News in Brief: June 2020

Fire Industry News

Country code variations impact escape time from flashover

Researchers at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) conducted tests of room burns to assess how fire standards of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom (U.K.) affected time to flashover in a replicated realistic environment.

The study revealed that the American- and French-furnished rooms reached flashover in five to six minutes, whereas the U.K. room took 22 minutes. In addition, the researchers determined that the upholstered furniture from the U.K. contained the most fire-retardant protection and produced the least acutely toxic smoke than the other two rooms with U.S. and French furnishings.

“Most countries test upholstered furniture for fire performance; however, fire preventative measures and testing standards applied to consumer products vary greatly by country,” says Dr. Matthew Blais, SwRI director of fire technology and principal investigator.

SwRI fire engineers conducted nine room burns. Each of the three identically furnished sets of rooms contained a three-cushion couch, a chair, and a flat panel television. SwRI purchased these items from each respective country because the materials and retardants vary. Each room setup also included an identical coffee table, end table, curtains, bookcase, and books—all purchased in the U.S.—since these items typically are not treated with a fire retardant and the fire performance should not vary from country to country.

The room burn tests were conducted using the international standard ISO 9705 for full-scale room test specifications. The U.S. and France use a smolder-only flammability standard; the U.K. combines a smolder and open-flame ignition test to evaluate flammability.

When the living room furnishings are the first items ignited in a fire, there tends to be a higher incidence of death. SwRI selected three ignition sources that represent a passing standard used in the U.K. during a room burn with an open-flame ignition. For each room configuration, ignition started in the center couch cushion.

“In the U.S. and other countries, there is a push to eliminate chemical flame retardants due to an antichemical movement,” Blais says. “When testing consumer products, one of the methods employed is to reduce the requirement to test consumer products, especially furniture, against open-flame ignition sources. This study shows the impact of country fire codes requiring only smoldering ignition compared to a country testing with open-flame ignition. When an open-flame standard is applied to consumer products that have been treated with fire preventative material, the results show the room would reach flashover at a much slower rate, allowing people five to six times the number of minutes to escape from a house fire when the first item ignited is a couch.”

Materials provided by Southwest Research Institute.

Matthew S Blais, Karen Carpenter, Kyle Fernandez. “Comparative Room Burn Study of Furnished Rooms from the United Kingdom, France and the United States.” Fire Technology, 2019; 56 (2): 489 DOI: 10.1007/s10694-019-00888-8.

Southwest Research Institute. (2020, March 3). “Fire study reveals how country, code variations impact escape time: Study finds flashover times vary.” ScienceDaily.; accessed March 9, 2020.

NVFC launches weekly survey on COVID-19 experiences

In March, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) created a survey to ascertain how volunteer and combination fire, emergency medical services (EMS), and rescue departments have been dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19. The survey will be taken weekly, on Friday. Members are asked to take the brief survey on Friday of each week for the foreseeable future at The weekly surveys will be updated, if necessary, to reflect issues that have arisen from respondents’ responses to the survey of the previous week.

Survey Results for the week ending March 25. Between March 20 and March 25, there were 161 survey responses broken down as follows: 71% all-volunteer, 24% mostly volunteer, and 5% career emergency services organizations. The participants reported the following:

  • 71% have been adversely impacted by COVID-19.
  • Areas presenting challenges included the following: low supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), 72%; out of PPE, 34%; staff unwilling/unable to respond, 48%.
  • Can’t train/certify personnel because EMS education processes are frozen, 30%.
  • Challenges in getting personnel tested for COVID-19, 18%.
  • Personnel in quarantine, 9%.
  • Struggling with increased call volume, 7%.
  • Other, 23%; the most common response was that fundraising is more challenging because community events had to be canceled.
  • Respondents were also asked to rate on a scale of 0-5 (5 being the highest) areas where they need help most urgently. The average ratings were as follows: supply/resupply of PPE: 4.5; guidance/resources to keep responding personnel safe, 3.7; supply/resupply of nonPPE resources, 3.6; better information from public safety answering points regarding potential exposures, 3.2; need for more personnel, 3.0; guidance/resources to help with quarantine, 2.8; access to testing, 2.6.

News, resources, and relevant information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the NVFC’s COVID-19 Web page,

In a recent statement of support for the fire service, NVFC Chair Steve Hirsh stated: “Who better to lead this charge than the fire service in this great land? When our neighbors are in trouble, it is the fire service that responds. When their houses are on fire, we respond. When they have medical emergencies, we respond. When there’s no one else to turn to, we respond. This is OUR time–this is a WE time. WE are better than fear. WE are SMARTER than fear. WE are first responders! WE are Americans!” The full statement is at

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April 7. Chief James “Tank” Waters, 40, Tryon (NC) Fire Department: heart attack.

April 8. Firefighter/EMT Michael Field, 59, Valley Stream (NY) Volunteer Fire Department: COVID-19 virus contracted in March.

April 8. Captain Franklin Williams, 57, Detroit (MI) Fire Department: COVID-19 virus contracted in March.

Source: USFA Firefighters Memorial Database

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