, fills our houses with mourning and our cemeteries with new-made graves, must give way to the dictates of Science. Humanity demands it, and I call on the scientists and chemists throughout the land to aid in introducing this needed reform.

Little Falls, N.Y. Charles Oyston
Scientific American Vol. XXXVI No. 4, Page 52
January 27, 1817

The Rest of the Story

Oyston does not mention that he holds a patent for a device called Improvement in Nozzles which used a series of movable hooks inside a relatively standard solid stream nozzle to create a broken stream pattern of broken droplets. In the Fire Stream Management Handbook, David Fornell astutely observes that attempting to introduce change in the 19th century was apparently as difficult as it is today.

While it is obvious that Oyston is not a firefighter or fire protection engineer with a sound understanding of the tactical applications of straight streams and water fog in firefighting operations, he did have a reasonable grasp of the basic physics involved in the use of cooling for fire control and extinguishment.

His call for scientists and chemists to weigh in on the issue resonated strongly with me as firefighters stand across a chasm from scientists, engineers, and researchers. Much progress has been made in this regard in other nations such as Sweden and in the US by the work of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and others. However, this integration of science with the practical experience of firefighting needs to continue and be expanded.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

Estimating Required Fire Flow:
The Iowa Formula

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

As discussed in Estimating Required Fire Flow: The National Fire Academy Formula, there are a number of ways to estimate required (total) fire flow or tactical rate of flow (required for fire attack). This post examines the groundbreaking work of Keith Royer’s and Floyd W. (Bill) Nelson’s work in development of a method to identify the volume and flow of water necessary for fire control with water fog.

The fire service often accepts (or rejects) concepts, theories, and practices based on what is written in training manuals, trade magazines, or presented by well known speakers. Others take the message and pass it along, trying to improve or simplify the message. Much can be lost in the translation. While we are strongly influenced by tradition, we occasionally forget history, and valuable work that was done by our predecessors is forgotten or misinterpreted. This is particularly true in the case with regard to Royer’s and Nelson’s volume and rate of flow formulas.

Origins of the Iowa Formula

In 1951, Keith Royer and Floyd W. (Bill) Nelson were hired by Iowa State University to manage the Engineering Extension Service Firemanship Training Program. Royer and Nelson both became involved in the Exploratory Committee on the Application of Water, a research team comprised of fire service, fire protection engineering, and fire insurance representatives. The principal work of the Exploratory Committee was investigation of the use of water fog for firefighting.

One critical question faced by Royer and Nelson was how much water was necessary to control a fire with water fog? In his book Qualitative Fire Behavior (1989), Nelson observed: “In principle, firefighting is very simple. All one needs to do is put the right amount of water in the right place and the fire is controlled.” Royer and Nelson recognized that heat release from the fire must be balanced by the energy required to heat water to its boiling point and change it to steam. Through their research, they discovered that too little or too much water was considerably less effective than the right amount.

Note: While math is considerably simpler when using standard international (SI) units, Royer and Nelson did their work in traditional units (e.g., feet, gallons, British thermal units, degrees Fahrenheit). For now, I will stick with traditional units to illustrate how the Iowa Formula was developed. Safe and Effective Use of Fog Nozzles: Research and Practice (Wiseman & Bertrand, 2003) includes adaptation of the formula to the use of SI units.

Based on the results of their research on extinguishing compartment fires, Royer and Nelson developed the following formula to determine the volume of water (in gallons) required to control a fire in a given size compartment.

Iowa Volume Formula

Royer and Nelson based this formula on the following two concepts:

  1. Water converted to steam expands at a ratio of 1700:1, as a result one gallon of water (0.13 ft3) produces 221 ft3 of steam. However, in practical application it is unlikely that all of the water would be converted to steam. Royer and Nelson estimated the efficiency of this conversion at 90%, resulting in production of 198.9 ft3 of steam per gallon. They rounded this value to 200 to simplify calculation.
  2. In 1955 the Factory Mutual Laboratories determined that oxidization of ordinary fuel with 1 ft3 of oxygen (at standard temperature and pressure) resulted in release of 535 British thermal units (Btu) of energy. Based on an atmospheric oxygen concentration of 21% and substantive reduction or cessation of flaming combustion at 15% concentration, Royer and Nelson estimated that seven percent (of atmospheric concentration of oxygen) was available to support flaming combustion. This led them to estimate that combustion of ordinary fuel with 1 ft3 of air would result in release of 37 Btu. Combustion of ordinary fuel with 200 ft3 of air (would therefore release 7,400 Btu. One gallon of water, raised from a temperature of 62o F to 212o F and completely converted to steam will absorb 9330 Btu. As with their calculation for steam production, an efficiency factor of 90% can be applied, resulting in absorption of 8397 Btu. This illustrates that a single gallon of water converted to steam will absorb the energy released by combustion of ordinary fuel with 200 ft3 of air.

Note: There are a few problems in using volume when discussing the energy released based on the quantity of oxygen or air in the combustion reaction. Chief of which is the variation in volume based on temperature. It would be more appropriate to speak to the mass of oxygen or air. However, Royer and Nelson based their approach on volume, so we will follow this line of reasoning (recognizing that while it is simple to understand, it has significant limitations).

Royer and Nelson used these concepts to support their formula to determine the volume of water required to control a fire with water fog.

Volume and Flow Rate

The volume formula, while a good start, still did not identify the required flow rate. The required volume could be delivered over various periods of time and still control the fire. If water was applied over a one minute period, the volume formula could be used to determine flow rate directly. However, Royer and Nelson estimated if water was applied in the right place, most fires could be controlled (but not necessarily extinguished) with water fog in less than 30 seconds. Given this timeframe, the volume formula translated into the rate of flow formula as follows:

Iowa Flow Formula

Limitations

The Iowa Rate of Flow Formula is designed to estimate the flow rate required to control a fire in a single open area of a building with a 30 second application of water fog. This approach requires foreknowledge of the building and made the Iowa rate of flow formula most suited for preplanning, rather than tactical application.

That said, this does not mean that you cannot apply this formula (or its concepts) tactically based on the estimated area of involvement in a building that has limited compartmentation (e.g., multiple, interconnected compartments, open doors, unprotected shafts). However, it is essential to remember that Royer and Nelson based their formula on a 30 second application (potentially from multiple points) outside the compartment, and not working your way from compartment to compartment as is typically done in offensive, interior firefighting operations.

Additional Considerations

The concept that water applied to the fire compartment will turn to steam and fill the space, displacing air and hot smoke is a foundational principle of the indirect and combination attack as discussed by Lloyd Layman, Keith, Royer and Bill Nelson. This physical reaction is also commonly accepted as fact within the fire service. However, the science is a bit more complicated.

Royer and Nelson are correct in assuming that at its boiling point water converted to steam will expand 1700 times and not increase in temperature. However, water converted to steam while passing through the hot gas layer does not increase the total volume of gas and vapor in the space. The expansion of steam is more than counterbalanced by contraction of the hot gas layer due to cooling. On the other hand, water that passes through the hot gas layer (without taking energy from the gases) and converts to steam on contact with compartment linings (walls, ceiling) results in addition of the volume of steam to the volume of air and smoke in the compartment. This is not commonly understood and will be the subject of a later post. Steam formed at 212o F (100o C) can continue to absorb energy if the temperature of the fire environment is above 212o F (100o C) and will continue to expand (while the hot gases correspondingly contract).

One of the fundamental assumptions central to the Iowa formula is that the oxygen available to the fire is limited to that contained within the volume of the fire compartment. However, this is unlikely. If smoke is visible, ventilation (i.e., exchange of the atmosphere in the compartment with outside air) is taking place to some extent. In addition, if the compartment is not totally isolated from the remainder of the building, air track (movement of smoke and air) will provide additional oxygen to the fire. However, Royer and Nelson did identify an extremely important and often overlooked point. The Iowa tests showed that the heat release rate from actual compartment fires was less than the value based on the potential heat release from the fuel involved due to limitations in ventilation.

In a compartment fire, heat release rate is often (except in the incipient and early growth stage) limited by ventilation. One of the most important lessons that can be learned from Royer’s and Nelson’s work is that the flow rate and volume of water required for fire control is related not only to the method of attack, but also to the ventilation profile of the compartment or building involved.

Building on the Past

The National Fire Academy Fire Flow Formula (see Estimating Required Fire Flow: The National Fire Academy Formula) is based on synthesis of the experience of a group of experienced fire officers. On the other hand, the Iowa Formula is based on analysis of extensive empirical evidence developed during live fire tests. These formula each have different assumptions and are designed for different purposes. However, both provide useful information if they are used as intended. Future posts will examine the topic of fire flow from an international perspective, looking at the approaches taken by Cliff Barnett from New Zealand and my colleague Paul Grimwood from the United Kingdom.

For more information on Fire Flow, visit Paul Grimwood’s website www.fire-flows.com. Paul has amassed a tremendous amount of information on this topic from around the world.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

Estimating Required Fire Flow:
The National Fire Academy Formula

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Application of the appropriate flow rate is critical to fire control. However, how can we estimate the flow rate that is necessary?

There are a number of methods that can be used to estimate or calculate required flow rate for fire control. One method is to simply use your experience (which may work quite well if you have been to a large number of fires and paid attention to flow rate). However, if you do not have a large base of experience to draw on or need to apply flow rate estimation in a preplanning context, other methods are necessary. One of the most common methods used in the United States is the National Fire Academy (NFA) Fire Flow Formula.

Development of the NFA Formula

In the mid 1980s the development team for the National Fire Academy Field course Preparing for Incident Command developed this formula to provide a simple method for estimating the flow requirements for offensive, interior operations where a direct attack was used to control and extinguish the fire.

Interestingly enough the NFA Fire Flow Formula is not based on science (at least not physical science). The developers tapped into another valid source of information, knowledge of experienced fire officers.

The course developers designed a number of plot and floor plans showing different sizes of building with different configurations (e.g., rooms, doors, windows) with varied levels of involvement. These drawings were distributed to students attending the academy and they were asked how their fire department would control the fire (with the emphasis on the number, placement, and flow rate of hoselines).

There are three major parameters used for the scenarios based on these plot and floor plans.

  • All scenarios were designed to involve offensive, interior firefighting operations and as such, fire involvement was limited to 50% or less of the total floor area of the building.
  • Operations were to be conducted as they normally would, with initial operations started by the first arriving company and additional tactics implemented as resources arrive.
  • Primary search and ventilation tactics would be performed concurrently with fire control operations.

The student’s responses were collected and analyzed. For each scenario, when the floor area of the involved area in square feet (ft2) was divided by the total flow rate in gallons per minute (gpm) for all hoselines used for attack, backup, and exposure protection; the average result was three. Turning this around, flow rate in gpm can be determined by dividing the area of involvement in ft2 by three.

In that the exterior of the building can be determined more easily than the area of involvement, the formula was adapted to determine the flow rate based on building size and approximate percentage of involvement as illustrated below:

NFA Base Fire Flow Formula

Note: This method does not translate easily into standard international (SI), simply converted the formula would be lpm = M2/0.07.

The course development team extended the application of this formula to include estimated flow required for exposure protection by adding 25% of the flow rate required for fire control (as determined by the basic formula) for each exposure. The full formula as used in preplan development is as follows:

NFA Full Fire Flow Formula

The development team believed that this formula would also be applicable to defensive attack for levels of involvement above 50%. However, this was not validated using the same type of methodology as used to develop the base fire flow formula.

Limitations

It is important to remember the limitations of this fire flow estimation method:

  • The NFA Fire Flow Formula is designed for offensive, interior operations involving direct attack.
  • The formula becomes increasingly inaccurate if the level of involvement exceeds 50% or the resulting flow is greater than 1,000 gpm.
  • This method is not designed for defensive, master stream operations (even though the developers believed that it would provide a reasonable estimate of required flow rate for defense.
  • The formula is based on area, not volume. If the ceiling height exceeds 10’, the flow rate may be underestimated.
  • The NFA Formula does not take into account the potential heat release rate of the fuel. Fuel with extremely high heat release rate may require a higher flow rate
  • The developers of the NFA Formula made the assumption that the building was well ventilated (tactically). Increased ventilation can (if the fire is initially ventilation controlled) result in increased heat release rate.
  • It may be tough to do the math at 0200 hours when faced with a rapidly developing fire! This method is best used in advance of the fire when developing preplans or working on tactical problems

Total Versus Tactical Rate of Flow

The most common application error is the belief that the formula determines the flow rate required for fire attack. This is incorrect! The formula determines the total flow rate required for attack, backup, and exposure protection lines. Use of this formula to determine the flow rate for the initial attack line (or lines) will greatly overestimate the required tactical rate of flow.

As discussed in It’s the GPM! and Choose your Weapon Part I, substantially exceeding the required tactical rate of flow has diminishing returns on speed of extinguishment and substantially increases the amount of water used. If excessive, water that is not used efficiently (i.e., turned to steam) increases fire control damage).

Using the NFA Base Fire Flow Formula (no exposures), roughly half of the flow rate is used for attack lines and the remainder is used for backup lines. The NFA formula provides an excellent method for estimating total flow rate requirements (which impacts on water supply and resource requirements). However, it must be adjusted (reduced by half) to determine the tactical rate of flow necessary for direct attack on the fire.

Other Approaches

As outlined in this post, the NFA Fire Flow Formula is intended for estimating the total flow rate required when making a direct attack and has a number of specific parameters that must be considered. Prior to introduction of the NFA formula, the Iowa Fire Flow Formula developed by Floyd W. (Bill) Nelson and Keith Royer. The Iowa Formula was developed quite differently, has substantially different assumptions, and will be the subject of my next post.

For more information on Fire Flow, visit my colleague Paul Grimwood’s website www.fire-flows.com. Paul has amassed a tremendous amount of information on this topic from around the world.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

Pennsylvania Duplex Fire LODD
Analysis of NIOSH Recommendations

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Applying NIOSH Recommendations

NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty reports generally contain two types of recommendations, those that focus on specific contributory factors and others that address general good practice. As when examining contributory factors, it is important to read the NIOSH recommendations critically. Do you agree or disagree and why? What would you change and what additional recommendations would you make based on the information presented in the report?

Brief Review of the Incident

NIOSH Report F2008-06 examines a fire in a wood frame duplex that resulted in injury to Lieutenant Scott King and the death of Firefighter Brad Holmes of the Pine Township Engine Company. The fire occurred on February 29, 2008 in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

When the fire department arrived, the unit on Side D was substantially involved and a female occupant was reported trapped in the building. Initial operations focused on fire control and primary search of Exposure B. Rapid fire development trapped Lieutenant King and Firefighter Holmes while they were searching Floor 2 of Exposure B.

The following photographs are part of a series of 37 pictures taken during this incident and provided to NIOSH investigators during their investigation.

PA Duplex Fire Photo 1

PA Duplex Fire Photo 2

PA Duplex Fire Photo 3

PA Duplex Fire Photo 4

Additional detail on this incident is provided in Developing & Using Case Studies: Pennsylvania Duplex Fire Line of Duty Death (LODD) and Pennsylvania Duplex Fire: Firefighting & Firefighter Rescue Operations . In addition, readers should review NIOSH Report F2008-06.

Recommendations

NIOSH Report F2008-06 contains 11 recommendations. Several of these recommendations are well grounded in the contributory factors identified in the report. Others have a more indirect relationship to the factors influencing the injury to Lieutenant King and death of Firefighter Holmes.

Recommendation #1: Fire departments should be prepared to use alternative water supplies during cold temperatures in areas where hydrants are prone to freezing.

In preparation for potential issues, fire departments should develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for temporary water sources to be dispatched like tankers, water shuttles, or portable drop tanks.

While this recommendation is valid and good practice, it has little to do with loss of water as a contributory and likely causal factor in the injury to Lieutenant King and death of Firefighter Holmes. Had Command been notified immediately of the frozen hydrant and implemented alternate water supply strategies, the outcome would have likely been the same if tank water had been used as it was in this incident to sustain initial operations.

However, it is critical for fire departments to have a plan to respond to respond to water supply problems. In this case, apparatus had substantial tank water which was used to support initial firefighting operations. In addition, there was sufficient hose available on first alarm companies to stretch to other hydrants (such as the one eventually used east of Garden Avenue on Craig Street). Use of a reverse lay to establish water supply allows the apparatus operator to continue the lay to the next hydrant (hose capacity permitting) or another apparatus to continue the lay and establish a relay. Depending on the distance to the next operational water source, this could be considerably more efficient and rapid than waiting for greater alarm resources to establish a tender shuttle.

Recommendation #2: Fire departments should ensure that search and rescue crews advance or are protected with a charged hoseline.

This recommendation is critical. However, the discussion fails to speak to the need for backup lines to protect the means of egress when crews are working above the fire. Recent incidents in Loudoun County, Virginia and Sacramento California, resulted in crews with a hoseline working above the fire without a backup line having their hose burn through, and means of egress cut off, necessitating emergency egress via second floor windows.

Recommendation #3: Fire departments should ensure fire fighters are trained in the tactics of a defensive search.

While training in search under marginal circumstances is important, this recommendation fails to speak to the need to understand fire behavior and applied fire dynamics as a foundation for maintaining situational awareness on the fireground. This applies to command personnel, company officers, and individual firefighters. While there are a number of points in the sequence of events that lead to Lieutenant King’s injury and Firefighter Holmes’s death, all are dependent on this. Failure to recognize the potential for extension and rapid fire progress, the influence of creating ventilation openings on Floor 2, and recognition of developing fire conditions were likely the most significant causal factor in this incident. Had this not been the case, the firefighters and officers involved would have had the opportunity to adjust their tactical operations or exit the building prior to the occurrence of the extreme fire behavior that trapped the search team.

NIOSH Report F2008-06 quotes Deputy Chief Vincent Dunn regarding flashover indicators:

There are two warning signs that may precede flashover: heat mixed with smoke and rollover. When heat mixes with smoke, it forces a fire fighter to crouch down on his hands and knees… As mentioned above, rollover presages flashover.

This statement is scientifically incorrect. Heat is simply energy in transit due to temperature difference. It is not a substance and cannot mix with anything else. Increasing temperature is an indicator of potential for flashover, but perception of a rapid increase in temperature is not certain to give adequate warning to take corrective action or escape from the hazardous situation. In addition, rollover does not always precede flashover (it is an important indicator, but only one of many).

The report also quotes Chief Dunn regarding defensive search tactics.

Three defensive search tactics are as follows:

  1. At a door to a burning room that may flashover, fire fighters should check behind the door to the room and sweep the floor near the doorway. Fire fighters should not enter the room until a hose line is in position.
  2. When there is a danger of flashover, fire fighters should not go beyond the “point of no return.” The point of no return is the maximum distance that a fully equipped fire fighter can crawl inside a superheated, smoke-filled room and still escape alive if a flashover occurs. The point of no return is approximately five feet inside a doorway or window.
  3. When searching from a ladder tip placed at a window, look for signs of rollover if one of the panes has been broken. If rollover is present, do not go through the window. Instead, crouch below the heat and sweep the interior area below the windowsill with a tool. If a victim has collapsed there, you may be able to crouch below the heat enough to pull him to safety.

While these tactics have validity, making for search without without protection of a hoseline even to Chief Dunn’s “point of no return” presents a significant risk. Further, I am uncertain that there is any scientific evidence supporting the concept of the point of no return as described by Chief Dunn. There are numerous examples of situations where firefighters thought they had time to complete a search, but were trapped by extremely rapid fire development. The risk of searching under marginal conditions requires firefighters to effectively read the fire and mitigate hazards in the fire environment through effective use of gas cooling and control of the ventilation profile (either tactical ventilation or anti-ventilation as appropriate) and establishing fire control in addition to primary search.

Recommendation #4: Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters conducting an interior search have a thermal imaging camera.

The thermal imaging camera is a tremendous technological innovation which can significantly speed search operations and provide visual indication of differences in thermal conditions. However, implementation of this recommendation would not necessarily have impacted on the outcome of this incident.

Recommendation #5: Fire departments should ensure ventilation is coordinated with interior fireground operations.

In the discussion of this recommendation, the NIOSH Report F2008-6 states “By eliminating smoke, heat, and gases from the fire it will help minimize flashover conditions”

This statement is not always true. The influence of ventilation on fire development is dependent on burning regime (fuel or ventilation controlled) and the location of the inlet and exhaust openings. Heat release rate from a ventilation controlled fire will increase as ventilation is increased, potentially taking the fire to flashover (rather than the reverse as indicated by the statement in this NIOSH report). In addition, creation of an air track that channels the spread of hot gases and flames to additional fuel packages can result in fire extension and subsequent flashover. Both of these factors were likely to have been significant in this incident. Coordination of ventilation and search or ventilation and fire attack (as frequently stated in NIOSH reports related to incidents involving extreme fire behavior) requires knowledge of fire dynamics and the influence of ventilation in fire behavior.

Recommendation #6: Fire departments should ensure that Mayday protocols are developed and followed.

This recommendation is important, but fails to address other individual level survival skills that must be integrated with these procedures. For example, in this incident, the Lieutenant and Firefighter might have been able to take refuge in one of the bedrooms, closing the door to provide a barrier to hot gases and flames. A ladder was initially placed to a window in the bedroom on Side B (in close proximity to the location where Firefighter Holmes was found). Ladders were subsequently placed to the bedroom windows on Side A. While it may have been difficult to accomplish this under conditions of extreme thermal insult, if developing conditions had been recognized soon enough (see my earlier observation on situational awareness), this may have bought critical seconds and allowed the trapped search team to escape or be rescued.

Recommendation #7: Fire departments should ensure that the Incident Commander receives pertinent information during the size-up (i.e., type of structure, number of occupants in the structure, etc.) from occupants on scene and that information is relayed to crews upon arrival.

Had the Incident Commander received more specific information from the occupants or law enforcement, this may have shifted focus in search operations as survivability in the original fire unit was doubtful. Despite this, the civilian casualty was later located outside the fire unit, behind the door in the front foyer that served both dwelling units.

Recommendation #8: Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters communicate interior conditions and progress reports to the Incident Commander.

This is a key element in maintaining situational awareness (on the part of the Incident Commander). However, it is equally important for Command to communicate with interior crews regarding conditions observed from the exterior or situations (such as water supply limitations) that will impact interior operations.

Recommendation #9: Fire departments should develop, implement, and enforce written standard operating procedures (SOPs) for fireground operations.

This recommendation focuses on general good practice, but is not tied to specific contributing factors related to the injuries and fatality that resulted in this incident. This type of recommendation should likely be included, but placed in a separate section so as not to dilute the focus on lessons learned.

Recommendation #10: Fire departments and municipalities should ensure that local citizens are provided with information on fire prevention and the need to report emergency situations as soon as possible to the proper authorities.

Recommendation #11: Building owners and occupants should install smoke detectors and ensure that they are operating properly.

If implemented prior to this incident, Recommendations #10 and #11 would likely have had a positive impact on its outcome, particularly with regards to the civilian casualty and the severity of conditions encountered by the firefighters.

However, these two recommendations do not go far enough. Citizens must also recognize the need for rapid egress and the value of closing doors to confine the fire and limit inlet of air required for continued fire development and increasing heat release rate.

Detailed Case Study

CFBT-US has developed a detailed case study based on this incident and the data contained in NIOSH Report F2008-06. Download the Grove City, Pennsylvania Residential (Duplex) Fire Case Study in PDF format.

Now What?

Over the last two weeks we have spent considerable time with a NIOSH Report F2008-06. NIOSH has completed 335 investigations during the first 8 years that this program has been in existence. 49 more investigations are pending. The information contained in these reports provides a vast reservoir of data that can be used to deepen understanding of your craft and improve decision-making and risk management skills.

Make a commitment to developing your expertise as a firefighter or fire officer in the new year and for the rest of your life. Look for the this logo (more information to follow)!

Master Your Craft

Have a safe and happy new year!

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO

Pennsylvania Duplex Fire LODD

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Special Thanks to NIOSH

I would like to extend my thanks to Steve Berardinelli and Tim Merinar of the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program for their assistance in developing the Case Study based on NIOSH Report F2008-06. Just prior to my first post regarding this incident, I forwarded a request for additional information to the NIOSH staff and received a quick response from Tim that he would forward my request to the investigators. This morning I had an excellent conversation with Steve and obtained additional information that was extremely helpful in refining the case.

I will be revising Developing & Using Case Studies: Pennsylvania Duplex Fire Line of Duty Death (LODD) and Pennsylvania Duplex Fire: Firefighting & Firefighter Rescue Operations based on additional information provided by NIOSH. Changes include addition of information related to the ventilation profile, initial fire conditions, and occupant actions.

Analysis and Critique

It is important to note that the observations in this post regarding the contributory factors identified in NIOSH Report F2008-06 are made as a critical friend. Most firefighters and fire officers who read this (or any) NIOSH report will agree with some of the recommendations, may disagree with others, and undoubtedly would make additional recommendations based on their individual assessment of the incident. Analysis of contributing factors and recommendations (rather than simply accepting them) is an important element in the learning process. Dig a bit deeper and build an understanding of why events may have unfolded the way that they did. Identify the critical points at which the outcome could have been changed (there are likely more than one). Think about how these recommendations might apply to you and your department.

As discussed in my earlier post; Criticism Versus Critical Thinking, the intent of this analysis and critique is to share what I have learned from this case, with all due respect to those involved. The firefighters and fire officers involved in this incident were faced with a difficult situation to begin with, having an occupant reported trapped in the building. This was compounded by challenging water supply problems due to multiple frozen hydrants. It is far easier to examine incident information in a comfortable environment with no time pressure than to deal with these issues in the cold, early morning hours.

My original intent was to examine both the contributory factors and recommendations in NIOSH Report F2008-06. However, due to length, this critique will be divided into two separate posts.

A Brief Review of the Incident

On February 29, 2008 The Grove City Fire Department, Pine Township Engine Company, and East End Fire Department responded to a fire in a two-story, wood frame duplex in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Initial dispatch information and the initial size-up indicated that a female occupant was trapped in the building. When the Chief and first engine company arrived, the unit on Side D was substantially involved with smoke in the unit on Side B. Several hoselines were placed into operation for fire control, but fire conditions precluded an offensive attack in the involved unit. Pine Township Engine 85 was assigned to search and rescue of the trapped occupant. Firefighter Brad Holmes and Lieutenant Scott King were tasked with primary search of Exposure Delta. Firefighting operations were hampered by two frozen hydrants, necessitating support of initial operations using only apparatus tank water while an operable hydrant was located. During their search, water supply was interrupted and rapidly deteriorating conditions trapped the search crew. After being rescued by the Rapid Intervention Team, both members were transported to Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital Burn Unit. Firefighter Brad Holmes had burns over 75% of his body, and died from his injuries on March 5, 2008. Lieutenant King suffered less serious injuries and was treated and released. A 44 year old female occupant of the dwelling also died.

Figure 1. 132 Garden Avenue-Side Alpha

Side A 0635 Hours

Note: Fire Department Photo – NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty Report F2008-06. This photo likely illustrates conditions after 0635 (approximately 19 minutes after arrival of the first fire unit, Chief 95).

Additional detail is provided in Developing & Using Case Studies: Pennsylvania Duplex Fire Line of Duty Death (LODD) and Pennsylvania Duplex Fire: Firefighting & Firefighter Rescue Operations. In addition, readers should review NIOSH Report F2008-06.

Contributory Factors

NIOSH Report F2008-06 identifies seven contributory factors in the injury of Lieutenant King and death of Firefighter Holmes. While each of these factors may have had some influence on the outcome of this incident, this analysis provides insufficient clarity and misses several key factors.

  • Inadequate water supply. Two hydrants in the vicinity of the burning structure were frozen from the cold weather.
  • The victim and injured Lieutenant did not have the protection of a charged hoseline during their search for the trapped occupant.
  • Inadequate training in defensive search tactics.
  • Non-use of a thermal imaging camera which may have allowed the search and rescue crew to advance more quickly through the structure.
  • Ventilation was not coordinated with the interior search.
  • Size-up information about the structure was not relayed to the interior search crew. The interior crew was searching in the wrong duplex for the trapped occupant and did not realize they were in a duplex.
  • The incident commander was unaware of the search crew’s location in the building. He did not receive any interior reports and was concentrating on resolving water supply issues.

Water Supply: The lack of a continuous water supply likely influenced the loss of the structure and loss of water supply to handlines was in all probability a causal factor in the injury of Lieutenant King and death of Firefighter Holmes. However, the volume of tank water available on apparatus that arrived prior to the search team becoming trapped on Floor 2 (5000 gallons) was likely adequate to support search of the uninvolved areas of the building and confine the fire to the unit of origin for the time required to search uninvolved areas of the building. Anticipation that a continuous water supply would be established may have influenced the tactics and water application used by initial arriving companies.

Protection of the Search Team: Failure to protect the search team with a hoseline was a significant factor in this incident. However, the outcome would likely have been the same if the search team had a hoseline as fire extended from below to cut off their means of egress. A backup line should also have been in place to protect the search team’s egress while they were working above the fire. There was an additional hoseline initially deployed to the doorway on Side A, however, the position and operation of this line while the search team was on Floor 2 was not specified in the report. Without additional tactical changes, the loss of water supply would have precluded effective hoseline support of search operations.

Training in Defensive Search Tactics: Identifying a lack of training in “defensive search tactics” is too narrowly focused. The issue here is significantly broader than stated in the report and should be restated as lack of situational awareness. This causal factor fails to identify the lack of situational awareness on the part of the search crew, the incident commander, and others on the fireground to developing and potential fire conditions and water supply limitations. This lack of situational awareness is likely due to inadequate training in fire behavior and applied fire dynamics (rather than simply inadequate training in defensive search tactics).

Use of a TIC: Undoubtedly effective use of a TIC can speed search operations. However the NIOSH report indicated that visibility was not excessively compromised during the initial stages of search on both floors 1 and 2. Reducing the time required to complete the search could have been influenced by use of a TIC, by assigning a separate crew to perform fire control on Floor 1 of Exposure B and allowing Firefighter Holmes and Lieutenant King to focus on primary search or by both of these actions. While technology may useful in improving firefighter safety, it is important to not simply look for a technological solution to a problem which can be substantively related to human factors such as situational awareness, communications, and decision-making.

Tactical Ventilation: The location, sequence, and lack of coordination in ventilation was likely a causal factor (along with failure to protect the means of egress with a hoseline and loss of water supply) in the injury to Lieutenant King and death of Firefighter Holmes. Creation of exhaust openings above the fire created a clear path of travel for hot gases and flames from Floor 1 to Floor 2 via the interior stairs and increased air supply to a fire which was likely ventilation controlled (resulting in an increase in heat release rate (HRR) sufficient to result in flashover. This contributory factor also points to the need for training on the influence of tactical operations (particularly ventilation) on fire behavior.

Communication of Size-Up Information: Size-up information related to the building and possible victim location could have been a significant factor in focusing the location of the search. However, the civilian occupant was not in either unit, but was located (after fire control) behind the door in the foyer. If it was known that the trapped occupant was from the fire unit, it may have appeared that there was no savable life (due to the extent of fire involvement). But this does not preclude the assumption that she may have been confused and gone into the other unit.

Note: There is some difference of opinion between the fire investigator and operational personnel as to the likely location of the victim prior to structural collapse. It is possible that the victim died on Floor 2 of the fire unit and fell to the position where she was found due to structural collapse.

Accountability and Situation Status: Accountability and communication of situation status is critical to the safety of everyone operating on the fireground. Clear communication in advance of the loss of water supply could have influenced the outcome of this incident. When operating off tank water, it is essential to follow a similar philosophy as the Rule of Air Management and retain sufficient water to exit from the hazardous environment. However, it does not appear that the lack of accountability regarding the search team significantly delayed the rescue effort.

My next post will examine the recommendations made in NIOSH Report F-2008-06 and will provide a link to a detailed, written case study based on this incident in PDF format.

Happy Holidays,
Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

Pennsylvania Duplex Fire LODD
Firefighting & Firefighter Rescue Operations

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

This post continues examination of NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty Report F2008-06. My previous post, Developing & Using Case Studies: Pennsylvania Duplex Fire Line of Duty Death (LODD) emphasized the importance of case studies to individual and organizational learning and presented initial information about the incident which resulted in injury to Lieutenant Scott King and the death of Firefighter Brad Holmes of Pine Township Engine Company.

Figure 1. 132 Garden Avenue-Side Alpha

Side A 0635 Hours

Note: Fire Department Photo – NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty Report F2008-06. This photo likely illustrates conditions after 0635 (approximately 19 minutes after arrival of the first fire unit, Chief 95).

Firefighting Operations

Command assigned Engine 95 (officer and five firefighters) to fire suppression. They deployed a 1-3/4″ (45 mm) line to the door on Side A, but were unable to make entry due to the volume of fire in the involved unit. Engine 95 also deployed a 2-1/2″ (64 mm) handline to the A/D corner. Both lines were immediately placed into operation. NIOSH Report F2008-06 indicated that the 1-3/4″ line stretched to the door on Side A was “unable to make entry due to heavy fire conditions”. However, exact placement and operation of the 2-1/2” handline was not specified. This line may have been used to protect Exposure D (a wood frame dwelling approximately 20′ from the fire unit), for defensive fire attack through first floor windows, or both.

Figure 2. Fire Unit and Exposure Bravo Floor 1

Floor 1 Plan

Note: This floor plan is based on data provided in NIOSH Report F2008-06 and is not drawn to scale. Windows shown as open are based on the narrative or photographic evidence. Door position is as shown based on information provided by NIOSH Investigator Steve Berardinelli (this differs from the NIOSH report which includes the fire investigators rough sketch showing all doors open). Windows shown as intact are not visible in the available photographs, but may be open due to fire effects or firefighting operations (particularly those in the fire unit).

Second due, Engine 95-2 performed a forward lay from a nearby hydrant and supplied Engine 95 with tank water while waiting for the supply line to be charged.

Engine 85 (chief, lieutenant, and three firefighters) was assigned to primary search and rescue of the trapped occupant. Tasked to conduct primary search in Exposure B, Firefighter Holmes and Lieutenant King were performed a 360o reconnaissance prior to making entry. While this was being done other members of the company placed a ladder to a window on Floor 2 Side B (see Figure 3). The NIOSH Report does not specify if the search team was aware of ladder placement.

The Officer of Engine 95 vented the window on Floor 1 Side A of Exposure Bravo and observed that the ceiling light was on (indicating that there was limited optical density of the smoke on Floor 1 of the exposure). Firefighter Holmes and Lieutenant King entered through this window (see Figure 2) to conduct primary search of the exposure and observed that the temperature was low and there was limited smoke on Floor 1. Engine 95 passed the search team a 1-3/4″ (45 mm) handline through the window and the search team knocked down visible fire extension and completed their search of the first floor. At this point, Firefighter Holmes and Lieutenant King left the hoseline on Floor 1, went up the stairs to Floor 2 and began a left hand search.

Figure 3. Fire Unit and Exposure Bravo Floor 2

Floor 2 Plan

Note: See the prior comments regarding windows and door position.

The Officer of Engine 95 noticed that the search crew had finished their search on the first floor and were advancing to the second floor. He placed a ladder and broke the window on Floor 2, Side A (See Figure 3). He stated that there was not much heat on the second floor because the plastic insulation on the window was not melted, but he did notice heavy black smoke beginning to bank down. The NIOSH Report did not specify the depth of the hot gas layer (down from the ceiling) or the air track at the window that was vented or Floor 1 openings (windows and door).

The hydrant that Engine 95-2 laid in from was frozen as was the hydrant several houses beyond the fire buildingFirst alarm companies used tank water to support initial firefighting operations. The crew from Engine 95-2 began to hand stretch a 3″ line to a working hydrant on a nearby cross street.

After Firefighter Holmes and Lieutenant King partially completed their search of Floor 2, Lieutenant King’s air supply was at one half and Firefighter Holmes was unsure of his air status, so the Lieutenant decided to exit. At approximately the same time, Engine 95 ran out of water and the Command ordered companies to abandon the building with Engine 85 sounding its air horn as an audible signal to do so. The Accountability Officer called for a Personnel Accountability Report (PAR), but received no response from Lieutenant King or Firefighter Holmes.

Almost immediately after Engine 95 ran out of water, conditions changed rapidly decreasing visibility and increasing temperature on Floor 2 of Exposure B and fire involvement of Floors 1 and 2 of both units. With deteriorating conditions on the second floor, Lieutenant King became disoriented and separated from Firefighter Holmes. He radioed for help at 0638 hours. “Help! Help! Help! I’m trapped on the second floor!” In a second radio transmission, Lieutenant King indicated he was at a window on Side D.

Firefighter Rescue Operations

After hearing radio traffic that the search crew could not find their way out and they were by a window the Engine 95 officer accessed a window on Side B Floor 2 (using a ladder previously placed by Engine 85-2). He broke out the window to increase ventilation and attempt contact with the search team.

A crew from Engine 77 was tasked as a second search team and preparing for entry when the IC ordered companies to withdraw. However, when they heard the Lieutenant’s call for help, they immediately went to Side D, not seeing the Lieutenant at the window, they continued to Side B. The officer from Engine 77 climbed the ladder they had placed earlier to attempt contact with the initial search team. There was heavy black smoke coming from this window, but no fire. He straddled the window sill attempting to hear any movement, a PASS device, or voices. He banged on the window sill as an audible signal to the search team, but received no response. He also attempted to locate the search team using a TIC, however, it malfunctioned.

Flames now pushing out the first floor windows of both the unit originally involved in fire as well as Exposure B. Lieutenant King managed to find his way to the staircase, stumbled down the stairs and out the door on Side A. His protective clothing was severely damaged and smoldering. He collapsed in the front yard and told the other firefighters that the victim was trapped on the second floor. The RIT (R87) made entry supported by a hoseline operated from the entry point by Engine 85-2. Firefighter Holmes was located approximately 10′ (3 m) from the top of the stairs (as illustrated in Figure 3). He was semi-conscious and on his hands and knees. The RIT removed Firefighter Holmes via the stairway to Side A. Lieutenant King and Firefighter Holmes were transported to a local hospital where they were stabilized prior to transport to the Mercy Hospital’s Burn Unit in Pittsburgh.

Questions

The following questions provide a basis for examining the second segment of this case study. While limited information is provided in the case, this is similar to an actual incident in that you seldom have all of the information you want.

  1. What was the stage of fire development and burning regime in the fire unit when the search team entered the exposure?
  2. What Building, Smoke, Air Track, Heat, and Flame (B-SAHF) indictors can be observed in Figure 1?
  3. What was the stage of fire development and burning regime in Exposure B when the search team entered?
  4. What type of extreme fire behavior event occurred in the exposure, trapping Firefighter Holmes and Lieutenant King? What leads you to this conclusion?
  5. What were the likely causal and contributing factors that resulted in occurrence of the extreme fire behavior that entrapped the Firefighter Holmes and Lieutenant King?
  6. What self-protection actions might the search team have taken once conditions on Floor 2 of Exposure B began to become untenable?
  7. What action could have been taken to reduce the potential for extreme fire behavior and maintain tenable conditions in Exposure B during primary search operations?
  8. What was the tactical rate of flow for full involvement of a single unit in this building? (The tactical rate of flow is the flow required for fire control and does not include the flow rate for backup lines.)
  9. What factors may have influenced the limited effectiveness of the 1-3/4” and 2-1/2” attack lines deployed by Engine 95?
  10. What tactical options might have improved the effectiveness of fire control operations given the available water supply?

My next post will examine the contributing factors and recommendations made in NIOSH Death in the Line of Duty Report F2008-06 and will include a link to a more detailed written case study of this incident in PDF format.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

Choose Your Weapon: Part 2
Fire Stream Effectiveness & Efficiency

Monday, December 1st, 2008

This post continues my examination of fire stream effectiveness and efficiency with a look at factors influencing nozzle selection and a recap of factors influencing the effectiveness and efficiency of fire streams.

LT Bob Shovald’s article Improving Preconnect Function and Operation in the October issue of Fire Engineering magazine and FF Armand Guzzi’s article Analysis of Effective Fire Streams-Part I published on Firehouse.com advocated the use of high flow handlines equipped with low pressure nozzles. As pointed out in my previous posts It’s the GPM and Choose Your Weapon: Part I, flow rate is critical and nozzle reaction is an important consideration, but there is a bit more to this puzzle.

Nozzle Selection

In the conclusion of his article, FF Guzzi states that “nozzle reaction should be a primary factor in determining what flows are needed by the department” [emphasis added]. I disagree. Heat release rate of the fire determines what flow rate is required. Nozzle reaction is one factor in determining the flow rate that a particular crew can deliver.

LT Shovald and FF Guzzi place a high priority on low nozzle reaction in the selection of low pressure nozzles for handline operations. However, when gas cooling is used to address the three dimensional threat presented by the hot gas layer in a compartment fire, low pressure nozzles are considerably less effective and efficient than those using a higher pressure. As illustrated in the following photo, use of nozzles having a 100 psi (700 kPa) nozzle pressure results in small droplets (0.3 mm average diameter) that have excellent hang time allowing effective cooling of the hot gas layer.

Croatian Firefighters Practice Gas Cooling Nozzle Technique

Croatian Firefighters Practice Gas Cooling

In addition, when adjusted to straight stream, these nozzles also provide effective penetration and reach within the context of offensive, interior firefighting operations.

Good hose handling skills and nozzle technique allow a two person crew to work effectively with 1-3/4″ (45 mm) to 2″ (50 mm) handlines with flow rates up to 200 gpm (760 lpm) for offensive, interior firefighting operations (even with a nozzle pressure of 100 psi (700 kPa)). However, the flow rate required is often less than the upper end of the flow range. For example, when working in a compartmented residential fire, effective cooling of the hot gas layer can frequently be quite effectively accomplished with of a flow of 30 gpm (115 lpm) to 60 gpm (230 lpm). How can we address these diverse flow requirements during firefighting operations?

Both variable flow and automatic nozzles can be used effectively to adjust flow rate based on tactical requirements. However, this task is accomplished through somewhat different methods.

Automatic Nozzle: An automatic nozzle varies flow through a specified range using a variable orifice controlled by a spring to maintain nozzle pressure in a narrow range. For example, a nozzle such as the Task Force Tips mid-force nozzle has a flow range of 70 gpm (265 lpm) to 200 gpm (760 lpm). At 70 gpm (265 lpm) the nozzle pressure is approximately 85 psi (593 kPa). As flow increases towards the upper end of the flow range, the orifice size becomes larger and nozzle pressure increases slightly. For example, at a nozzle pressure of approximately 110 psi (758 kPa) the TFT mid-force nozzle reaches its maximum designed flow of 200 gpm (760 lpm). The apparatus operator determines the maximum flow rate by setting the line pressure at the pump. The nozzle operator can achieve that flow rate by opening the nozzle fully or can use a lower flow rate (while still maintaining correct nozzle pressure) by only opening the nozzle part way.

TFT Mid-Force Nozzle Pressure and Flow Rate

TFT Flow Rate and Nozzle Pressure

However, as illustrated in the preceding graph, the nozzle pressure at the lower end of the flow range is lower (with resulting larger droplet size). Performance of automatic nozzles is best when the nozzle pressure is at or above 100 psi.

Variable Flow Nozzle: Variable flow nozzles also have a variable size orifice. However, with this type of nozzle changes in orifice size must be made manually. Most users don’t change the flow rate. However, pumping the line for the maximum desired flow and then reducing flow rate at the nozzle provides an excellent performance. Unlike the automatic, nozzle pressure does not remain the same when flow rate is reduced. Reducing flow rate while maintaining the same discharge pressure increases nozzle pressure. However, as flow rate is reduced, nozzle reaction does not increase (and in many cases is substantially less). This is because nozzle reaction is influenced to a far greater extent by flow rate than nozzle pressure. The other advantage of using this approach to flow control is that the lower flow rate (usually used for gas cooling) at higher nozzle pressure produces extremely small droplets which are highly efficient at absorbing energy in the hot gas layer. On the down side, variable flow nozzles are slightly more complex to operate as there is a separate control for flow rate.

Things to Think About

Selection of hoseline diameter and nozzle design involves consideration of multiple factors. Each fire department must consider their particular circumstances in making these decisions. Remember that there is more than one way to safely and effectively achieve fire control. As Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, first chief of the Metropolitan London Fire Brigade observed in 1876:

From the remotest periods of antiquity to the present time, the business of extinguishing fires has attracted a certain amount of attention; but is a most curious fact that, even now, there is so little method in it in that it is a very rare circumstance to find any two countries, or even any to cities in one country, adopting the same means, or calling their appliances by the same name.

It is essential that firefighters and fire officers understand both fire dynamics and the tools of their craft. When evaluating effectiveness and efficiency, keep the following key points in mind:

  • Each type of nozzle has different performance characteristics and will perform well under specific conditions and less optimally under others.
  • No single nozzle will perform well under all conditions
  • Flow rate is a critical factor in fire control, but a higher flow rate will not always provide more effective and efficient performance
  • Low nozzle pressure provides less nozzle reaction but results in larger droplet size
  • Higher nozzle pressure provides smaller droplet size but results in higher nozzle reaction
  • Smaller droplets are more effective at cooling the hot gas layer
  • Large droplets penetrate well and are effective at cooling hot surfaces
  • Effective and efficient fire streams put water on target in the correct form and at an appropriate flow rate based on heat release rate of the fire
  • Weight of the hoseline, flexibility, and nozzle reaction have significant impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of hoseline deployment.

Web Site Additions

CFBT-US has been working on a glossary of terms that are important to CFBT Instructors and other students of fire behavior. This is a work in progress, but have a look and feel free to provide your input or feedback on what we have accomplished so far. A link to the is provided on the CFBT-US Resources page.

In addition to the glossary, a link to the Fire Behavior Indicators Concept Map (version 5.2.1) has also been posted on the CFBT-US Resources” page.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO