ATHLETIC SURFACES

BY MIKE LOMBARDO

Recently, THE BUFFALO (NY) Fire Department responded to a call that made us take note of the material involved. An engine, a truck, and a battalion chief were dispatched for a smoke investigation. Engine 18 reported that a large column of smoke was visible from quarters. I was acting battalion chief and could also see the smoke as I headed toward the scene.


(1) The playground fire as it appeared on the first engine’s arrival. The playground’s surface, not the play set, was the primary fire fuel. (Photos by author.)

On arrival, we found a fire in a fenced-in, 20- 2 20-foot playground with a slide and a swingset. The fire covered about half the playground area and had flames about 15 feet high. We quickly extinguished the fire with a single 13/4-inch line. An electrical line was on the ground and arcing; it was connected to a building nearby; the fire had burned it. Amazingly enough, the play set was not fueling the fire; it was constructed primarily of metal except for the slide, which was plastic. The primary fire fuel was the playground surface.

After some research, we discovered that the surface consisted of a two- to three-inch layer of rubber. It was not solid rubber but a chopped-up type that included air pockets to provide a more cushioned effect.


(2) The first line is stretched. Note the height of the flames.

This type of rubber surface may feature a sprayed-on polyurethane coating of any color and feature inscriptions or designs and may be added at any time. The rubber combined with the poly-urethane coating pro- vides a heavy fire load in a seemingly harmless location.

We were further concerned when we noticed that this type of surface is commonly used in indoor school athletic facilities. A large gym building does not usually represent a large fire load. But with this type of track running around the gym perimeter, combined with wooden retracting seats, firefighters could face a serious fire with a tremendous smoke condition.


(3) A rubber indoor athletic track coated with polyurethane combined with the wooden retractable seats represents a tremendous fire load.

With a small amount of lighter fluid, kids had started the playground fire we responded to above; a fire involving this material is not difficult to ignite.

Look for this type of material during your preplan surveys in your jurisdiction. You might find it in a school, in a health club, or in a fast-food restaurant with a playground area.


MIKE LOMBARDO, a 24-year fire service veteran, is a captain with the Buffalo (NY) Fire Department. He is an adjunct instructor at the New York State Fire Academy, where he specializes in firefighter basics, rescue operations, and mask confidence. He is a member of the FDIC and Fire Engineering advisory boards.

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