Fire Research a Necessity
Whenever the word “research” is employed, most people immediately think in terms of laboratories, scientists and engineers. In the fire service it is common to identify Underwriters’ Laboratories and Factory Mutual Laboratories with this term since much of the published information and rating standards concerning fire behavior of materials is based upon their findings. However, there are many additional research sources available in this country including individual fire departments and fire service agencies.
The effort of the forestry people to develop more effective methods of combating brush and timber fires is a spectacular example. The findings of the tests conducted by them have proven to be invaluable especially in California where the scourge of early winter fires annually destroys thousands of acres of valuable watershed cover and frequently involves the homes of hundreds of people.
Another example is the work being done by the Odessa, Tex., Fire Department located in a petroleumproducing area. Here a small fire department is doing excellent work exploring the unknown characteristics of oil field fires and finding solutions to the many problems which may face it and similar departments whenever it responds to an alarm. Its slogan is “Let’s find the answer!”
Similarly the New York Fire Department is stressing research in many areas of its operations. Recently statistical analysis pinpointed a new approach to fire prevention. Careful study of its fire records disclosed that nine of its 47 battalions accounted for more than 45 per cent of all fire calls. As soon as these facts were established, a full-scale fire prevention campaign was directed to these areas. This is tailored to the conditions peculiar to the general construction and occupancy and stresses heavily the education of the public.
Chicago has been experimenting for some time with hydraulic-lift aerial platforms as a modern substitute for the water tower. These units are employed at actual fires and performance is then evaluated in an effort to reach definite conclusions concerning practical applications.
The excellent work of the Exploratory Committee on the Application of Water has done much to further the proper use of fire streams during extinguishment.
Much remains to be done, but in a very few years the members have stimulated a large segment of the fire service to intensive study along the lines suggested by the committee.
These examples are by no means the sum total of the fire service effort. Day by day, from our east coast to the Hawaiian Islands, from the tip of Florida to Alaska, similar projects are being carried on by fire departments large and small and by individuals within or closely connected to the field.
In most of the cases cited, funds for making the original studies were either extremely limited or practically nonexistent and only regular operating personnel was employed. This appears to he in direct contrast to the tactics employed by business. The emphasis which American industry places on research is worth serious study by the fire service. Better products tend to increase sales and in our competitive economy, product improvement must be constant if a business is to survive. As a result, millions of dollars for research are budgeted annually by companies striving to remain in the forefront. The competition facing the fire service is deadly—it destroys life and property when permitted to gain an advantage.
A dictionary definition of research states it is a careful search, a close searching, a critical and exhaustive investigation having for its aim the revision of accepted conclusion in the light of newly discovered facts. This statement points up to the fire service that the field is wide open, for it has, by necessity, operated extensively on accepted conclusions in the past.
The pace of our present-day living is being rapidly’ accelerated by new discoveries and new materials, themselves the result of research. In many cases there is no experience upon which to base sound conclusions concerning fire extinguishment in such products. Onlyintensive research can provide the answers to questions which will soon be facing fire officers. In many areas of operations these answers will be obtained only if the fire service initiates the search itself.