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Underwriters Laboratories (UL) recently began a research project to help fire services worldwide improve firefighting tactics and reduce firefighter fatalities and injuries.

UL has built two houses and is setting controlled large-scale fires inside a cavernous 10,000 square-foot test chamber at its Large Scale Fire Test and Training Facility in Northbrook.

Data gathered from the study is hoped to enhance understanding of fire behaviour in residential structures when affected by natural ventilation (for example, open doors and broken windows) as well as strategic ventilation tactics used by firefighters during an attack on a fire.

UL is conducting the high-tech simulations in full-scale 1,500ft2 and 3,200ft2 dwellings that are representative of homes built prior to 1980 and homes built in recent years.

Based on prior research, fire experts believe that changes in newer contemporary-style construction, including the use of manufactured lumber components, new building materials, more synthetic home furnishings and the size and geometry of new homes, have changed the dynamics of residential fires.

Compared to the way older homes were built, using heavy timber, larger joists and full penetration nails, and hardwood furniture, newer construction factors are contributing to rapid fire spread and a notable decrease in tenability limits.

‘Ventilation during a fire makes a huge difference in not only the growth and spread of a fire, but also in the overall tenability and time available to fight a fire before a structure collapses,’ said Richard Edgeworth, Chicago Fire Department chief.

‘This research provides crucial data that will help us create guidelines for effective ventilation techniques, develop the necessary firefighting ventilation practices and better anticipate the failure of floor and wall construction,’ he added.

Edgeworth said the research project will redefine fire behaviour and emphasise the importance of combining suppression and ventilation tactics in a coordinated fire attack to prevent loss of life and reduce property damage.

This DHS research project is the latest example of UL’s fire science knowledge and research capabilities.

UL expects to complete the research project in August and anticipates a report on the findings by late 2010.

UL (Underwriters Laboratories)

UL is a global independent safety science company offering expertise across five key strategic businesses:

  • Product safety
  • Environment
  • Life and health
  • University
  • Verification services

Our breadth, established objectivity and proven history mean we are a symbol of trust and enable us to help provide peace of mind to all.

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