• FirefightingNew mapping software makes live-fire training safer

    Better to protect soldiers and sailors during live-fire training, the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) TechSolutions program has sponsored the development of a new Google Maps-style software tool to map out training areas in great detail. This “geospatial-awareness” tool is designed to plug into the U.S. Marine Corps’ KILSWITCH—the Kinetic Integrated Lightweight Software Individual Tactical Combat Handheld for Android.

  • WildfiresAs wildfires expand, fire science needs to keep up

    By Albert Simeoni

    In the month of October nearly 250,000 acres, more than 8,000 homes and over 40 people fell victim to fast-moving wildfires in Northern California, the deadliest and one of the costliest outbreaks in state history. Now is the time to wrestle with hard questions. Why did communities that were deemed safe suffer major damage? Should they be rebuilt in the same way? Are there better ways to fight extreme fires and limit their impact? How can emergency planners prepare better for scenarios where full evacuation is not possible? Fire conditions are constantly evolving, and basic research coupled with engineering solutions must keep up. Designing more resilient communities and infrastructure and protecting people more effectively are not onetime goals – they are constant. Currently nations are failing to meet the challenge, and impacts on communities are increasing.

  • Fireproofing buildingsFire-resistant coating to prevent failure in steel building fires

    A few extra coats of “paint” could be all that the steel in a building needs to prevent itself from buckling and failing in a fire. Scientists came up with this idea when they were figuring out a commercially viable solution to protect reinforced concrete against underground fires. After two years of intensive research and development by the interdisciplinary team, an affordable 3-in-1 coating that offers enhanced fire and corrosion protection was invented.

  • WildfiresWildfire early warning system could prevent spring blazes

    Researchers have developed a new early warning system to predict when and where human-caused wildfires are most likely to occur in the spring. Using satellite images of vegetation, the researchers can forecast where wildfire risk peaks in boreal forests by tracking moisture in fuel sources like leaves.

  • First respondersBattling fires increases firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens

    The threat of getting burned by roaring flames is an obvious danger of firefighting, but other health risks are more subtle. For example, firefighters have been found to develop cancer at higher rates than the general population. Now researchers have measured how much firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and other harmful compounds increases when fighting fires.

  • Building safetyCould a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire happen in the U.S.?

    By Brian Meacham

    The Grenfell Tower fire in London has triggered questions about how the tragedy could have happened, whether it could happen elsewhere, and what might be learned from it to prevent future disasters. The Grenfell Tower fire spread much faster and more intensely than anyone expected. From what we know so far, there are physical, cultural and legal reasons dozens of people died. Addressing each of them will help British authorities, and fire protection and fire prevention professionals around the world, improve their efforts to reduce the chance of future tragedies like the one at Grenfell Tower.

  • Building safetyAt least 600 U.K high-rises have combustible cladding installed

    British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on Thursday that investigators have found combustible cladding on “a number” of publicly owned tower blocks similar to Grenfell Tower. “Shortly before I came to the chamber, I was informed that a number of these tests have come back as combustible,” she said. The prime minister’s said her office estimated that 600 high-rise buildings in England have cladding similar to Grenfell Tower.

  • Building safetyGrenfell Tower disaster: how did the fire spread so quickly?

    By Feng Fu

    In the middle of the night, while most residents were sleeping, a devastating fire started at Grenfell Tower in London. From an engineering perspective, there are a number of factors in the design of the 24-storey tower block that may have contributed to the speed and scale of the blaze. Most of the current guidelines across the world contain detailed design requirements for fire safety such as evacuation routes, compartmentation and structural fire design. But Grenfell Tower was built in 1974. At that time, the rules and regulations were not as clear and well-developed as they are now.

  • Building safetyNew materials to make buildings better, safer

    A new type of construction material, called cross-laminated timber, is currently approved for buildings with up to six stories. Designers would like to use it in taller buildings because it is environmentally sustainable and can speed the construction process. To use it for those taller buildings, the industry needs to understand how the timber would perform during a fire. NIST experiments are measuring the material’s structural performance and the amount of energy the timber contributes to the fire.

  • WildfiresDrones help in better understanding of wildfires

    U.S. Geological Survey scientists and partners are taking technology to the next level, using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to acquire both fire intensity and emissions data during prescribed burns. This effort combines expertise from multiple USGS partners that could reduce the harmful effects of smoke impacts from use of prescribed burns. Lessening the risk to property and lives during wildfires is a primary purpose of prescribed burns.

  • WildfiresNew era of western wildfire requires new ways of protecting people, ecosystems

    Current wildfire policy cannot adequately protect people, homes, and ecosystems from the longer, hotter fire seasons climate change is causing. Efforts to extinguish every blaze and reduce the buildup of dead wood and forest undergrowth are becoming increasingly inadequate on their own. Instead, experts urge policymakers and communities to embrace policy reform that will promote adaptation to increasing wildfire and warming.

  • WildfiresHumans have dramatically increased extent, duration of U.S. wildfire season

    The United States has experienced some of its largest wildfires on record over the past decade, especially in the western half of the country. The duration and intensity of future wildfire seasons is a point of national concern given the potentially severe impact on agriculture, ecosystems, recreation, and other economic sectors, as well as the high cost of extinguishing blazes. The annual cost of fighting wildfires in the United States has exceeded $2 billion in recent years. Humans have dramatically increased the spatial and seasonal extent of wildfires across the United States in recent decades and ignited more than 840,000 blazes in the spring, fall and winter seasons over a 21-year period, according to a new study.

  • WildfiresExtreme fires will increasingly be part of our global landscape

    Wildfire burned more than 10 million acres in the United States in 2015, and cost over $2 billion to suppress. There were 23 million landscape fires around the world between 2002 and 2013, and researchers define 478 of them as extreme wildfire events. Increasingly dangerous fire weather is forecast as the global footprint of extreme fires expands.

  • WildfiresDevastating wildfires in Eastern forests likely to be repeated

    The intense wildfires that swept through the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee late last month were a tragic melding of the past and the future. The fast-moving, wind-whipped blazes that burned more than 150,000 acres, killed fourteen people and damaged 2,400 structures in Gatlinburg and Sevier County may be a portent of things to come.

  • FirefightersThermal sensor provides warning for firefighter safety

    The conditions inside a burning building are perilous and can change rapidly. For firefighters searching for people trapped within a burning building, these risks can be exacerbated in a matter of seconds as exposure to high temperature may cause their personal protective equipment (PPE) to fail. This is particularly true in the presence of infrared radiation, which can rapidly increase the temperature of a firefighter’s environment without warning. DHS S&T  is now working with partners to develop the Burn Saver Thermal Sensor, a battery-powered device that will be carried by firefighters and detects thermal changes in their operating environments.