SFPE convened a group of researchers from various types of research organizations in mid-2012 to revisit some of the recommendations/comments from these two reports and to identify how fire protection engineers can benefit from and provide benefit to fire protection research efforts.


The panelists were:


William E. Koffel, P.E., FSFPE
Session Moderator


Greg Baker
Branz, New Zealand


Louis Gritzo, Ph.D.
Factory Mutual, USA


Andre Marshall, Ph.D.
University of Maryland, USA


Russ Thomas, Ph.D.
NRC, Canada


Ulf Wickström, Ph.D.
SP Fire Technology, Sweden


QUESTION: Does your organization focus on any specific areas of fire research and if so, what are they?

Gritzo: FM Global performs fire research (www.fmglobal.com/research) on all aspects of commercial and industrial property loss prevention in a balanced portfolio of commercial/industrial client-focused problem solving projects and long-term strategic research programs. Research is per formed using a blend of integrated computational and experimental/testing activities, including large-scale experiments and testing at the 6.4 km2 FM Global Research Campus, and small-scale experiments and testing as well as 10+ teraflop scientific computing at our Center for Property Risk Solutions. Major areas of focus include all aspects of fire protection, flammability, and system reliability for both existing and emerging applications.


Thomas: If we have a focus, it is on experimental studies of fire behavior and also over the years on human performance in emergencies.


Marshall: The University of Maryland is involved in many different areas of fundamental and applied fire research. Our faculty has a range of research interests from developing technology for fire-fighter safety to exploring fire safety in outer space.

Baker: The main areas of research are risk analysis, modeling, structures in fire, design fires, and post-earthquake fires.


Wickström: SP carries out fire research in many areas, like fire performance of materials and composites, risk analyses, temperature analyses, fire dynamics, structural performance, etc. About 50% of our fire activities are research and the other half are standardized testing.


The following questions are related to the SFPE document, A Research Agenda for Fire Protection Engineering from February 2000.


Question: in the summary of the report, a comment is made that "A significant amount of fire testing is conducted; however, the results from these tests are not readily available." is this still the case?


Gritzo: There continues to be the potential for improvement by making data from fire research-related testing (i.e., tests outside those proprietary for product development, certification, etc.) available and in a form suitable for use and collaboration.


Wickström: I do not think the results from commercial testing will ever be openly available. The legal conditions for commercial testing, not only fire testing, would need to change completely. To use test results for theoretical analyses is difficult as they are generally not intended for that. For most test methods (with the exception of fire resistance tests controlled by plate thermometers), the thermal exposure is not very well known. We do not even have reliable theories for specifying the thermal exposure in the cone calorimeter for predicting times to ignition!


Marshall: Although there is a shortage of available test data, there is also a corresponding deficit in the available analytical options for putting this fire data to use. In other words, if we had all the data we wanted, how creative could we be with it to engineer effective fire protection solutions? It is my hope that the available test data would be used to not only support current engineering practices, but also to inspire the development of new engineering tools for fire protection engineering as well.


Question: What is your organization doing to make the results from fire tests more available to the practicing fire protection engineer?


Marshall: Consistent with our pedagogical mission at the University of Maryland, we communicate test results through a number of channels. In the classroom, we have expanded the sophistication of our teaching laboratories providing students within and even outside of fire protection engineering valuable firsthand experience with fire. Our Fire Testing and Evaluation Center (FireTEC) has expanded its web communications to include important information regarding proper use and analysis of standard test data. At FireTEC, we are also deliberate about publishing our results when appropriate in applied fire safety channels. FireTEC is also conducting public service announcements (PSAs) and participating in other media communications to the general public. Finally, the faculty at the University of Maryland is very active in communication of our fire research findings in scientific journals, while pushing our discoveries towards engineering applications through applied research collaborations with industry and fire protection engineering firms.


Gritzo: FM Global has proactively made fire protection engineering guidance, as well as the research on which it is based, openly available to the public. We have continued to build upon a long tradition of publishing research studies by increasingly contributing data, as well as the necessary information to understand and apply the results, in conferences and technical journals. In 2009, we began making key technical reports available to the public at www.fmglobal.com/researchreports as well as video from selected tests available on www.youtube.com. The results of FM Global research in the form of FM Global Property Loss Prevention Data Sheets are now openly available for use by the fire protection community at www.fmglobal.com/datasheets as are the FM Approvals Standards for loss prevention products testing certification at www.fmapprovals.com. Advances in technology developed at FM Global are non-exclusively, royalty free licensed to the private sector to encourage widespread use.


Baker: The most common way that fire test results are made available is through the publication of research study reports.


Thomas: For some of our projects, we are looking at making the "data” files available, but doing so is not without its risks as it is often difficult to provide full insight into the context in which the data was collected.


Question: A question that often arises concerns the reliability of fire protection systems and features. Has your organization performed any work regarding reliability of fire protection systems and features?


Baker: We were involved in a project with the Fire Protection Association of New Zealand in 2007/08 that inspected the standard of passive fire protection in buildings.3 We are currently in the middle of a project that investigated the performance of fire protection systems in the recent Canterbury earthquakes.4 We are also involved in a joint research project with the University of Canterbury, which includes a component on system reliability.


Gritzo: FM Global has performed extensive internal studies on reliability of fire protection systems from the 1990s to the present. The reliability of water supplies in sprinkler systems, water-mist systems, and foam-water systems has been analyzed. In addition, FM Global is currently completing a study that compiles and provides a review of the past several decades of the reported studies on reliability of sprinkler systems. The results of this study will be in a report on the FM Global website, and will be submitted for publication in the refereed archival literature.


Wickström: One of the things that could be done to improve reliability of fire protection systems is to improve the test methods and the understanding of them.


Question: The SFPE Report (2000) indicates the need for a collaborative effort to develop and implement a research agenda. Do you see any organization addressing this need within your own country? Do you see any organization addressing this need globally? Is there an organization that may be best suited to serve in this capacity from a global perspective?


Baker: In NZ, we have recently published a Fire Research Roadmap. Internationally, the International FORUM of Fire Research Directors is well placed to do this.


Gritzo: The development and, more importantly, the implementation of a cohesive research agenda remains a challenge. The Fire Protection Research Foundation within the NFPA has contributed to the development of this agenda and the International FORUM of Fire Research Directors continues to provide global coordination within fire research labs. The successful implementation of a cohesive agenda becomes more achievable with additional focus. To these ends, FM Global is leading the development of an Open Source Fire Model (www.fmglobal.com/modeling) that serves as a means of integrating research into an open computational framework with an evolving agenda developed as a global collaboration of members from universities, laboratories, and companies.


Wickström: I think the spread of basic fire engineering science and education of fire safety engineers needs to be improved. That could possibly be done by better cooperation between universities offering courses in fire safety engineering.


Thomas: The FORUM of International Fire Research Directors has attempted to undertake this role over the years. There have though been many changes taking place amongst the various labs around the world, some moving from government agencies to commercial ventures or even into university groups. The issue of funding to undertake collaborative research has proven to be difficult, and although there have been proposals for a unified research agenda over the years, the ability to bring them to fruition has generally failed other than situations where a few labs have collaborated on a common priority topic.


Marshall: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been very deliberate about developing a fire research agenda. At the same time, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Combustion, Fire and Plasma Systems program has demonstrated national leadership in funding Fire Research. FM Global and United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) have also demonstrated leadership over the last several years through their fire modeling workshops. The International Association of Fire Safety Science (IAFSS) has provided a forum for communicating fire research advances and helped to establish direction for the fire research community on the international stage.




Question: The participants indicated a concern regarding the changes in furnishings and contents. In general, what research has your organization performed regarding changes in furnishings and contents?


Wickström: We have worked quite a bit developing large and small scale test methods and prediction models.


Marshall: We focus on developing new test methods for evaluating the fire performance of furnishing and contents of the future. The ability of tests to effectively screen these new materials is crucial because there is no historical fire performance data available for guidance.


Thomas: We have been undertaking a four-year "Design Fires” project that has, amongst other things, characterized both the furnishings and contents of a range of different occupancy types.


Baker: BRANZ conducted are search project for the NZ Fire Service that looked at the cost-benefit of mandating fire retardant treatment for upholstered furniture.5 This was followed up later with a report that also included sustainability in the analysis.6


Question: Environmental sustainability is an issue that was addressed in the FPRF conference, and there has been much written recently about the environmental aspects of certain chemicals used to enhance fire performance. In general, what research has your organization been conducting in this area?


Gritzo: FM Global has led major efforts to advance the understanding of loss prevention as an integral part of environmental sustainability, including several publicly available studies (www.fmglobal.com/researchreports). In collaboration with our commercial and industrial client owners, we continue to perform research on practical means to maintain or further reduce losses while concurrently reducing environmental impact. For example, FM Approved products that are beneficial in environmental certification programs now include measurements of key parameters and carry the "GREEN” symbol as part of their FM Approvals listing (www.fmapprovals.com).


Marshall: We are performing research to support the development of new additives for enhanced fire performance. New screening methodologies are being developed to evaluative additives and identify viable candidates.


Wickström: We have done a lifecycle analysis on fire retardant chemicals.


Baker: We have just published a report that reviews this area.




QUESTION : How are the research projects undertaken by your organization determined?


Marshall: The research projects are largely undertaken based upon faculty interest. There is a growing interest in more applied research projects. At the same time, the faculty is embarking on large-scale collaborative fundamental research efforts, partnering with a variety of stakeholders that would push their activities toward more ambitious and far-reaching projects.


Wickström: We apply for funding from national and European organizations. Some research money is coming from industry, often as complements to funding from other sources.


Gritzo: Research at FM Global is driven by the existing and emerging needs of our commercial and industrial client owners. Problem-solving research projects are defined based on input from more than 1,300 field engineers that perform more than 100,000 risk assessments annually. Joint research projects in key areas are also conducted in collaboration with clients, partners, and industry groups. Strategic research programs are developed based on capabilities needed to meet emerging trends in industry (i.e., nanotechnology, aging systems, new building technology, etc.) as well as improve the efficiency and effectiveness of problem solving in the future (i.e., fire modeling, improved test techniques, etc.).


Thomas: Usually by industries’ needs and often in support of codes development.


Baker: We have an annual internal bidding round where projects across all disciplines are considered for funding on a competitive basis and with input from end-users and stakeholders.


Question: How are you seeing that the research performed is being shared with the practicing fire protection engineer?


Gritzo: The results of FM Global’s research form the basis for FM Global Property Loss Prevention Data Sheets, and FM Approvals Standards for certification of products for property loss prevention, both of which are openly available. In addition, FM Global personnel serve on over 340 technical committees worldwide and consistently present work at technical and scientific conferences and publish research in refereed journals. In specific areas of interest (such as sustainability, next generation protection standards, etc.), FM Global research and engineering staff are available to support specific requests from the fire protection engineering community.


Wickström: The most important and efficient way of sharing the results of testing is probably for the practicing fire protection engineers and representatives from industry to participate in all phases of a research project.


Marshall: We are collaborating more with fire protection engineers to conduct applied fire research and testing. It is hoped that these collaborations will lead to the development of new understanding and also better engineering practices.


Question: What can the practicing fire protection engineer do to assist your organization in achieving your fire research goals?


Wickström: By pointing out areas where there is a lack of knowledge.


Baker: They contribute to the identification of research needs.


Thomas: Keep us informed of the issues that they are seeing in their practices and the needs that are becoming apparent to them.


Marshall: I believe that the research at University of Maryland would be enhanced in relevancy and focus if the fire protection engineering faculty could be engaged as expert resources on some of the fire protection challenges presented to practicing fire protection engineers. I have found that working on real-world problems has inspired my research and helped me to identify pathways for making it immediately useful.


Gritzo: FM Global encourages increased communication and collaboration with fire protection engineers, including any activities that help identify research needs or communicate and implement research results. To help define research objectives, we encourage fire protection engineers working with or for our insurance clients to collaborate with FM Global engineers to best apply current practices and define potential needs or improvements. As we complete research objectives, we request increased opportunities from the organizers of fire protection engineering conferences to present the results of our work in a form tailored to engineering implementation and gaining meaningful feedback on how we can better work together toward our shared goals of improved fire protection.


Question: Is there anything else you would like to share with the practicing fire protection engineer as it relates to research?


Thomas: That they should fully understand the context and uncertainties associated with the experimental outcomes that are reported in the literature before trying to apply them in their own practices. With limited resources, experimentation is rarely replicated, and it is often difficult to fully understand the robustness of a set of research findings in the real world.


Gritzo: Fire research has a long history of being reactive to severe events. In some cases, existing, sound solutions were not employed, often due to their cost. In other cases, there was a lack of knowledge within the fire protection community that resulted in engineering shortcomings. Knowledge continues to grow, and the available tools to practice the profession are improving. In this evolving landscape, we all need to remain wary of applying solutions that have not been proven. Instead, we encourage strongly advocating, and seeking to make increasingly feasible, the sound implementation of proven solutions while identifying and defining increasingly effective research methods to provide new, proven alternatives.


Wickström: It may not be the most important item, but I think that the education and the spreading the theoretical basics of fire dynamics would help to make it easier to gain acceptance of sound test and evaluation techniques, there by improving the efficiency of fire protection measures.


  1. "A Research Agenda for Fire Protection Engineering," Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Bethesda, MD, 2000.
  2. "Fire Protection and Safety: The Next 25 Years," Fire Protection Research Foundation, Quincy, MA, 2008.
  3. Research Report - Determining Barriers to Industry Delivery of Fire-Safe Buildings in New Zealand, - Fire Protection Association of New Zealand, Auckland, NZ, 2008.
  4. Baker, G., Collier, P., Abu, A. & Houston, B. -Post-Earthquake Structural Design for Fire – A New Zealand Perspective.- Proceedings of the 7thInternational Conference on Structures in Fire, ETH Zurich, CH, 2012.
  5. Wade, C., Duncanson, M., O'Dea, D. & Duncan, C. -Costs and Benefits of Regulating Fire Safety Performance of Upholstered Furniture in NZ, - FCR 8, BRANZ, Porirua City, NZ, 2003.
  6. Robbins, A., Wade, C., Bengtsson, M., Howard, N. & Soja, E. -Revision of the Cost Effectiveness Analysis of Home Sprinkler Systems including Sustainability, - Report No. FQO682/1, BRANZ, Porirua City, NZ, 2008.