As America’s premier firefighter conference, the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) has often served as a vehicle for advancing important concepts in the American fire service, and FDIC 2012 was no exception.
In his Monday workshop, “Fire Dynamics in Structures,” National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researcher and former George D. Post Instructor of the Year award recipient Dan Madrzyskowski covered some critical scientific topics about fire behavior in structural firefighting.
Madrzykowski reviewed NIST’s mission to improve firefighter safety and effectiveness through science. He reflected on the limited training on fire behavior many firefighters get through formal channels, and how the bulk of fire service’s members training is expected to come from the street–at precisely a time when the number of fires is dwindling.
Using a number of research videos, Madrzykowski covered some of NIST’s research projects, including how heat can affect semiconductors in PASS devices and radios, and fire extension between houses that are set close together.
He discussed the changing environments firefighters have to work in, and how building construction is impacting firefighter safety. Comparing new and legacy construction, he pointed out the increase size of houses and the decreasing size of housing lots; the changing fuel load inside homes; the increased pitch and area of roofs, which affects vertical ventilation efforts; and the growing compartmentalization in new construction.
Madryzkowksi discussed how it’s increasingly difficult for fires to self-ventilate in newer structures, leading to situations in which fires are existing in a dormant state, waiting for a introducing of fresh oxygen–which often takes the form of firefighters ventilating or making entry into a building, leading to flashover. “Flashovers may be waiting for you,” he said.
Although providing copious amounts of data to back up his findings, Madryzkowski indicated that science still has some blind spots in regard to complex fire events. “Fire chiefs don’t have all the answers,” he said, “but neither do scientists and engineers.”
For more on Dan Madrzykowski and NIST, consider Research for the Fire Service: Positive Pressure Ventilation, Wind-Driven Fire Research: Hazards and Tactics, and NIST Researcher Dan Madrzykowski Named Fire Service Instructor of the Year.