Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on September 1, 2016.

Instant Impact

A new tool calculates the economic and environmental impact of fighting fires

BY JESSE ROMAN

IMAGINE THAT FIRE DEPARTMENTS DIDN'T RESPOND TO FIRES, and every blaze was left to burn. What would the economic impact be? What about the environmental impact? The answers would show the degree that fire departments influence a community’s well‐being, and could be powerful tools in a world of diminishing resources and the need for fire departments to justify their annual budget requests.

Recently, the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) set out to see if it could develop such a tool, one that fire departments could easily use. A group of researchers from the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden and Worcester Polytechnic Institute took on the task, and in May unveiled a proof of concept called the “Enveco Tool.” The first iteration of Enveco is limited—it can measure only warehouse fires where water is the only substance used in extinguishment—but as the tool progresses, researchers hope to add many more structure types and situations.

The ability to assess a local fire department’s economic impact has been lacking and the information difficult to nail down, but once it’s developed it could become a very powerful tool, said Casey Grant, the executive director of the FPRF. “This is a project I’m really excited about,” he said. “There is enormous value in this tool, and because of that I think it’s going be recognized and have some legs.”

The tool interface is a simple spreadsheet. The user enters data into four main areas: risk of fire spread, warehouse description, contents description, and fire service response. The program then shoots out information, which includes economic outputs—savings in property damage, job disruption, business interruption, rent reduction—as well as environmental impacts, including savings in terms of global warming potential, acidification, eutrophication (nutrient runoff into lakes and rivers), ozone depletion, smog, eco toxicity, and energy used.

“NFPA does a great job analyzing statistics and reporting what the impact of fire is in many ways on a national level, but when you look at a community level, there isn’t that much resolution for the work that’s done,” said Francine Amon, of SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, at a presentation at this year’s NFPA Conference & Expo. “We are hoping that this tool will be able to fill this gap.”

If you are interested in exploring the use of the prototype tool in your community, contact the FPRF (email research@nfpa.org) for more information. To learn more about the study and the prototype tool, view a free recorded webinar.

JESSE ROMAN is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: iStockPhoto