In the early
part of 2006, the FDNY experienced several challenging fires in
high-rise fireproof residential buildings. These fires were similar to
several incidents that, in the past, had claimed the lives of
firefighters and civilians. One fire in particular nearly claimed the
lives of several firefighters, and multiple members went to the hospital
This fire occurred in a
building that 10 years earlier was the scene of a line of duty death of
a member from the FDNY. With this near miss incident, interest was
renewed in developing tactics that would better protect both
firefighters and civilians. In this effort, the FDNY requested the
assistance of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
This request was answered by Dan Madrzykowski and Steve Kerber, fire
protection engineers in the Firefighting Technology Group of NIST.
NIST was in the process of planning a series of tests for the spring of
2006 with the Toledo Fire Department; the focus of these tests was
using positive pressure fans for stairwell pressurization and smoke
control in high rise buildings. The concept was for a fire department to
deploy portable fans to pressurize stairwells in high-rise buildings,
allowing the fire units to limit smoke contamination of the stairwells
and upper floors. A question that lingered was whether the portable fans
would still be effective with increased pressures from actual fires.
NIST validated the results from Toledo in December of 2006 in a series
of live burns in a 17-story high-rise building in Chicago.
fire service now began to request that the fire protection engineers
study other tactics that possibly could provide an additional level of
safety for firefighters and make for a more efficient operation. Of
particular interest was the need for better understanding the effects
that wind had on fire dynamics in high-rise buildings due to FDNY’s past
experience with the negative effects that wind had on these fires.
this newly formed partnership proving so valuable, the FDNY was able to
secure a high-rise on Governors Island to test alternate strategies to
combat wind driven fires. With the support of NIST and funding through
the Department of Homeland Security and the Assistance to Firefighters
grants, testing was conducted in February of 2008.
tools such as wind control devices, high-rise nozzles and PPV fans were
tested for their usefulness and ability to control these fires. A
wealth of knowledge was gained through this testing, and the FDNY
changed its tactics, trained and equipped line units and is better
prepared today to fight fires in high-rise buildings. In the last
several years, the FDNY has utilized these tactics in at least 20
serious high-rise fires with very positive results and has not
experienced any serious firefighter injuries at these incidents.
history that I have discussed is just the tip of the iceberg. The
testing continues today with NIST and Underwriters Laboratories’
Firefighter Safety Research Institute. The importance of the partnership
between the fire service and fire protection engineers cannot be
overstated. The fire service today has knowledge of fire dynamics like
never before. Testing allows the fire service to validate tactics and
make changes to better provide safety. Changes in the fire service today
are not based purely on personal observation and judgment; they are
based on the testing that proves and validates their effectiveness.
the start of this partnership, the FDNY can show a reduction of
traumatic injuries to its members from changing fire conditions. The
fire ground is constantly evolving with changes to building construction
and fuels that fill our homes. The fire service will continue to
benefit from this ability to see how the these changes influence the
fire and how we can deploy tactics and resources to combat the modern
The fire service community
owes a debt of gratitude to the dedication and support of fire
protection engineers like Dan Madrzykowski and Steve Kerber. There
continues to be requests from the fire service for better understanding
of fire and means to control it; in the future, additional testing will
further enhance our safety and effectiveness.
Chief George Healy is with the New York City Fire Department.