The IAAI and CFITrainer.Net present these podcasts with a focus on issues relating to fire investigation. With expertise from around the world, the International Association of Arson Investigators produces these podcasts to bring more information and electronic media to fire investigators looking for training, education and general information about fire investigation. Topics include recent technologies, issues in the news, training opportunities, changes in laws and standards and any other topic that might be of interest to a fire investigator or industry professional affected by fire. Information is presented using a combination of original stories and interviews with scientists, leaders in fire investigation from the fire service and the law enforcement community.
Fire Investigation: Full-Scale Experiments to Study Impact of Ventilation on Fire Patterns. UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute. https://fireinvestigation.ulfirefightersafety.org/
UL Xplorlabs: Fire Forensics: Claims and Evidence https://ulxplorlabs.org/fire-forensics-claims-and-evidence/
Welcome to this edition of the IAAI’s CFITrainer.Net podcast. Today, we’re talking about ventilation and fire flow. This is a critical topic for both fire investigators and for members of the fire service who conduct fire suppression. We have new research from UL to talk about that has some pretty dramatic conclusions, or it offers some pretty dramatic conclusions, and visuals that are changing how we think about fire flow, the impact of ventilation on that flow, the resulting fire suppression choices, and the interpretation of burn patterns post-fire. Some very good news that is relevant to our discussion today, CFITrainer.Net just went live with a new module on fire-flow analysis, and I completed the module last night in my review. I got one of the questions wrong in the skills challenge, and considering that we produce the content, I’m a bit embarrassed. The good news is that the testing platform reminded me what content to review. We hope you’ll join us up at CFITrainer.Net for that new module now that you know it’s there.
So, we need to give a big shout-out to those who helped make this module possible. While our funding comes primarily from the DHS, FEMA, USFA Fire Prevention and Safety grants, we could have never produced such a meaningful piece on fire-flow analysis without the help of UL, the ATF, the National Institute of Justice, and our next guest who’s a leader and one of the premier experts in our field, Dan Madrzykowski. He’s a senior research engineer at UL. Dan, it’s nice to have you with us.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Hi, Rod. It’s great to be here.
ROD AMMON: I go read that list, and I’m like, wow. It shows what happens when all these different people get together and partner and how everybody can make something happen, so I’m grateful. Let’s start with a little background to give the audience some context on why UL is doing this new research and how it fits into the overall effort in firefighter safety.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Well, so the UL Firefight Safety Research Institute, for a number of years now, has been conducting experiments to look at firefighting tactics, and so the first several series of experiments where they built structures very similar to residential homes, and they had architects sort of do a survey of the most popular home designs in the United States. And in many states, that’s the ranch house, sort of a classic design, three or four bedrooms, single story, 1200 to 1600 square feet. And in other places, it’s a two-story colonial, which is a more modern design in that it’s got open floor plans and maybe a two-story great room and a two-story foyer and things like that.
So as you can imagine, the spread of smoke and heat throughout these two different types of structures is very different, and what the findings were for the firefighting tactics was vent-limited fires with the modern furniture that we have today, and the more ventilation you give the fire, the bigger the heat release rate, the bigger the fire would grow. And typically, by the time firefighters would be responding to that fire, there would be excess fuel built up in the structure, and they had to be very careful in their coordination of suppression versus ventilation in order to make the fire decrease in size and effectively put it out.
So, as we started to look at this, we realized the same thing has been happening to the fire investigators. There have been a lot of changes on the fire ground both in terms of the contents in people’s houses moving from natural materials to synthetic materials. The design of the houses are different in terms of the amount of air that’s present in the house, the insulation that’s built into the house, and the construction methods, the materials that are used in the house. And all these impact what that fire pattern is going to look like and how the fire is going to develop within the structure, so this is of big interest to the fire investigation community.
ROD AMMON: So, you’ve had a long career with NIST, and you moved on to UL in 2016 to join the Firefighter Safety Research Institute at UL. What does that institute do?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Basically, our main mission is to improve the effectiveness and safety of firefighters, and in many ways, if you can improve their effectiveness, then by default, that will improve their safety as well as the safety of those that they serve, and that’s the core mission. Fire investigation is part of that mission in terms of community risk reduction where a firefighter understands the cause of a fire, and in many cases, that would get reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission or to a manufacturer or through an insurance company so that products that present a higher risk can be taken off the market or at least let the consumers know that certain products create a higher risk.
There’s been quite a bit of that recently in terms of cell phones and laptops and hover boards and things like that that are using lithium ion batteries that are either having problems being mismatched with chargers or other issues that they’re overcharging and overheating, getting a thermal runaway, and then basically auto-ignite and cause a fire. And fire investigators have been very instrumental in identifying those products and pointing that out, and in fact, UL, the part of UL that does the testing and the labeling and the listing developed a standard specifically for hover boards so that hover boards can be listed now so they can be a safer product.
ROD AMMON: That’s great news because I kept seeing more and more news flashes, and they seem to be reducing with the hover boards, so thanks for that work. So, Dan, let’s turn our attention to this new research that’s just come out. UL conducted full-scale experiments to study the impact of ventilation on fire patterns. Why did you pick the topic?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: So, we don’t really pick the topic so to speak. The topics are presented to us. The U.S. Department of Justice, through the National Institute of Justice, their research arm, has a steering committee that looks at the gaps that exist for all sorts of forensic science. And specifically, for fire investigation, one of the gaps is the repeatability of fire patterns, the impact of ventilation on fire patterns, how the fires develop and grow under different conditions. So, all that is fair game and needed to get a better understanding.
In addition, if we step back a few years, in 2009, the National Academy of Science published a document where they examined all of forensic science, things from fingerprints, tool, marks, questionable documents, DNA, and, of course, fire investigation. And in that review, they pointed out a number of gaps for the fire investigators, and again, with the core gap being an understanding of fire patterns and how to analyze fire patterns. The assessment by the panel from the National Academy of Science was that if you’re pattern matching, that is not science, so if you’re matching just fingerprints, if you’re matching tire treads, if you’re matching certain things, there are other criteria that determine how well you can do that. How big is the database of exemplars that you have to match to? How big – what is the failure rate of your analyst? Do you know that, how good they are at comparing these and making that match?
So, they misunderstood, I think, to some degree, fire investigators and lumped them in with the pattern matchers when, in fact, fire investigators need to be able to do a fire-pattern analysis based on principles of fire dynamics and physics, the physics of fire. And so, this investigation research that we’re doing is helping to provide a foundation that’s referenceable for the fire investigation community to look at and say, okay, this is the cause-and-effect relationship between having a door open to this room versus having the door closed to this room. And where is the oxygen consumed, and where isn’t the oxygen consumed? So, they can then look at NFPA 921 and say look at the origin matrix that was developed by ATF and Andy Cox and say how do I apply this?
Well, now we have data to show them not only how you can apply it but what the oxygen concentration was at a given time and why the fire went out where it did, which the type of things that – an example, if you will, that would get a fire investigator confused, in some cases, if they’re not aware of the fire behavior and fire dynamics is they might have a fire in a structure, and the fire would leave a pattern near the area of origin. And then the fire would get vent limited, and the fire would stop burning where it started. And the fire might move somewhere else within the structure or near an open vent and start burning there and start making a new set of fire-damage patterns near that vent. The fire investigator comes in. He sees one set of damage patterns in one area, another set of damage patterns in another area, and comes to the conclusion that there were two separate ignitions. Therefore, this is likely to be an arson when, in fact, it was just the physics of the fire. So, this is the level of understanding that we’re trying to build up within the fire investigation community.
ROD AMMON: Beautiful. Dan, you always do such a thorough job. I feel like I could call you up and go, okay, Dan, just talk about this. I’m wondering if in that you felt that we covered what the research objectives were.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: So, the objectives of the research were basically to examine the differences, how differences in ventilation would affect the fire patterns within a full-scale structure, and the emphasis here is on the full-scale structure. There are many training activities that are done where basically the fire investigators only have access to a single room that’s open to the outdoors, and that is certainly good at some level for a certain kind of training, but when they get to having to investigate a fire, it’s typically going to be within a larger structure that has several rooms, and the fire room may not be directly adjacent to an open vent to the outside.
So, we – that was objective number one. Then we need to measure that fire environment in terms of temperature, oxygen concentrations to see – and thermal imaging video to be able to demonstrate or show the fire investigators what the fire is doing. Even though you can’t see it from the outside, where is the fire actually burning with flaming combustion, and where do we only have the potential for condensed phase or smoldering combustion due to the lack of oxygen? We wanted to document the repeatability of this because, again, to show that physics works, so if we have the same fire with the same ventilation and similar fuels, how close do we get in replicating the pattern? How close do we get in replicating the fire behavior or the fire growth rate? And then, last but not least, the underlying theme here is for all fire investigators to have a better understanding of basic fire dynamics and how that fire will behave in the structure specifically with regard to the impact of ventilation on the resulting fire damage patterns.
ROD AMMON: Can you tell us about the experimental design and how you set this up and how you and the people at UL worked?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: So, when we design an experiment, the idea here is to do the research with the stakeholders that are involved. In the past, I’ve been involved in many research activities where we did research for fire investigators or research for firefighters. And we typically ran – after the research was completed, the reports were written. They went on the shelf in a library. They went in the file drawer. They went and got posted online, but that was sort of the end of it, and in many cases, the results weren’t readily accepted or utilized. So, what we try to do now is for each one of these experimental projects that we have, we’d like to set up a project technical panel.
And so, in this particular case, we brought in fire investigators, some from large cities, some from small cities. We brought in state fire marshals. We brought in private investigators, some with a background in electrical, others with a background in being able to use fire models and things like that. We brought in a few academics, people that teach fire investigation topics to others and had them all sit around the table and basically say here’s the objectives we’re trying to get to. Here’s a straw man for the approach in terms of we’d like to look at these two different-style houses that we talked about before, the ranch house and the two-story colonial structure, one sort of being a legacy structure, one being a more modern structure, and get an idea of how this will work.
We have limited time and money, so what is the best approach? And so, some of the decisions that the technical panel made in this particular case was we want to have the ventilation fixed. So, whatever it is at ignition, that’s what it’s going to be for most of the test. If the door is going to be closed, we’re going to leave it closed. If the door is going to be open, we’re going to leave it open so that we didn’t get into variables of timing. They wanted to see what would happen, what the physics would be. How do we fight the fires? Well, they wanted to maintain the patterns. So, we didn’t want to have an aggressive fire attack, if you will, with 150 gallons per minute of water. We’re going to use the least amount of water we need to cool the fire down, to put the fire out, do everything we can to maintain the pattern to make it more of an ideal case but to show the repeatability or lack of repeatability depending on the scenario.
They wanted to make sure that we had vents that were close to the fire, the seat of origin of the fire as well as vents that were remote from the origin of the fire. So with that, we were able to come up with a series of tests where we could do the replicates in the ranch house and then do some more extreme cases in the colonial house, as it was a much bigger volume, and we could have vents that were more remote from the area of origin.
ROD AMMON: Where was this research done?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: The research was done at UL’s world headquarters campus in Northbrook, Illinois in their large fire lab. We were able to build both houses side by side and basically alternate the burning of the houses. We would have a – in between the studies, we would have fresh drywall, paint it – spackle it, paint it, put down a fresh subfloor so we could look at damage patterns to the subfloor and new carpeting, new furniture, and then fresh instrumentation, burn the structure, let it go post-flashover. In some cases, we allowed the fires to burn post-flashover seven to nine minutes to look at the impact of that on the damage patterns and see how well the origin patterns persisted post-flashover. And then we put the fire out, documented the scene, and then we would tear it out and rebuild it again.
ROD AMMON: It’s an amazing process, and I’ve been around you and a lot of the folks that you’ve been working with for many, many years, so I did want to make sure we covered some of this. And I’m thinking, how long from that first meeting where you brought in the stakeholders and you sat around to the time when you felt, wow, we’ve done it, we’ve recorded it, and now we’re getting it out?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: So, it’s about three years. Even though it seems like the time is not that long, we basically were able to meet with the stakeholders a few months into the start of the project and get them all together in one place and come up with our test plan. Then we need to line up the contractors for building the structures and all the logistics that go into that. We were able, before the end of that year, to get the testing going, which included some heat-release rate testing of the fuels that we’re going to put in the structures. So, we had some free-burn testing there that was also done at the UL’s large fire lab, and now we have 200, 250 channels of data in each of the houses. We’re scanning every second. We’re running experiments that are anywhere from, say, 10 to 20 minutes in length up to 40 minutes in length. Some of the ignitions were with coffee pots that were tampered with so the time to ignition took a little bit longer in those cases to allow for the overheating and transition into flaming and whatnot. We did fires in kitchens with elevated surfaces, so we had a lot of data. We have 16 to 20 channels of video that we’re looking at, and so then it’s time to analyze the data and put it all together and write it all down.
So recently, just a month or so ago, we completed the report, and when I say completed the report, that means that it was drafted. It went through review by our tech panel members.
It went through internal review here at UL, and then we send it to NIJ, and they have someone review it as well. And so, we’re complete with that process, and it’s out on the street and on our webpage.
ROD AMMON: I bring up the time and the details because I think it’s so important. I think there’s a lot of people, at least I’ve seen, over the past decade or two that I’ve been involved. There’s a lot of people who say, you know, we’re doing tests. We’re doing burns. I don’t think many people who either fund or do some of this research realize the amount of work, time, money that goes into it and how important it is. So that’s just me wanting to push that a bit because I know how hard it is to get funding and time and to get people like UL and others involved. So, kudos to everybody involved, and I just wanted to make sure that that was clear.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Thank you. Thank you.
ROD AMMON: The report gets out. Talk about some exciting conclusions or maybe things that were surprises or things that you proved.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: So, some good conclusions. The more you vent the structure, the longer the fire can burn and the higher the level of heat-release rate because basically our homes, with the fuel loads that we have in them, have the tendency to be fuel rich, and so there’s plenty of fuel. And if you give it more ventilation, the fire is going to get bigger, so we demonstrated that. We demonstrated that if you have a pattern in the area of origin and it’s remote from a vent or it’s near a vent that is a full-exhaust vent as opposed to an intake vent, that pattern will persist post-flashover for a long time. And that serves – if the fire investigator recognizes that, that benefits them quite a bit to understand, hey, my origin was here and not by the window or not by the door and that those are ventilation patterns.
So, we’ve documented a lot of the impact of ventilation. Conversely, if you have an area of origin that is near a window or between two windows, that origin pattern could potentially get washed out or burned over, if you will, just due to the increased ventilation in that area, and the longer duration burning that can occur in that area. So, you lose some of the resolution there. Repeatability in terms of did the entire room get damaged? What was the extent of the damage? We demonstrated some fairly good repeatability between the non-ventilated case versus the ventilated case both in terms of the extent of the damage as well as in the terms of the amount of oxygen consumed, the peak temperatures generated and in the chronological event of the fire growth and movement within the space. Those were all excellent things to help a fire investigator understand.
Surprises – we got a couple of surprises. One surprise was how the fire moved and how the gases flowed in the two-story structure. So, we started a fire in a family room area that was a two-story family room. The house is divided length-wise basically by a hallway that comes between the two-story family room in the rear of the house and the two-story foyer with the stairs in the front of the house. And then the hallway, which only has walls that go up about four feet high is basically like a bridge between the master bedroom suite upstairs and the other three bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs. So, the path of travel of the smoke, it hit the ceiling above the sofa that was ignited in the family room. The gases rolled the ceiling across this open hallway and into the foyer, and the momentum of the gases started to drive the gases down the front wall of the house into the foyer faster than the hot gas layer was building up in the family room in the rear of the structure. So, the level of the fire gases was much higher in the rear for more of the time than it was remote from the fire in the front of the structure.
When we had the structure completely closed both – in both cases in the ranch house and in the two-story home, we developed an over-pressure that was higher than we anticipated. So, we had pressure transducers that were – had a peak range of 125 pascals, and a pascal is a very small pressure measurement, a fraction of a PSI. But normally a fire might generate 20 to 80 pascals. Well, in this case, we got over-pressure in excess of 125 pascals, and in the ranch house, it pushed out the windows, the plugs that were blocking the windows, and forced hot gases out the gaps above and below. And where those hot gases hit the fresh air, the oxygen, they basically turned into jet flames for several seconds until the pressure dissipated, and then the fire went into an oxygen-depleted decay and put itself out.
In the case of the two-story colonial, we had a similar effect when everything was closed. It pushed out the window in the family room and had the jet flames exposed, but it created a pressure at the front door that created a very unusual humming sound, if you will, from the gases escaping around the gap around the front door. So, everyone was looking at each other, thinking – everyone that was watching the experiment thinking, gee, what’s that noise? Where is that coming from? What’s going on? It took us a few seconds before we realized that it was coming from the doorway, and as soon as the smoke layer came down and we saw smoke push out below the bottom of the front door, basically that hot gas layer had now filled the entire structure from the ceiling all the way down to the floor. And once again, the fire completely extinguished itself. It ran out of the oxygen it needed to burn and filled the house with toxic oxygen-depleted gases and extinguished itself.
ROD AMMON: It’s amazing to see, and we will go into pitching all of the places that people can go to see this on your website. I think also it’s an amazing lesson, and I’m sure it’s a whole other audience going out to those people who were working in fire suppression. Was there one piece that you want to hand over to some of our folks that do both that was sort of a nugget?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Well, certainly, I think for the investigators as well as for the fire-suppression folks, to appreciate how the tactics used in suppression can impact the patterns that the investigators will find. We’re continually trying to help the fire-suppression folks appreciate their role in fire investigation in terms of what do they see upon arrival? What do they see when they do a size-up? What did it feel like? What did they find when they entered the structure initially? How did they vent the structure? Where did their point of attack come into play?
All these things are important for the firefighters to remember as well as the fire investigators need to ask the firefighters that information to help understand how the fire evolved and made the patterns that they’re finding. So, I think this combined understanding in bringing the two teams together, in some cases as you indicate it could be the same person, will bring some harmony to both camps, if you will, and make the fire investigation better.
ROD AMMON: I went through the module last night, which I said during the intro, and boy, once again, beautiful work, and again, much of that work was from all the folks that we already mentioned. There were a couple of points I thought – well, there were a lot of points, but there were some very good points made about how a fire investigator interprets a scene or can be thrown off. Tell us a little bit about that.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: So, the fire investigator – we call the module Fire Flow Analysis, and part of that is understanding the flow path. So, if you imagine a – let’s say a wood stove or we’re getting in time for perhaps smoking meat or grilling meat, and usually the cooking device or the wood stove will have an air intake, and then it also has an exhaust. It has a chimney, and basically by turning on the air intake and opening up the exhaust, we can make the fire hotter, and so it will cook faster.
At the same time, if we close the air intake down somewhat, we slow down the combustion process. If we close down the exhaust somewhat, we’ll increase the amount of smoke that’s held into the grill or the cooker that’s closed, and so we have control there about how we – the heat that we have as well as the smoke movement that we have. Well, now imagine that the fire room is basically the wood stove, and the front door is the air inlet, or a window is the air inlet, and maybe the exhaust is a window upstairs or something like that. And put it in those kind of terms to understand, okay, what would I do to make this fire hotter versus what would I do to cool this fire down without a hose line but just by controlling the flow path?
So firefighters are learning more and more about that with regard to how to implement some of those strategies, and from the fire investigation perspective, they need to understand that to understand how the fire is going to move through the space and how the fire is going to evolve and develop depending on where it can get fresh air and where it can exhaust hot gases. And so that’s basically that understanding of the flow path is the volume within a structure that has at least one intake from the outside and one exhaust to the outside. It could have more to understand how the fire is going to flow from room to room or up stairwells or up stairs, and where that flow path exists that allowed it to do that. You have to have an exhaust to allow the smoke to get out and flow. So how the fire moves through a compartment and the factors that influence that flow, specifically pressure because pressure is moving the gases, is very important to understand.
ROD AMMON: It also addresses some of the issues that you discussed in the module and I know will also be in the research that you show on your site related to multiple points of origin.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Yes, so the – basically if the fire investigator or the firefighters understand the fire triangle, that we need heat, we need fuel, and we need oxygen for the flaming combustion to exist, and appreciate that in a vent-limited fire, we already have the heat contained within the structure, we have plenty of gaseous fuel within the structure, what we’re missing is oxygen. So if a window were to fail and now a new source of oxygen is provided at that window, the fire is going to burn at that window and create a series of fire damage and fire patterns near that window when the origin of that fire may have started in another room in that structure, let’s say the kitchen in the rear of the house. But for whatever reason, the living room window failed, so the fire investigator is going to see two different pattern sets that came from different locations, and they just need to understand then through witnesses through talking to the firefighters, was that window out when you got here, or did it fail while you were pulling the hose lines, getting ready, or did you vent that window? And then what happened? Oh, you vented the window and then the fire really started coming out of the window. Okay, I got it. I mean those are the kind of things to understand how these remote patterns could evolve based on the impact of ventilation.
ROD AMMON: You have driven my mind through so many visual calisthenics. I’m seeing all these different places and rooms and things, and I hope that that gets out to a lot of other people, but I know there are even better ways to do that. One we already mentioned was the module that you worked on, and that’s up here at CFITrainer.Net. But you also have made UL’s findings available to the profession and to the public. Why don’t you tell us where fire investigators, fire service members can go and explore these experiments and see what happened themselves?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: So, the experiments currently live on fireinvestigation.ulfirefightersafety.org, and – or if you just go to the UL main page, ulfirefightersafety.org and click on fire investigation, you’ll get to our portal. And it has the ranch house experiments that we discussed, the colonial house experiments that we discussed. We also did a series of experiments where we exposed energized electrical cords and cables to a post-flashover environment to see how the circuit breakers or the circuit protection functioned and what the damage patterns look like on the wires to give that information to fire investigators as well. The neat thing is that when you click into any of these experiments, you basically have access to everything that we got out of the experiment.
For example, you can click on a floor plan of any of the structures. You can look at 360 views that we took after the experiment to sort of see what the damage pattern looked like. You can click on icons that are on the floor plan to look at the oxygen concentrations, the temperatures at a given thermocouple array at different locations in the structure, gas velocity measurements, and pressure measurements. You can scroll down the page and look at the videos from the experiments, and of course, the links are there to the full research report so that you’re able to examine the research as well.
This Friday, we’re going to start to put some components to help the readers or help folks better understand what we’re writing about in terms of research. So we’re putting up a small online training piece that’s focused on the instrumentation that we use and how that instrumentation works, basically what its capabilities and limitations are so that when they’re reading a scientific paper whether it’s ours or someone else’s and they talk about thermocouples or they talk about heat flux gauges, they have a better understanding of that. Of course, that’s a small piece, complementary piece, to the thermometry module on CFITrainer.Net as well that people can go to, to get that information.
We’re coming up with some additional online piece to help walk people through the report, walk people through the webpage a little bit to give them a more focused look at what’s covered in 300+ pages, and the design plan and the outcome similar to, as we talked about on this podcast. But then, of course, on the webpage on the portal, they’ve got access to everything. So, if it’s not caught in the high-level review, they can certainly look at all the experiments and all the data and have this as a visual to take them through the report as well.
ROD AMMON: A wonderful set of resources. It’s - it didn’t used to be this way, Dan, 10 years ago, 15 years ago. People were digging around in books and looking at pictures and I remember having footage inside a fire was rare, and now it’s – some of these things that I’ve seen you’ve done. You have six, seven, eight cameras running at one time, and you’ve got the thermocouples running, and it’s a wonderful visual experience and learning tool.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Well, and some of the great things that having the thermal imaging cameras available, which again, as you put it, 15 years ago, we didn’t have that much access to them or couldn’t record them or what have you. Now, we can basically let the fire investigator or the student going through the material look and see where the temperatures are increasing or decreasing inside the structure, not even having to necessarily rely on the thermocouples, but they can sort of see, hey, the fire went down where we started it. And yet we have heavy burning at the front door and in the front part of the living room, but in the rear of the living room, it’s not getting any additional oxygen, and the temperatures are cooling down. It’s getting dark. The amount of smoke movement has decreased, and they can see it and basically giving them that cutaway view, if you will, inside the structure to really witness what’s going on, where the flow paths are, where the fresh air is and where it isn’t, and where the fire can burn and where it can’t is really an educational experience, I guess is a great way to put it, for fire investigators today that they just didn’t have years – a few years ago.
ROD AMMON: We’re very grateful. I’m just thinking before I move on, any key messages that you want to get out there to fire investigators before we call it a day?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Study your craft. Keep up with the information. We recently had an opportunity to present at the IAAI training conference down in Jacksonville, Florida, and many people came up to me afterwards with regard to this particular study like, wow, that just makes so much sense, and now we’re seeing it. Now we can refer to it. So, it’s many times when I present, fire investigators, even very experienced fire investigators will come and tell me a story about a fire that they had that something didn’t quite make sense to them. They approached with caution, but they just really didn’t quite get a full understanding of what occurred, and now they’ve seen one of these experiments, and they’re like, huh, that’s what happened at my fire. That’s exactly what went on. So, keep studying. Keep developing that understanding because it is a science-based profession, and you want to do the appropriate analysis to make sure that you make the right call.
ROD AMMON: And we need to keep you and UL and a bunch of other folks doing research because I’ve heard a lot of changed minds over the past five years since you and Mr. Kerber and a lot of different folks have been out here spreading the good word of some of the things that you’ve been learning ever since, I guess, the more recent things would be since Governor’s Island when you were out there doing some of those burns. What’s next?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Well, we’re currently working on a study for fire investigators to examine some of the tools that are used, some of the mathematical tools that are used in terms of predicting flame height or hot gas layer temperature or the amount of energy needed for flashover. Many of these algorithms were developed from somewhat classical laboratory fuels, let’s say a pan of heptane or a natural gas fired burner. So, the question becomes how useful are these tools to investigators that are investigating fires that involve furniture, which is a more three-dimensional fire than, say, a flat pan or a spill fire? So, we’re – we ran 154 experiments this past November and December, and we’re currently analyzing that data now. These are single-compartment experiments, in some cases with the door open, some cases with the door closed.
We’re trying to replicate experiments that were done originally to develop the algorithms, many of these stemming from the 1970s or the 1980s. We have some better capabilities for measurement now in terms of the number of channels we can handle, the speed of – scanning speed, taking the data. So, we’re trying to replicate the original material and validate that for the burners, and then we’re trying to get an understanding of is there a point in the fire when you can no longer use this? It’s okay when you have maybe the sofa cushion on fire to use some of these tools, but once the fire is rolling the ceiling, are all bets off with regard to flame height and hot gas layer prediction and things like that? So that’s what we’re trying to develop an understanding of, and we’re heavily engaged working on that. We’ll be comparing that to not only the algorithms but also zone model, CFAST, and a fluid dynamics model, the fire dynamics simulator that was originally developed by NIST. So, we’ve got a lot of work ahead for this summer to crank through the numbers, but we’re excited to get that information out as well.
ROD AMMON: I know that’s a lot of work because I think about each one of those burns and each thing you do for heat release, and it takes a lot of time seeing what you do. Hey, before we let you go, you have some other cool stuff over at UL, and that is this UL Xplorlabs for middle school students. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Certainly. While we were doing the experiments for the NIJ project, we have another group here in the non-for-profit team at UL, and their role is public education and student outreach. And one of their goals is to provide information to support STEM for seventh and eighth grade students to stay interested in science and engineering and math. And so, they saw what we were doing with the fires, and they say, you know what? Everybody is interested in this CSI stuff, but what if we developed a learning module for students that focused around fire investigation? And so we did that, and it has a basic fire academy where people that may be slightly older than the eighth grade would find very interesting, to click in and understand some fundamentals of fire dynamics and then go through a fire scene and get an understanding of the impact of ventilation on a fire scene, the difference between a fuel-controlled fire and a ventilation-controlled fire.
And then at the end, they have an opportunity to interact and investigate a kitchen fire and see what kind of evidence they come up with, whether it’s witness statements or whether it’s debris that they find and sent to a lab, what kind of feedback they get, and so that’s all done virtually. So, there’s a number of school systems around the country that have adopted it, and they’re finding great success with the students, a high level of interest. There’s also a section there called extensions, which includes experiments that the teacher can conduct in class, anything from the basic candle experiments to understanding the fire to some heat transfer experiments, and all the way up through developing a soda can calorimeter to understand the various heat levels that different fuels have based on their chemistry. So it’s been well received, and actually the French are very interested in it as well, and so if you click on the FR tab on Xplorlabs, you will get a version where Dan has dubbed over in French, and so that’s just good for its own comic relief.
ROD AMMON: Oui. Well, I’ve got to tell you, you never cease to amaze me. I think I’ve known you now – oh God, I think 18 years maybe, and I love your passion and your thought and the network of people and the excitement that you create everywhere around you. We’re all really grateful, so thanks again for bringing this information to the podcast audience, and we’re hoping everybody out there takes a few minutes to check out the experiments for themselves, and they can also dive into the full research report and pass on the good word about the UL Xplorlabs and the tabs that Dan just talked about. Thanks for joining us today on the podcast. Stay safe. We’ll see you next time on CFITrainer.Net. Dan, thank you very much for your time.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
ROD AMMON: Thanks again. We will continue to do what we’re doing with promoting some of the things that are going on. The number of events at the IAAI International and the IAAI chapters are having continue to increase in number, and it seems as though some people are getting that information to get involved with those from the podcast. So, we’ll try to keep up with that as well. Related to the links, I wanted to repeat this again for those of you who are looking for the work that UL did with Dan. The full-scale experiments to study impact of ventilation on fire patterns are available at fireinvestigation.ulfirefightersafety.org, and for a link to the Xplorlabs Fire Forensics Claims and Evidence, go to the end of this podcast page. Thanks for joining us today on the podcast. Stay safe. We’ll see you next time on CFITrainer.Net. For the IAAI and CFITrainer.Net, I’m Rod Ammon.
This program provides a primer on accreditation, certification, and certificates for fire investigation training.
A fire occurred on the night of Feb. 20, 2003, in The Station nightclub at 211 Cowesett Avenue, West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Arc Mapping, or Arc Fault Circuit Analysis, uses the electrical system to help reconstruct a scene, providing investigators with a means of determining the area of a fire’s origin.
This module introduces basic electrical concepts, including: terminology, atomic theory and electricity, Ohm’s Law, Joule’s Law, AC and DC power.
A fire occurred on the evening of June 18, 2007, in the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, SC that resulted in the deaths of nine fire fighters.
This module looks at the many ways fire investigators enter and grow in the profession through academia, the fire service, law enforcement, insurance, and engineering.
This module will present a description of the IAAI organization.
This module takes a closer look at four of the most commonly-reported accidental fire causes according to "NFPA Fact Sheet.
This program brings three highly experienced fire investigators and an attorney with experience as a prosecutor and civil litigator together for a round table discussion.
One of the legal proceedings that may require the fire investigator to testify is a deposition. Depositions are often related to civil proceedings, but more and more jurisdictions are using them in criminal cases.
Deposing attorneys employ a variety of tactics to learn about the expert witness giving testimony, to try to unsettle that witness to see how he/she handles such pressure, and to probe for weaknesses to exploit.
The program discusses the basics of digital photography for fire investigators as well as software and editing procedures for digital images intended as evidence.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in civil proceedings such as fire loss claims and product defect lawsuits.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in criminal proceedings.
This module covers the foundation of DNA evidence: defining, recognizing, collecting, and testing.
This program provides a practical overview of how to perform the baseline documentation tasks that occur at every scene.
This module will discuss the techniques and strategies for conducting a proper science-based fire scene investigation and effectively presenting an investigator’s findings in court as an expert witness.
This program explains the basic principles of how electric and hybrid vehicles are designed and work, including major systems and typical components.
This program presents critical safety information for how to interact with electric and hybrid vehicles.
This module presents critical electrical safety practices that every fire investigator should implement at every scene, every time.
In this program, we will look at emerging technologies that fire investigators are integrating into their daily investigative work with great success.
This self-paced program examines the fire investigator's ethical duties beyond the fire scene.
As social media has emerged as a powerful force in interpersonal communications, fire investigators are being confronted with new questions...
Should you work for a private lab as a consultant if you are on an Arson Task Force? How about accepting discounts from the local hardware store as a “thanks” for a job well done on a fire they had last year?
This module takes investigators into the forensic laboratory and shows them what happens to the different types of fire scene evidence that are typically submitted for testing.
This module teaches the foundational knowledge of explosion dynamics, which is a necessary precursor to investigating an explosion scene.
This module addresses the foundations of fire chemistry and places it within the context of fire scene investigations.
The program is designed to introduce a new Palm/Pocket PC application called CFI Calculator to users and provide examples of how it can be used by fire investigators in the field.
This module examines these concepts to help all professionals tasked with determining fire origin and cause better understand fire flow dynamics so they can apply that knowledge to both to fire investigation and to fire attack.
This module provides a road map for fire officers to integrate and navigate their fire investigation duty with all their other responsibilities and describes where to obtain specific training in fire investigation.
The evaluation of hazards and the assessment of the relative risks associated with the investigation of fires and explosions are critical factors in the management of any investigation.
This module will describe the most commonly encountered fire protection systems.
This module presents best practices in preparing for and conducting the informational interview with witnesses in the fire investigation case.
This module provides instruction on the fundamentals of residential building construction with an eye toward how building construction affects fire development.
This module provides introductory information on the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard – 29 CFR 1910.120.
This module teaches first responders, including fire, police and EMS, how to make critical observations.
The program examines the importance of assessing the impact of ventilation on a fire.
This program discusses how to access insurance information, understand insurance documents, ask key questions of witnesses, and apply the information learned.
This module offers a basic introduction about how some selected major appliances operate.
This program introduces the fire investigator to the issues related to the collection, handling and use of evidence related to a fire investigation.
This program takes you inside the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) archives of some of the most interesting and instructive test burns and fire model simulations they have ever conducted.
The program provides foundational background on the scope of the youth-set fire problem, the importance of rigorous fire investigation in addressing this problem, and the role of key agencies in the response to a youth-set fire.
This module provides a thorough understanding of the ways an investigation changes when a fire-related death occurs.
This self-paced program will help you understand what to expect at a fire where an LODD has occurred, what your role is, how to interact with others, and how to handle special circumstances at the scene.
This program will introduce the fire investigator to the basic methodologies use to investigate vehicle fires.
This module presents the role natural gas can play in fire ignition, fuel load, and spread; the elements of investigating a fire in a residence where natural gas is present; and the potential role the gas utility or the municipality can play an investigation.
This self-paced program covers fundamental legal aspects of investigating youth-set fires, including the juvenile justice system, legalities of interviews and interrogations, arson statutes, search and seizure, and confidentiality.
This program explains what lithium-ion batteries are, how they are constructed, where they are used, safety concerns, and how they can cause fires and explosions.
This program discusses the latest developments in expert testimony under the Daubert standard, including the MagneTek case recently decided in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
This module focuses on how to manage investigations that have “complicating” factors.
This module uses the Motive, Means, and Opportunity case study to demonstrate how responsibility is determined in an arson case.
This program covers the general anatomy of a motor vehicle and a description of typical components of the engine, electrical, ignition, and fuel systems.
This self-paced program is the second part of a two-part basic introduction to motor vehicle systems. This program describes the function and major components of the transmission, exhaust, brake, and accessory systems.
This module educates the investigator about NFPA 1033’s importance, its requirements, and how those requirements impact the fire investigator’s professional development.
This module reviews the major changes included in the documents including the use of color photos in NFPA 921 and additional material that supports the expanded required knowledge list in NFPA 1033 Section 1.3.7.
The program illustrates for the fire investigator, how non-traditional fire scene evidence can be helpful during an investigation.
This module introduces the postflashover topic, describes ventilation-controlled fire flow, illustrates how the damage left by a postflashover can be significantly different than if that fire was extinguished preflashover.
This module demonstrates the investigative potential of information stored on electronic devices.
This module explains the relationship between NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921
This module lays the groundwork for understanding marine fires by covering four basic concepts that the investigator must understand before investigating a marine fire.
In this module, you will learn more about how cancer develops, what occupational exposure risks to carcinogens exist at fire scenes, and how to better protect yourself against those exposures.
The use of the process of elimination in the determination of a fire cause is a topic that has generated significant discussion and controversy in the fire investigation profession.
This module teaches the basics of the electrical power generation, distribution, and transmission system.
This module presents the basics of natural gas and its uses and system components in a residence.
The basics of the scientific method are deceptively simple: observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude.
This module explains the principles of search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, as contained in the amendment and according to subsequent case law, and applies them to typical fire scene scenarios.
This module addresses the foundations of thermometry, including the definition of temperature, the scales used to measure temperature and much more.
This program presents the results of flame experiments conducted with a candle.
This self-paced program explains to non-investigators the role of the fire investigator, what the fire investigator does, how the fire investigator is trained, what qualifications the fire investigator must meet.
This module will untangle the meanings of "undetermined," straighten out how to use the term correctly, talk about how not to use it, and describe how to properly report fires where "undetermined" is the cause or classification.
This module will advise fire investigators on how to approach the fact-finding procedures necessary and validate a hypothesis.
This module provides an overview on how structures can become vacant and eventually abandoned.
This self-paced program provides a basic framework for structuring the management of fire cases and fire investigators.
This module illustrates how wildland fires spread, explains how to interpret burn patterns unique to these types of fires.
This module presents the key elements of the initial origin and cause report and methods of clearly presenting findings in a professional manner.