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I spent a very interesting day on Wednesday at the NIST fire research lab at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Center in Gaithersburg Maryland. The mission of NIST is to conduct basic and applied research for the purpose of understanding from the fire behavior and hopefully reduce losses from fire. NIST was founded by the federal fire prevention and control act in 1974.

At NIST are all kinds of extremely talented and highly educated fire service and science oriented researchers who are constantly looking at building construction, building materials and fire behavior. At NIST tests are conducted on an almost daily basis on every kind of material and every kind of setting that you can imagine. When it came to the World Trade Center to tell us what really happened NIST was involved. When it comes to why Mrs. Smith's kitchen burns the way it burns you can bet NIST is involved in helping us understand how.

Wednesday they were presenting information from recent and previous studies they had done. We were extremely lucky to have two of my close friends and leading experts in fire behavior share with us their most recent work regarding fire behavior and the use of positive pressure ventilation in high-rise fires. Daniel Madrzykowski and Steve Kerber both presented.


It is very interesting when we think about studying fire behavior, one would think that we would spend an extraordinary amount of time and trying to understand our enemy. However we look at fire behavior training in the fire service today we discover that the firefighter one only three hours a firefighter behaviors required. In firefighterII sadly no fire behavior at all and in fire officer one and two again no fire behavior whatsoever. It makes one wonder what are we teaching in these programs if not fire behavior.

Much of the research presented by Stephen Daniel was the result of some recent testing done which began in Toledo Ohio through the efforts of Skip Coleman, Jerry Tracey, Steve and Dan. Beginning in Toledo live fire high rise experiments began a little over two years ago using acquired structures and under the direction of NIST dozens of fires were set and measured. During this time firefighters from Chicago Illinois after the Cook County building fire also became involved. The Chicago fire Department stepped up to the plate with a second location for additional testing from the commissioner to probationary firefighters Chicago got involved. Testing then moved to New York City with the FDNY conducted a series of tests along with NIST and all of the other departments and personnel who had been participating.

Under Jerry Tracey's direction and leadership of the FDNY wind driven flames fronts were studied as it never been studied before. Led by the expertise of the FDNY combined with the scientific know-how and research capabilities of NIST data was collected and will soon be released in a comprehensive landmark report.

The final set of tests came home to Toledo they are a school building was used to determine how best to use fans to clear smoke and to contain fire in large structures. The gymnasium yielded incredible results in terms of fire behavior smoke movement and fire growth and development.

As the fire service goes forward we have to realize that our problems continue to evolve as our technology continues to produce new materials new configurations for buildings and thereby create new challenges we need to continually study these issues. The evolution of our tactical capability will only be enhanced by the evolution of our mental agility. We have many questions to still answer about positive pressure and there are many concerns, NIST is currently beginning testing on the use of this tool in residential settings. The use of positive pressure residential fires is not without controversy and clearly not the choice for ventilation and every fire. However like every other tool it has its appropriate time and its appropriate place.

By working with our partners at NIST and UL and the other research facilities we will find better ways to do our work we will find more effective ways to do our work and thereby minimize the amount of risk and danger that we have to accept in the performance of our duties. Not all answers will be technological and not all answers will be easy but easy never prevented the fire service from doing its job.

Look for Dan and Steve to be presenting more information from NIST at this year's FDIC. And remember be careful out there

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Comment by Christopher Naum, SFPE on September 6, 2008 at 8:45pm
Hey Bobby;
I've posted some report references and links to the NIST PPV projects and FDNY Wind Driven Study on the Command Safety Group as a follow up for those looking for more information; http://community.fireengineering.com/group/commandsafety

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