The December fire at a Crown Heights, Brooklyn brownstone that critically burned Firefighter Robert Weidmann is one of the reasons FDNY is studying ventilation techniques in residential buildings.
Will FDNY begin attacking residential basement fires from the exterior through windows rather than interior stairs? Is opening the roof in the initial stages of a fire in a row house a priority? Which is more important to do first, search and rescue or putting water on the fire?
The FDNY is hoping to find the answers to these questions and more as they start burning 20 rowhomes filled with furnishings tomorrow (Monday). An article by Joseph Goldstein in the New York Times, says the materials we now furnish our homes with has FDNY seriously questioning some of its longstanding tactics on residential fires. Goldstein writes the concern is that the use of plastics in things like sofas and mattresses has changed the way a room and its contents burn and that firefighters may need to change the way they approach such fires:
With more plastic in homes, residential fires are now likely to use up all the oxygen in a room before they consume all flammable materials. The resulting smoky, oxygen-deprived fires appear to be going out. But they are actually waiting for an inrush of fresh air, which can come as firefighters cut through roofs and break windows.
Mr. Cassano, the fire commissioner, acknowledged that “ventilation may be hurting people in the fire if we don’t ventilate properly.”
Goldstein interviewed Stephen Kerber from Underwriters Laboratories. UL is taking part in the experiments along with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Kerber told Goldstein that firefighters always assumed venting meant cooling but they are finding ”that venting doesn’t cool and allows for things to get much hotter”.
And there’s more:
The experiments will test whether another approach, sticking a nozzle through a basement window, is more effective. The Fire Department has long been inclined to fight fires from inside residences, rather than through open windows, based on a belief that the outside method will drive the fire toward other areas of the house, where occupants might be.
The article cites two well known tragic fires related to modern furnishings and ventilation. One is the Sofa Super Store fire in Charleston that took the lives of nine firefighters five-years-ago. The other is the fire last year that critically burned Firefighter Robert Wiedmann at a Crown Heights brownstone.
One chief involved in the experiments told Goldstein he doesn’t expect the findings will lead to an abandonment of aggressive interior firefighting but will alter the way ventilation is done.
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