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New Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles Provide New Information on Exposure Risks and Potential Control Measures for a Fire Behavior Lab Training Structure

August 30, 2023


Two journal articles led by UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) were recently published in Fire Technology. The manuscripts are based on experiments conducted for the Training Fire Exposures from the Source: Developing a Risk-Benefit Framework research project, which is supported by the Department of Homeland Security’s Fire Prevention and Safety Grant. These papers explore the impact of training fuel package selection on fire dynamics and safety hazards in live fire training. The research culminated in a set of recommendations of control measures to consider when balancing the risks and benefits of such immersive training.

Live fire training can provide a controlled environment for firefighters to enhance their hands-on skills while working in a variety of situations that prepare students for the fireground. Training in the Fire Behavior Lab—sometimes referred to as a flashover simulator—can help firefighters develop an understanding of fire dynamics in structures and enables them to discern visual cues and conditions that are critical to effective decision-making on the fireground. However, such training carries inherent health and safety risks, namely, exposing both instructors and students to environments with elevated thermal conditions and concentrations of airborne contaminants.

Balancing the advantages of live fire training with the associated exposure risks is paramount. The fire service has raised questions regarding the manner in which exposure to hazards may depend on the type of fuel burned. In response, FSRI research engineers conducted a series of experiments to test five types of wood-based products that have been used in training environments. By deploying a range of instruments at strategic locations in the training structure, the team closely monitored fire development, documenting indicators such as temperature, pressure, heat flux, time to flashover, and concentrations of several gasses where instructors would be working.

The findings revealed that varying the type of fuel produced environments with different fire dynamics cues and different thermal and chemical exposure risks. As the team replicated the experiments, some fuels created training environments more consistently than others, which impacted the reliability of each type of fuel in training. This information is important to increase instructors’ understanding of their working environment, and the study did not determine a single fuel package that consistently resulted in the lowest thermal or chemical exposure risk for all compounds measured. However, the study did identify useful control measures that may be implemented during training, including:

  • Relocating instructors or students as low as possible in the observation area while still achieving training objectives,
  • Employing physical barriers, such as a shield, to reduce the impact of high radiant exposure at the front instructor location, and
  • Relocating the rear-controlling ventilation to the outside of the Fire Behavior Lab when feasible.

In addition, limiting the number of training cycles that instructors or students participate in will help reduce prolonged exposure. Wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE), including a self-contained breathing apparatus, while in smoke and cleaning PPE and skin as quickly as possible can also help reduce exposure risk with any fuel package employed.

“While the risks of live fire training cannot completely be eliminated, they can be controlled to reduce the probability of skin burns, toxic chemicals, and damage to protective gear.” -Keith Stakes, Research Engineer, FSRI 

Read the two peer-reviewed journal articles:

  1. Exposure Risks and Potential Control Measures for a Fire Behavior Lab Training Structure: Part A—Fire Dynamics and Thermal Risk
  2. Exposure Risks and Potential Control Measures for a Fire Behavior Lab Training Structure: Part B—Chemical Gas Concentrations

This work was supported by the Department of Homeland Security Fire Prevention and Safety Grant EMW-2019-FP-00770. Special thanks to the technical panel of fire service training experts from across the US whose invaluable guidance steered this research.

About Fire Technology: 

Fire Technology is a scientific journal that publishes original contributions, both theoretical and empirical, that contribute to the solution of problems in fire safety science and engineering. It is the leading journal in the field, publishing applied research dealing with the full range of actual and potential fire hazards facing humans and the environment. It covers the entire domain of fire safety science and engineering problems relevant in industrial, operational, cultural, and environmental applications, including modeling, testing, detection, suppression, human behavior, wildfires, structures, and risk analysis.


Training Fire Exposures From The Source: Developing a Risk-Benefit Framework