Birmingham (AL) Fire and Rescue: Doll House Burn Results

By Joseph C. Kolodziej

When Underwriters Laboratories-Fire Service Research Institute and the National Institute for Standards and Technology started to bring the “science to the streets,” we had to stop and look at some of our tactics, especially ventilation. Compared to today, ventilation was used differently a few years ago. Venting was, at one time, thought of as a cooling procedure; windows were broken and doors were opened to release hot air and gases. This method of releasing hot air and gases is still effective, but we must ensure that suppression is in front of ventilation. If not, we have created a bigger problem. To make sure this takes place, you must control, communicate, and coordinate tactics.

RELATED: Hollins on LPG Training PropsAnderson, Anderson, and Schroer on Realistic Training Props That Fit Your BudgetMcCormack on Finding Training Props

One of the best and cheapest props for illustrating ventilation, reading smoke, and controlling flow path is the “Doll House.” Hopefully, you have seen the small scale fire behavior demonstration being conducted in a small doll house prop. This four-compartment prop has been around for some time, but it was not until a few years ago when Stop Believing and Start Knowing group (led by P.J. Norwood and Sean Gray) took the plans and enhanced them. One of their friends, Captain Matt Palmer, reached out to Norwood to conduct the training and decided—with P.J.’s permission—to enhanced the current plans. They added an attic space with a peaked roof and a hole to demonstrate vertical ventilation. This added a new dimension to the prop.

The original plan for the doll house called for an 8 × 8 hole to be cut on the first floor. Birmingham (AL) Fire and Rescue’s Lieutenant Brannon Vernon, Firefighter Luke Ahl, Firefighter Drew Gargus, and me modified it to a 11 × 5 door (as you can see in the video); this created a more realistic effect to the house. This prop is extremely cheap to make and is very effective when teaching fire behavior.

This inexpensive prop takes the classroom education on fire dynamics, combines it with today’s understanding and then shows how our tactics effect the fireground and the building. If you would like a copy of the design, you can find it following Stop Believing Start Knowing on Facebook and Twitter and request the plans directly from P.J. and Sean.


Joseph C. Kolodziej is a lieutenant with Birmingham (AL) Fire and Rescue assigned to Station 1. He can be reached at

No posts to display