Changing Severity of Home Fires Workshop Report

On Dec. 11-12, 2012, in response to an invitation from the U.S. Fire Administration, leading national organizations representing the fire service, fire researchers and other stakeholders in home fire safety came together at the
Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute in College Park, Md., to explore how changing building construction methods, materials and building contents are affecting the way fires grow and develop in today’s homes. The expected
outcomes, as stated by USFA, of the workshop were to:

  • Enhance the awareness of fire service and life safety officials of the changing and emerging fire and products of combustion risks to residential building occupants.
  • Produce a document that clearly identifies contributing factors to the marked increase in the speed of fire spread experienced in interior residential fires.
  • Identify potential solutions to mitigate if not prevent those risks.
  • Determine which organizations or agencies are interested in further studying and ultimately developing implementation strategies. 

There were 28 organizations represented at the workshop; the attendance is listed in Appendix C – Workshop Participants. The 1 1/2 day program (Appendix A – Workshop Agenda) was designed to address emerging changes in
home design, construction and contents and their potential impacts on occupant and firefighter safety. A special focus of the workshop was on firefighting tactics in response to these changes.

The overall goal of the program was to share our new understanding of these effects, gained through a recent body of research funded by the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies, and to consider how we should respond as a community.

There were two major topics discussed. First, researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Underwriters Laboratories and others presented the technical substantiation for two phenomena which are
facing the fire service in responding to today’s home fires: the first is the shorter times to flashover and wind-driven fire effects which are resulting from modern building contents and configurations. The second is the changing
building envelope (much of which is driven by sustainable construction goals) which is creating new hazards in exterior fire attack. Research was also presented which illustrates how modern firefighting personal protective
clothing and equipment is not fully in step with changing environments for firefighters and their tactics.

The second major topic of the program was modern furniture flammability, a fire issue which is not new but which is receiving renewed attention as research is reinforcing the significant contribution of upholstered furniture to the home fire problem and developing new and environmentally benign methods to lower that contribution. 

A significant proportion of the workshop agenda was dedicated to interactive discussion with the fire safety organizations represented, to fully understand the risks presented by the speakers and to identify specific strategies 

to address them. USFA challenged each organization represented to consider what they might do to help develop solutions to the risks identified. The result was a recommended eight-point action plan:

Download the full PDF from FEMA