Fire Fighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions

Fire Protection Research Foundation report: "Fire Fighter Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions" (PDF) 
Author: National Institute of Standards and Technology
Date of issue: May 2010 (revised October 2013)


This project was funded by the Fire Protection Research Foundation to the project contractor, National Institute of Standards and Technology. It provides important laboratory validation data that support the dramatic and dangerous impact of wind driven fire dynamics on firefighters. Further, it finally provided clarification on what happened at Vandalia Ave. (December 18, 1998, FDNY, 3 LODD).

Large structures, such as high rise buildings, have additional challenges for fire fighters and building occupant safety such as increased travel distance (exposure time), more complicated egress path, and potentially larger fires. Most notably, changes in the building’s ventilation or presence of an external wind, especially in high-rise buildings, can increase the energy release of the fire. This can also increase the spread of fire gases through the building.

What tactics or tools are appropriate for use with a wind driven fire and how should the tactics or tools be implemented? Positive Pressure Ventilation (PPV) is being used by fire departments on smaller structures, and if done correctly, this tactic can remove significant amounts of heat and smoke from the structure. However the question remains as to whether these PPV fans can be used successfully under wind driven fire conditions in large structures? Other tactics incorporating devices, such as fire window blankets or smoke curtains to control the ventilation conditions or the use of a special fire nozzle from the floor below the fire floor have been tried by the fire service under “real fire” conditions with varying levels of success. Unfortunately, there is no data to understand the capabilities and limitations of these fire fighting approaches.

This project provides real-scale data to guide the development of appropriate tactical options for use under wind driven conditions. The goal is to improve the safety of fire fighters and building occupants by enabling a better understanding of wind driven firefighting tactics, including structural ventilation and suppression. The technical information resulting from this study contributes to our understanding of the dynamics of fire phenomena and prediction of fire intensity and growth under wind driven conditions. This data provides a basis to identify methods and promulgate improved Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG) for the fire service to enhance firefighter safety, fire ground operations, and use of equipment.

The Research Foundation expresses gratitude to the report authors Daniel Madrzykowski and Steve Kerber, the Project Technical Panelists, and all others who contributed to this research effort. Special thanks are expressed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for providing the funding for this project.

The content, opinions and conclusions contained in this report are solely those of the author.

This report is also available directly from the NIST website.