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.
ROD AMMON: Welcome to this edition of the IAAI CFITrainer.Net podcast. Today, we’re taking an in-depth look at the recent live-burn fire experiments exercise conducted on Governor’s Island, New York by the New York City Fire Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Underwriters Laboratory, and the Trust for Governor’s Island. Over six days in July, FDNY set controlled fires in rows of vacant residential buildings that were fully instrumented by NIST with high-tech sensors and heat-resistant cameras to capture critical data on fire behavior. These experiments were designed to gather new scientific data on the dynamics of fire and enhanced operational firefighting tactics that will be applicable for all fire departments. Over the last few decades, construction materials and methods have changed dramatically. These changes are affecting how structure fires behave, grow, and spread, in ways that differ from our traditional understanding of the process based on older construction methods. With us today from NIST is Dan Madrzykowski, the principal investigator on the Governor’s Island burns to help us learn more. Welcome, Dan. Thanks for being with us.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Hi, Rod, how are you?
ROD AMMON: I’m doing all right. First of all, how did these burns come about? What was the motivation?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Well, things are changing for the fire service in the field, and it’s certainly been noticed by departments across the country, and in particular with the fire department of the City of New York, FDNY, we had an opportunity to experiment with them in 2008 on wind-driven fires, and these were fires where the fire department had had significant losses in terms of firefighters lost and injuries over the years. And, they really wanted to look at new techniques, new equipment, new tactics for dealing with these fires, and those studies, in fact, did bring about significant change in how FDNY deals with wind-driven fires in fire-resistive construction, and they do use additional tools now; the floor-below nozzle, the wind control devices, positive-pressure ventilation fans, and change their tactic to allow them to deal with these fires in a safer and more effective means.
As we’re working with the - with FDNY, a number of the chiefs and training officers started to look at their other tactics, their bread-and-butter tactics, and they said, you know, the wind-driven fire is just an extreme case of ventilation here, and maybe the way we’re ventilating or opening up houses or our current methods of interior attack may not always be the most effective or the most efficient, certainly not the safest in many cases. And so, a lot of questions came up, and that’s what led us to the burns and the more bread-and-butter type thing, in this case, townhouses or row homes.
ROD AMMON: What was the purpose of these test burns?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: The purpose of these test burns was to put all that knowledge together and see how the fire service could implement it, see how the fire service could actually try to approach a fire as if this were a real fire. So, what we did was set these fires up as realistic as possible, realistic fuels in terms of a lot of synthetics; so we had regular beds and sofas and whatnot in there. These were not considered training fires, if you will. These were research burns. As a result, we did not have any interior attack either, but we either simulated that interior attack or we were having the firefighters look at attacks from the exterior, sometimes referred to - Chicago, they refer to it as a blitz attack or a transitional attack. This is when you see flames coming out of a window and you introduce water directly in the window.
Now, the reason that this tactic has not been employed or is not employed widely, especially in fire departments that have very rapid response times, urban fire departments, is there’s a concern that that will limit their ability to rescue a victim. They’re concerned that this will push fire through the structure. They’re concerned that the steam generation or the toxic gas generation will actually increase, and a victim that might have been savable, now they’ve caused more harm than good, and these tests were instrumented to look at what impact this would have on a victim. These tests were instrumented to look to see are we pushing fire? And so, we did some of the experiments with current tactics, if you will, and we were able to demonstrate the pushing fire phenomena, and then we did others based on the research that said don’t open up the structure first. Suppress it first, and we did not push - you know, the preliminary results show we did not push fire, and the preliminary results show that if you have a viable victim, you’re making things better by taking the hazard away sooner.
ROD AMMON: Some pretty serious results that could create some big changes in the future I can imagine, and as you said, these are preliminary results.
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: I mean, we have to really look at the data but just from observations and what people are looking at, some of the cases where the most experienced folks felt that when we make a vertical vent, this is going to make things better, and it did not, and part of the reason for that is the change in the fuel load that’s been evolving. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s been evolving over the past 30 years or so, and it really makes a big difference. If you add more oxygen, the oxygen mixes with the hot fuel gases and makes the fire bigger. The heat release rate increases, and this is sort of the really big change to get not only the fire service to understand but also to help fire investigators understand that once ventilation starts to happen, that fire is changing dramatically, and it’s going to change what the fire investigator has to look at.
ROD AMMON: It seems like it’s going to create changes all around, and I saw a lot of wide open eyes when I was out there. So, NIST does a lot of things. You guys get involved in modeling. You get involved in live burns. Why were these burns necessary?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: These burns, again, bring multiple reasons. We had an opportunity where we had 20 structures that were similar, so we can start doing an experiment, and an experiment is pretty key that you’re only changing one parameter for each test, and I know this kind of sometimes gets people, like, what are you doing? This is crazy. But you want to look at that impact of opening a door or look at the impact of opening the living room window instead of, say, breaking a window on the rear of the house, and that’s what these experiments give us the opportunity to do. Given that the structures are there, I mean, honestly, with the economy and the budgets the way they are, we could never ever afford to do this number of tests at NIST or even UL with DHS funding, it would be very difficult, but the other key piece here is we need to make this real for the fire service.
It’s one thing to do experiments off by ourselves in a lab, maybe have a couple of firefighters or fire chiefs from different fire departments around the country and observe. It’s another thing to work with a high-quality organization like New York City, and basically they’re leading the way, saying hey, if we’re going to make this change, others perhaps are going to look at them and say, you know, we need to change our SOP, too. I mean, it’s a multi-phase piece. We have the research that maybe support to have information that we can change the way firefighters are taught. Locally, people may say, hey, we’re going to do this and train our guys differently because we want them to be the best firefighters they can be and operate in the safest manner that they can operate. But, until the fire departments change their operating procedures, that’s really sort of the ultimate goal if this is valid, and the only way to really see if this is valid is to have real firefighters in as close a situation as possible to the real thing trying to implement some of these tactics and see for themselves and say, did that work better for me or not and start thinking about I had a fire two years ago or I had this fire six months ago or I had a fire last week, and you know what, it did this.
Now I have an understanding of why it did that based on what you’re showing us with this data, and then perhaps also maybe we could have done that a different way that might have made it a little easier on everybody involved. And, that’s really the big key, putting it all together, doing the research not for the fire service, but with the fire service, and certainly, New York City, Chicago, we’ve been reaching out to the Houston Fire Department, San Francisco Fire Department, trying to work with them, and they’re all trying to work to make some change.
ROD AMMON: I was blown away by the teamwork out there, and as you said, having the involved and having them actually see what happens while these changes are taking place or the differences in the way that they attack the fire was pretty stunning, and just overall just a great place, I think, for sharing information and in places where, especially in the fire service, people can be very cynical. They were truly moved by the things that they were seeing, and I think that’s great that you’re bringing that and FDNY these kind of experiences. So, tell us a little bit about the details. What was the instrumentation like, the type of data that you collected?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: Of course, one of the key things we want to try to track is temperature. So, what are the gas temperatures in the room of origin? What are the gas temperatures remote from the room of origin, especially in areas such as bedrooms, let’s say? If the fire started in the basement, what were the conditions in the upstairs bedrooms? Fire happens at night, occupants are sleeping; we had, in one case, a door open in the bedroom, in one case the door closed to show the impact that that has. Having the door closed is clearly a safer condition for any occupant for a fire that’s starting outside that room. In addition to the temperature in certain locations, we’re measuring heat flux, how much energy would be impacting the firefighter, let’s say, if they were at the top of the stairs? A fire starts in a basement. Some traditional tactics are to basically go to the top of the stairs and work your way down. In effect, you’re trying to come down a chimney, right. The heat’s coming up at you. You’re at the top of the chimney and trying to work your way down, very hazardous situation, especially if there’s a chance that windows might either be ventilated by another crew in the basement or if the windows might fail accidentally just due to the fire.
While you’re trying to make your way down, conditions could intensify significantly, so that’s not a good place to be, so we’re measuring heat flux to see how much energy would be hitting the firefighter to look at their tenability. Temperature basically gives us the convection heat transfer component and then heat flux gives us energy. We can look at convection and radiation from that; break that down. Gas concentrations, again, typically these measurements were made to look at the viability or the tenability of civilians that might have been trapped in the building, so we’re looking at oxygen depletion, generation of carbon dioxide, generation of carbon monoxide. We’re looking at weather data because we’re outside and we want to see maybe one of the tests, the wind start blowing 10 or 20 miles an hour. What impact did that have on the fire and how should the fire service account for that when they want to decide what tactics to use on the building? And, of course, some of the most valuable data is really video, and we had opportunities. We had protected thermal imaging cameras inside the structures. We had a lot of video cameras inside and outside the structures.
That’s some of the data we’re working on right now. I mean, that really helps to tell the story. It’s one thing to show people graphs of, hey, look the temperature’s gone up and down and all that sort of thing and for engineers and people that are interested in protective clothing design and whatnot; they can do calculations with that. But, from the tactics perspective, it’s like, okay, I see that going up and down, but how does my visibility improve? Was there a wave of heat that came up the stairs? And, that’s the kind of thing that the thermal imaging camera can very quickly show us that type of information and the video cameras can show us the visibility portion as well. So, at the end of the day, all this data will be available and the videos then can be put to use as material for training for fire departments around the country.
ROD AMMON: Such a wealth of information and goes without saying, I think there’s going to be a lot of people affected and a lot of people very grateful for the work that you do. So, I know that there’s an analysis underway and a full report’s going to be issued, but anecdotally, did the researchers see anything that surprised them?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: The fire did not let us down I guess in the sense of, as we kept adding ventilation, the fire continued to get bigger. The results that we saw tracked very well with previous research results from UL and from NIST; in that sense, no. Some of the surprise came from the fire service, and in part, their reaction to what they were seeing, how surprised they were at some of the conditions. Sort of we were getting by and we’d done enough experiments with horizontal ventilation, opening doors, breaking windows, and everyone could understand that, well, we understand how the fire can get bigger there, but some of the tried and true tactics with vertical ventilation, everyone was confident that if you opened up the roof, the hot gas layer would lift and conditions would get better.
And, Steve Kerber at UL had shown previously that that was not the case, but again, that’s in a laboratory, so even though he has full-scale homes built in the laboratory, the fire service says, well, that’s in a laboratory, and so here, they’re walking through the building before the fire starts. They see what it is. Again, we’re working with them. Where would you cut the hole? How big would it be, that sort of thing? And then, we open it up and they see that, sure enough, the fire gets bigger, and then they say, well, maybe there’s not enough ventilation. Open it up some more. We open it up some more and the fire still gets bigger. As you said earlier, there was some shaking heads and some acknowledgement that, yeah, you know what, we need to look at this. We need to think about this a little different way.
ROD AMMON: And, glad you are. So, now I’m sitting here thinking this has a lot to do with day-to-day firefighting. How is it relevant to fire investigators?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: It’s extremely important to fire investigators. Ventilation has a major impact on fire patterns. The information that the first arriving firefighters can provide the fire investigators is very important. Number one, what did the firefighters see upon arrival? Did they see nothing? And so, that’s very possible in some of these scenarios that we looked at. Until the vents are made, all you see is smoke. Or did they have flames coming out of a door or a window? What were the first actions that the firefighter did?
Again, this is very important to the fire investigator if they’re going to understand how the fire developed. What we’re seeing in these tests, when a fire investigator goes to a scene, in many cases, they’re drawn to the area that has the most damage or the most distinctive fire pattern, and what that pattern shows is that - typically is that the fire burned here for a while. There was a significant transfer of energy from the fire to the target, whether it’s the wall or a piece of furniture or what have you, and created a tremendous amount of damage. Now, in many cases, the investigator is looking at that area for the origin, and they’re saying, well, there’s a lot of damage here. We have our pattern, what have you, and then comes the challenge of, okay, well, what’s the cause? Do I have a cause in the area? Do I have something that I can assign? And, a lot of times, they don’t, and they’re trying to say, well, where - it just doesn’t quite make sense.
And, part of this is understanding the flows, the flow path, understanding basically where the fire triangle exists within that structure.
If you start at the outside of the structure and you start to look at, okay, when I’m looking at broken windows and the burn pattern here, it’s top to bottom, so the flames were just exiting out of this window, but maybe I look at the windows on the other side of the structure and I only have a burn pattern that’s on the upper half of the window, so fresh air was coming in there. Was there a door that was open? Where was the air coming from? Where did I have the potential for hot gas, fuel-rich hot gas and air to mix for my fire triangle for this burning to occur? And, it’s - again, it’s been shown in tests and training and all sorts of things done by ATF and others that when you open a door, basically you can get a post flash-over pattern to form where there’s plenty of oxygen and plenty of combustion occurring that is much bigger and dwarfs the original pattern that may be in the fuel-rich section of the room in the rear that was actually where the origin was. And so, that’s why understanding the ventilation, understanding that firefighters adding ventilation or changing ventilation can really change the patterns that they’re going to investigate, it’s critical for them to understand how that ventilation changed and how these fires developed and that’s why the basic understanding of fire dynamics is so important to a fire investigator.
ROD AMMON: A lot of great information that’s very relevant to the people who listen to us here at CFITrainer and are members or are not of the IAAI. I’m sure everybody’s grateful and we’re going to be letting folks know when you release this content. What is the timeline for releasing the findings?
DAN MADRZYKOWSKI: We’re continuing to work with the FDNY and with Underwriters Laboratories as we review the data, and we hope to have the study completed by next spring.
ROD AMMON: Pretty exciting. Thanks again for being with us, Dan.
ROD AMMON: When the findings of the research are released, we’ll let you know in a future podcast, and now some news from the IAAI. The IAAI has once again been awarded a grant from FEMA. The Fire Prevention and Safety Grant will help the IAAI to create new modules that are integrated as part of the FIT, ECT, and CFI programs. We’re also producing new webinars and mobile applications, all designed to serve the fire investigation community. Many of you have asked about using your iPad and other mobile devices to access CFITrainer. We’re currently updating the CFITrainer.Net platform so that you will be able to access and use it from all kinds of tablets and mobile devices. We’ll be able to deliver quality content in several types of streams depending on what type of device and bandwidth you have. This update for mobility to the network is in progress.
The new modules coming out over the next year will be the first to be delivered so that they can be seen and enjoyed on all mobile devices. If you have an Android phone or tablet, you might already be enjoying our content on the go. Other modules will be updated in the coming year. We will be having an upcoming webinar here on CFITrainer.Net very soon. Details will be available in the next week or so. The deadline for the Complex Arson Investigation for the Insurance Industry class is September 24. The class takes place October 28 through November 2. This 40-hour course has been in demand for years and presented at the ATF National Academy that’s on campus at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. For more information or to register, go to www.firearson.com or call the IAAI office. That concludes this CFITrainer.Net podcast for the IAAI and CFITrainer. I’m Rod Ammon. We’ll see you again next month.
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.
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 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 teaches first responders, including fire, police and EMS, how to make critical observations.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
This module provides introductory information on the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard – 29 CFR 1910.120.
The program examines the importance of assessing the impact of ventilation on a fire.
This module demonstrates the investigative potential of information stored on electronic devices.
This module explains the relationship between NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921
The basics of the scientific method are deceptively simple: observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude.
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.