Report – Exploratory Analysis of the Impact of Ventilation on Strip Mall Fires
Craig Weinschenk
April 16, 2020

Funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, Exploratory Analysis of the Impact of Ventilation on Strip Mall Fires is the second of three reports issued as part of the Study of Coordinated Fire Attack Utilizing Acquired Structures project.

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The report is broken down into 4 main sections:

  • Experimental Setup - description of the strip mall units, instrumentation, and fuel packages
  • Results - fire dynamics based descriptions of the data from each of the seven experiments
  • Discussion - examination of the ventilation, pressure, and structural stability
  • Tactical Considerations - assessments of the data for fire service members to consider with respect to actions on the fireground

A majority of the existing full-scale research with the fire service was primarily designed to study and quantify the impact of tactics on the residential fireground. This project went beyond previous research by specifically conducting experiments in a commercial structure. Seven full-scale experiments were completed in collaboration with the Fairborn Fire Department (Fairborn, OH) in four units of a twelve-unit acquired strip mall that was slated for demolition. These experiments were designed to analyze the impact of horizontal and vertical ventilation on ventilation-limited fires within the test units.

Beginning with a baseline case of no intentional fire service ventilation, three experiments focused on additional horizontal ventilation and three experiments focused on the combination of additional horizontal and vertical ventilation. The control variables included the ventilation method, total ventilation area provided, and timing relative to water application.

The volume of the strip mall units were larger than a typical residential compartment. A representative fuel load was chosen sufficient to generate ventilation-limited conditions within the unit. As a result, providing ventilation (via horizontal or vertical methods) without suppression resulted in an increase in the heat release rate of the fire and a corresponding rise in temperature. When suppression was conducted simultaneously with horizontal and vertical ventilation, there were no measured increases in unit temperature or pressure during suppression. While some elements of these experiments (e.g. unit volume and wind) resulted in increased variability, the lessons learned highlighted the importance of having a systematic approach to the implementation of tactics. These results were consistent with concurrent research in single-family home fires.

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