Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on December 29, 2014.

NFPA IS UNIQUELY POSITIONED TO HELP the fire service understand and deal with the threat of increasingly volatile home fires, according to a pair of prominent fire-science researchers.

Stephen Kerber, the director of the Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI) at Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and Dan Madrzykowski, the leader of the Fire Fighting Technology Group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), say the creation of a new tactical guide addressing the changing fire environment of home fires could be an important step for the fire service.

Research conducted by Kerber and Madrzykowski has shown that home furnishings made with highly combustible synthetic materials, coupled with the construction materials and methods used in modern homes, are creating faster, more aggressive fires that pose greater risks to firefighters than home fires in decades past. Those risks suggest the need for new kinds of fire ground tactics, and major metropolitan fire departments around the country, including those in Los Angeles County and New York City, have already adopted some of those methods.

“NFPA plays a critical role in setting every standard in the fire service,” Kerber said. “A consensus tactical guide for firefighters has never existed before. That could be a game-changer, because there are a whole lot of people looking at those NFPA standards for guidance.”

Much as NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, brought science to the practice of fire investigations, an NFPA tactical firefighting document could bring the latest science to fire ground operations, said Madrzykowski. “It would not be a document limiting people on tactics—it would open up their options on tactics, so they would be able to use them with some level of certainty,” he said.

Madrzykowski said he also envisions the potential NFPA document being a “keystone document” that would tie together NFPA’s family of fire service standards on personal protective equipment, professional standards, and training. “Standards are important, but telling people why and how all these things tie together is really a key piece,” he said.

Chris Dubay, NFPA’s vice president and chief engineer, and other NFPA officials recently met with Kerber and Madrzykowski to discuss the possibility of such a document. “Given the magnitude of what has been happening in recent years, it may become necessary to consider the development of a guide or standard to specifically address these topics,” said Dubay, who would not speculate on what a potential new standard or guide would include.

In the meantime, NFPA is paying close attention to the UL and NIST research to see what potential impacts it might have on existing standards for protective equipment, professional qualifications, training, and other areas.

“We are making sure the technical committees are aware of these findings and reports to ensure that our nation’s first responders have the most up-to-date science-based information, and so that we can provide them with the highest level of protection,” Dubay said.

JESSE ROMAN is staff writer for NFPA Journal