Controlled Fires May Help Make College Life Safer

Last September, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) fire engineers set fire to a condemned barracks at a South Carolina Air Force base to study fire behavior in a dormitory setting. This summer, it will conduct fire tests in a scheduled-for-demolition residence hall at the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville as part of a U.S. Fire Administration initiative to demonstrate how fire sprinklers can improve fire safety in college housing. The University of Arkansas is the first university to participate in these fire studies.

In the Arkansas study, a NIST team will set fire to four dorm rooms, two of which will have sprinklers installed beforehand. The experiment will examine rooms with both closed and open doors. Data on temperature, carbon monoxide, and oxygen readings will be collected from sensors inside and outside of the rooms. The data will define the hazards created during a dorm room fire, determine how rapidly a fire spreads when unchecked, and reveal how effectively sprinkler protection lessens the threat.

Buildings with an automatic sprinkler system have excellent fire safety records, yet fewer than 25 percent of the dormitories in this country have the devices installed.

For more information, visit the NIST Web site at


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