UL to study fire-related materials, human behavior

Published 4 May 2006

Fire fighting is an essential part of rescue efforts following terrorist or natrural disasters; the materials now being used in buildings, and changing patterns of human behavior, have changed the fire fighting landscape, and DHS wants to know more about these changes

DHS has awarded Underwriters Laboratories (UL) a $985,000 grant to conduct research designed to offer better understand of the dynamics of fire in residential and commercial settings. The results of the study will lead to the development of more effective fire-safety training programs for the nation’s firefighters. The grant is administered by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) under the DHS Fire Prevention and Safety grant program in partnership with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). About 100 firefighters are killed — and many more injured — in the line of duty each year, according to the USFA.

Studies of what happened during evacuation efforts in the Twin Towers following the 9/11 attacks showed that many subtle changes in human behavior and materials should be taken into account in building design and fire-escape provisions. Thus, the changing dynamics of building contents, ignition sources, and the misinterpretation of codes and product standards may interact to produce hotter, more aggressive fires than was typical in the past, cutting the time needed to escape some types of fires from seventeen minutes to as little as three.

Moreover, the increased obesity of the U.S. population, and laws such as American with Disabilities Act which facilitate the hiring of more disable persons, make evacuation in high rise buildings more difficult.

The grant is divided into two major areas: investigating fire paths in commercial occupancies and conducting fire research into residential occupancies. Data collected from the research, including that from fully instrumented fire tests in full-scale residential settings and historical information from well-known commercial occupancy fires such as 1980’s MGM Grand Hotel fire in Las Vegas, as well as relevant standards and code information, and fire performance data products and furnishings, will be incorporated into a series of courses designed to complement existing USFA training classes.