July 4 - The Fire Department of New York and a team of scientists are setting buildings on fire to investigate new methods of fighting blazes fueled by modern materials. The nature and ferocity of building fires have changed over the years so, in their outdoor laboratory, the firefighters are looking at new tactics and technology in order to adapt and save lives.Rob Muir reports.
Governor's Island off the southern tip of Manhattan..for the next two weeks, serving as a laboratory for firefighters. One at a time, eighteen abandoned houses filled with modern home furnishings, are being set ablaze. The fire departmant is looking for flaws in firefighting techniques that assistant chief Bob Maynes says, haven't changed in decades. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ASSISTANT CHIEF OF THE FIRE DEPARTMENT OF NEW YORK, BOB MAYNES SAYING: "We started noticing the change about 1983 or 5 and that was combination of construction changing where due to energy efficiency, they started using energy efficient windows more insulation, making residences more tight. So you can imagine if it's holding the heat in in the winter what happens when you have a fire. Now firefighters are going into that environment so they're being exposed to much higher heat much more susceptible to burns." Modern furniture design is also having an impact. Synthetic fillings for sofas and chairs burn faster and emit more dangerous fumes than the cotton and feathers of the past. In 2007 a furniture store fire in Charleston, South Carolina killed nine firefighters. The furniture being used in the experiments is made of similar material. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ASSISTANT CHIEF OF THE FIRE DEPARTMENT OF NEW YORK, BOB MAYNES SAYING: "The contents here in that furniture is giving off a thick acrid black smoke. Twenty five, thirty years ago usually you could look under a fire, get a quick look, look for a victim. That's ending. When they get a significant fire that smoke is going from ceiling to floor and you can't see through it. You use sometimes a thermal imaging camera to spot viable victim, but it's changed the way we do business." (SOUNDBITE) (English) JOHN DRENGENBERG, ENGINEER WITH UNDERWRITER'S LABORATORIES, SAYING: "Sensors, they are called thermocouples and thermocouples sense heat very accurately Engineer John Drengenberg is helping set up the experiments. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JOHN DRENGENBERG, ENGINEER WITH UNDERWRITER'S LABORATORIES, SAYING: "And this is just one of many of these little towers of thermocouples throughout the house. We'll know how the fire is spreading or how the heat is spreading through the basement, through the second floor. It will give us a lot of good information." In one test it took just eight minutes for a room to fill with thick, acrid smoke. Older home materials burn much more slowly. Last year, in addition to the thousands of deaths and injuries of civilans cauight in house fires, 83 firefighters were killed and 38, 000 injured. Bob Maynes says his firefighters are already gleaning valuable information. They hope it will lead to new techniques, and a lower toll. Rob Muir, Reuters