Studying Impact of Ventilation to Aid Fire Investigations
UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI) examines how ventilation affects fire patterns and electrical system damage.

Overarching goal: to increase fire investigators’ knowledge by providing data-driven insights.

Knowledge of fire dynamics is vital when it comes to identifying a fire’s origin and cause. The key to mastering fire dynamics is understanding how ventilation affects fire behavior. UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute’s (FSRI) two-year fire investigation project, currently in progress, is conducting much-needed scientific research into how ventilation impacts fire patterns and electrical system damage in single-family homes.

The project has six key objectives:

  • Improve investigators’ understanding of fire patterns by increasing knowledge of fire behavior and the impact of ventilation on different fire scenarios
  • Develop knowledge of fire patterns within full-size modern residential homes, incorporating an open floor plan and two-story great room
  • Identify and disseminate standard best practices for the use of fire damage and patterns resulting from ventilation during fire based on science
  • Conduct fire modeling based on a series of full-scale fire experiments to further the linkage between modeling, fire ventilation and fire patterns
  • Provide investigators with a better understanding of effects of modern construction practices and electrical equipment responses to fire
  • Transfer data gained from the lab into forensic standard operating practices via reports, interactive online content and onsite trainings and seminars

The study’s methodology is grounded in firefighting reality.

Full-scale testing will be performed in representative models of modern single-family homes that incorporate modern construction practices. Here’s why: over the past 30 years, home construction materials, contents, size and geometry have changed drastically—and consequently, so has fire behavior. Today’s fires, thriving as they do on predominantly synthetic materials, tend to become ventilation-limited. How and where a fire receives oxygen greatly impacts the fire dynamics and subsequent fire patterns.

Advanced analytics will be used to gain incremental scientific learnings and data.

In addition to full-scale, realistic testing, the study will include:

  • Characterizations of electrical system response to fire
  • Fire modeling analysis of the full-scale burns, using the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Fire Dynamics Simulator

Ultimately, the study’s results will have important practical applications.

Upon the study’s completion, investigators will be able to leverage science-based comparisons of the various types of ventilation they encounter on firegrounds across the country, every day.

The results will also provide a baseline for future fire investigator training, as well as for modifying reference materials such National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 921, an area of concern in the fire investigation community.

Last but not least, a comprehensive fire investigator outreach program will help bring this fire science to the street.

UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute is dedicated to increasing firefighter knowledge to reduce injuries and deaths in the fire service and in the communities they serve.