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Modern Fire Research and Fire Science

Registered Architect, 40 years experience, investigative forensic specialist, engineering trained, college teacher, NCARB mentor, MBA.



Once again I have to include a paper from my college trek. I am taking a prerequisite for my fire sprinkler design class and it turned outso well, I had to include it here.

Modern Fire Research and Fire Science

This paper will be focused on the impacts to fire science by modern fire research. To begin, it would appear that the birth of modern fire research was on October 9, 1871, when on that day two massive fires occurred. The northwest Wisconsin forest fire burned 2,400 square miles, killing 1,152 people, and the Great Chicago Fire that burned 2.5 square City miles, killing 300 people. These events set the tone for the research that ultimately became the fire science of today, which is centered on life safety for the occupants/victim of fire and those that fight fire, and established on the basis of reduction of conflagration. Conflagration is the occurrence of “a fire with major building-to-building flame spread over a great distance” (Shackelford, p.2). The very basic tree of today’s fire research, and ultimately fire science, had a seed in the saving of lives and the cost of property loss from fire.

The impacts on fire science from this research can be evidenced in many facets. One of the first faces to emerge was the birth of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It was one the NFPA’s earliest work (now known as NFPA 101) that became the basis for all modern building codes. With such a legacy towards buildings, fire research has continued to grow and move forward even with technology. Some of these modern technological advancements include the use of infrared imagining. A body of any living creature (human or animal) produces heat that can be detected by a device capable of magnifying these temperatures which can then be used to locate victims trapped in a burning building and downed firefighters, allowing for rescuers to quickly find and retrieve these individuals and pets. The units available today are severely limited in what they can penetrate, however under new Federal Legislation the military is being authorized to release the latest infrared technology to municipalities for use by fire departments.

The next advancement is the global positioning systems (GPS). These systems can be used to track the location of trucks and resources to allow a more efficient deployment in times of overlapping responses. For instance, if a call comes in, dispatch can send the closest responder even if that responding unit maybe outside of a particularly defined area. Another technique that GPS could be utilized for would be downloading real time information during a wild fire that could be placed into a fire prediction model that would allow field decision-makers to have more complete information when it comes to allocation of resources during a wild fire instance.

The next advancement is the ultrafine water mist system, which allows a more efficient conversion of water to steam allowing a gas like dispersion that will flood the space for more extinguishing effects. This has been adapted in the use of type ‘C’ gypsum wall board that imbeds moisture pellets that will evaporate when the gypsum board exposed to the heat of fire thus cooling the surface and adding to the fire resistive characteristics of the wall.

The final advancement is compressed air foam systems. These systems improve the wetting and penetrating capabilities of water, making it a much better extinguishing agent. There is hope that these systems could even be developed for portable systems.

In concluding it is very fair to say that since October 9, 1871, modern fire research has helped in advancing many systems that have had and will have an impact on fire science and the ability to save the lives of victims, both human and animal, and those that fight fires, and reduce loss of property due to fire. Many of these impacts will not only affect the techniques in firefighting, but will also bleed over into the prevention arena even to the building codes.

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Shackelford, Ray. 2008. Fire Behavior and Combustion Process. NY: Delmar Cengage Learning

© 2010 Dan Demland


Asif Mahbub Karim on May 06, 2011:

For any fire protection issue communicate at

Dan Demland (author) from Phoenix, AZ on December 23, 2010:


I cannot agree with you more, and having some fire science in my background, it is my hope that I will be a better Architect. Thank you for the kind thoughts.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 23, 2010:

I guess I never thought of how much science might be behind modern fire fighting. This is an interesting hub. Fire is still so dangerous as even with all this technology two fire fighters lost their lives last night. That is sure heartbreaking for their families.

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