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NIST tests new firefighting tactics

As part of a study to improve firefighter safety and effectiveness, fire researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and partners from fire service organizations have turned abandoned wood-frame, single family houses near Spartanburg, SC into a training ground for new science-driven fire-fighting techniques.

The NIST team has gathered data during the live fire experiments using measurement of temperature and total heat flux to assess the effectiveness of new fire-suppression tactics known as transitional fire attack. Transitional fire attack begins by applying water as soon as possible from the exterior of a burning house -- before firefighters enter the structure -- and then proceeding into the interior.

NIST collaborated with the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), the State of South Carolina Fire Training Academy, and the City of Spartanburg Fire Department. NIST helped to design the fire experiments and provided measurement instruments and other equipment for recording conditions in the burning houses. The fires were also recorded with videos and thermal imagers. The project is funded with a DHS/FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant.

This is the second year that NIST has collaborated with ISFSI and the South Carolina team. In July 2013, NIST and partners conducted experiments in eight different houses demonstrating fire-fighting methods. Their goal was to strategically ventilate and isolate fires to prevent, or at least delay, flashover. Flashover is when heat builds up in a burning structure’s contents and components to the point that they burst into flames simultaneously.

During both sets of experiments, ISFSI videotaped how firefighters implement size-up, flowpath control, and exterior fire attack. The IFSI hopes to develop training modules that will be available to firefighters across the country. ISFSI already has incorporated results and lessons learned from the last year's experiments into its training programs for firefighters across the country.

In July 2012, in another team effort, NIST fire researchers gathered data in experimental burns in 20 abandoned townhouses on New York’s Governors Island, about a kilometer from the southern tip of Manhattan.

The ISFSI leads fire and EMS instructors in their efforts to reduce firefighter fatalities and injuries, increase firefighter safety, and improve the profession through education and training. ISFSI supports instructors through educational opportunities, networking, mentoring programs, leadership opportunities, instructional resources, and legislative representation.