Fire Dynamics for the Fire Service

I attended this event yesterday at NIST and was very impressed. There were many members from Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince William counties. I also saw a few of us from PG and DC and out-of-towners as well. A lot of the information presented was the prologue to the PPV research done at Governors Island. Later information involved research and testing done in two live fire training line of duty deaths (Florida and Pennsylvania) and other significant fires such as:

Vandalia Street (NY)
Cherry Road (DC)
Iowa (private dwelling), 22 December 1999
Texas (McDonald’s restaurant), 14 February 2000
The Station Nightclub
Cook County Administration Bldg., Chicago
Prince William County, VA

One of FH’s reporters was there and I saw Bobby Halton of FE there as well, so expect to see at least a blurb on the two sites at some point. I’ll be writing more about the lecture itself later. Some big things that are still in my mind a day later are:

* NIST (Kerber and Madrzykowski) is fully intent on getting this information to fire departments everywhere. As Steve said in the presentation, “think of this as a train the trainer program”. There is no copyright information on the material specifically for you to take and use and pass along. Each attendee came away with 10 discs of the specific research done in each test. You can still contact them for the information, or

* This is not written in a way that is over the head of the backstep firefighter. The information does not delve into the various formulas and equations. You are given a basic understanding to assist you in interpreting and understanding the data and results.

* This is not “slide rule firefighting” (a PG term, i.e. book smart). There were many, many engine men and truckies eagerly looking into why fires are doing what they do and what more can we learn and then actually use.

* Our basic, tried and true tactics may need to at the very least, be re-evaluated. This is not your grandfather’s fire service anymore.

* We (fire service) learn very little about fire behavior in our required training.

* “Only smoke showing”; our sizeup evaluations and reports are getting complacent and we do not even know it.

* In the various tests, thermal imaging cameras are not showing the heat in the screen (the temperature digits are shown), i.e. the “white” areas. So the viewer is misled into thinking the area is somewhat tenable. This also coincides with the post-investigation statements of “we felt a lot of heat but saw no flame.”

* TICs cannot be relied upon to reveal indications of possible floor collapse during basement fires.

* The fire service tends to zero in on single faults in construction. We need to look at the whole of the structure.

* There is a huge difference between tactics and theory. What is learned (NIST presentation) needs to be put to the test in the field.

* The fire behavior arch (the stages of growth) has changed.

* Firefighters are getting injured and killed in post-flashover fires.

Remember, this isn’t slide rule firefighting. NIST’s purposes are to recreate the conditions, gather data and test hypothesis. In the incidents above they were asked to participate by the involved departments and other organizations.

The purpose of this research is to help reduce the fatalities and injuries. They are fully aware that it still requires stretching a line and putting water on the fire.

Personally, I believe this research and later research will become this generation’s “little drops of water”.

Sadly, I also believe considering “behavior” that long before we see any new widespread adoption of new PPV tactics, we will see firefighters burned or killed because someone will, with only half the knowledge, place a PPV fan on the fire floor hallway of a high-rise or mid-rise fire and start it up as part of a poorly evaluated and planned initial attack.

If you don’t think so then look back at all the YouTube videos showing improper use of PPV at private dwellings.

More later. You can find the specific information NIST is doing online on the link to the left.

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1 Comment

  • PFD023 says:

    Great study. I believe the study is available free online as well.
    The comment about “half the knowledge” getting ff’s killed or injured is bang on. Just recently took a course on PPA/PPV and when I mentioned it to some senior guys they all said the same thing…..PPV, ya I know all about it.
    In fact their version of PPV is exactly what the course taught you not to do.

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