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A must read: FDNY begins tests that could change tactics. Ventilation & basement fires are among things to be studied in burning of rowhomes on Governors Island.

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.

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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.

 Read entire article from the New York Times

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Rake

    VERY INTERESTING. My guess is that it will impact TIMING. In NY and very few other select places, very aggressive truck companies will work ahead of the engine company. The combination of a hot job, modern plastics, interior searches, ventilation and no water can make for a very dangerous situation for the interior search crews. I predict the order will go out that truckwork will take place once an interior hoseline is in place. As a result, stretching that first hoseline will become an even greater priority than it is now.

    • Mack Seagrave

      “I predict the order will go out that truckwork will take place once an interior hoseline is in place.” If by truck work you are referring to ventilating, it has long been the practice in the FDNY to hold off on venting until the engine company has their charged line in position and they are ready to advance / attack.

  • Commenter

    I’m sure the heros on here will explain why these repeatable, evidence-based tests are wrong, and that FDs should always perform aggressive interior attacks until prevented by high heat or actual collapse.

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  • Rake

    Well, let’s hear what they say before we start arguing over it. I’m happy to see this research looking at the RIGHT way to do the job – the best ways to protect life and property without getting FFs hurt or killed.

  • RJ(in florida)

    this is long overdue but i am happy to see that science and testing is being done to seek a new and better way instead of learing by hand and by blood

    perhaps Dr. Frank Brannign speaks to us from the grave? the building (not the fire) is our real emeny

  • E1 LT

    Wow. The FDNY is looking to change “tried and proven tactics that have worked for over 100 years.” I find it funny that now they want to rely on science to see if there is a better way. What do Ray McCormick and Chief Salka think about this?

  • Ray McCormack

    E1 LT here is my e mail if you have something you wish to discuss.
    Ray McCormack

  • announcer

    Electricians get electrocuted, Carpenters get splinters, and Firemen get burnt !

  • M. R. Rehfeld

    Folks, my fear with this article and many like it, is that the whole story isn’t provided. Most impressionable Fire Service personnel take this article to mean “DON’T” ventilate. That is not the point of the study (s). The adjustment we need to make is based on our ventilation plan/tactic and the purpose (tactical ventilation). Please take this information in it’s totality and not in one dimension. Fire attack requires ventilation that is thoughtful not just hap hazard. Couple of vent points):

    Don’t vent behind attack crews!!
    Don’t not vent ahead of attack crews
    Try to identify the fire location before making an attack
    Always when possible make the vent opening 2/3 larger than the inlet opening.
    Know the purpose and reason you are venting, Life Safety, Fire Attack or Fire Control

  • Dickey

    I like your reasoning announcer….:roll eyes:

    E1LT…..I’m sure those “tried and true tactics” from 100 years ago were for fire that occurred 100 years ago. You cannot tell me that fires today are the same as they were 100 years ago, certainly you are not that ignorant.

  • doobis

    I am glad they are doing the study but I wonder how they got the EPA and other environmental agencies to sign off of it.

  • Arrooo

    What they fail to mention, is that these engines are no longer properly staffed. They have been reduced by one member, causing a stretch to take TWICE as long as when they were properly staffed. These Staff chiefs won’t acknowledge this fact, because of politics. If the engines involved at this fire had that extra man, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, and that Rescue 2 member would be working instead of nursing these horrible injuries.

  • Matt

    Recognizing FDNY for the premier organization they are, and having lived in NYC through 9/11, they are due respect. However, as a volunteer having worked New Jersey to Florida, the science is there that fires are burning hotter, faster. Remember that outside of immediate loss of life, an interior attack may not be necessary to protect things that can be replaced. This has the potential to piss off a lot of firefighters, but if a structure is lost, we don’t need to lose firefighters.

  • PJ

    What this post says to me is nothing other then that FDNY has noticed with their experience and prior studies that there is issue that needs further research. It is to early to say what a study is going to find when it just started, but I think it will be very interesting to see the results. I am glad to see hard science being used to examine what we do at fires and what we can do better just as we are using evidence based medicine in EMS now. If I had to make a prediction this study isn’t going to produce black and white evidence on how we should do things all the time. Like most other things in the fire service it will be a shade of gray. In some cases you should do this certain thing and it others you shouldn’t.

  • Tonka Truck

    I’m pretty sure that the message behind these tests will get hi-jacked and twisted just like so many before it. The intent here is to improve ventilation practices. NOT to abandon interior firefighting. Sorry to burst the bubble of the “Safety Nazi, Paramedic promoted to Fire Officer, I have a degree in fire protection Crowd”. Those office bosses and textbook firefighters always have a better way. Maybe if some of these “experts” were to take off their vest, put the clip board down, and stop hiding behind their so called “Life Safety Initiatives”, and stretch on a couple working fires they would see this. If you folks on the Safety Boat would set down the latest IFSTA step-by-step flash cards you will see that your communities are losing faith in their fire departments. Just as they expect the trash man to pick up the rubbish, and the police to arrest the bad guy, they expect the firemen to put out the fire, and save their stuff. Not all stuff is replaceable. Especially when that stuff is all the stuff you may ever have, but I guess these scientists don’t get a chance to walk the streets in the lower income hoods of America. You know? The areas where most of the fires in this nation occur. This job isn’t for everyone. It is, and always will be dangerous. It doesn’t take a scientist to understand that. It takes experienced fire fighters that know how to adapt and make decisions based on real life experience. I would take the word of some guy that actually goes to a lot of fires over that of some pocket protector wearing, pencil pusher. I’m following the guy with the 1000 yard stare, melted lid, and medals on his chest that works in the nastiest neighborhood in town. But hey that’s just me.