Governors Island Experiments

Governors Island Experiments

Taking ventilation and suppression research from the laboratory to the field with FDNY and NIST.
Governor's Island Experiments smoking building firefighters watch
  • Overview
  • Findings
  • Updates
  • Resources


UL partners with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation to conduct a series of live burn Governors Island experiments designed to replicate conditions in a modern home and enable firefighters to better predict and react to effects of new materials and construction on fire.

The live burn experiments are conducted over the course of six days on Governors Island in New York City. The tests are aimed at quantifying emerging theories about how fires are different today, largely due to new building construction and the composition of home furnishings and products.

In tandem, fire professionals and experts closely analyze how the introduction of oxygen into these scenarios impacts fire behavior and how this requires consideration of new procedures on ventilation strategies during firefighting operations.

This research/training project is an extension of research conducted by UL in 2006, 2010 and 2011 and funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The scientific results from these research projects provide fire departments around the country with groundbreaking information that can impact firefighting tactics and choices.


In previous generations, construction materials and home furnishings were mainly composed of natural materials, such as wood and cotton, but in the modern fire environment these things tend to contain large quantities of petroleum-based products and synthetics that burn faster. Where a fire in a room once took approximately 20 minutes to “flash over” — igniting all the contents — this can happen with today’s products in as little as three minutes.

“As construction has changed in recent years, as well as the type of materials that are used in home furnishings, we have experienced fires that burn faster at higher temperatures. While we’ve adjusted how we operate, the purpose of these studies is both to validate what we’ve informally observed and to guide us in developing new operational procedures that will better protect firefighters as they encounter these new realities.”

– New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano

The Governors Island fire research experiment marks the first time a live burn of this scale has been conducted in a real-life setting, providing the FDNY with the opportunity to carry out and practice firefighting and ventilation techniques developed by UL in controlled lab settings.

“We believe this research is important because it provides the science that can inform firefighters about fire behavior in different circumstances, which can empower them during critical decision-making moments.”

– Gus Schaefer, UL Senior Vice President and Public Safety Office (former)

Research Partners


Conclusions from the Governors Island experiments can be grouped into the following four categories: 

  • Residential Fire Behavior: Increasing airflow to a ventilation-limited fire by opening doors, clearing windows, or cutting the roof will increase the hazard from the fire for both building occupants and firefighters and may lead to rapid transition to flashover.
  • Flow Path: Increasing the area of the inlet or or exhaust vents will result in fire growth and spread, and conversely, interrupting the flow path by limiting or controlling the inlet or the exhaust can limit fire growth.
  • Exterior Water Application: Flowing water from a hose stream through a window or door into a room involved in fire resulted in improved conditions throughout the structure.
  • Impact on Building Occupants: Isolation from the fire improves chances of survival while being in the exhaust flow path resulted in a reduction in potential survival time. Fire suppression from the exterior, as soon as possible, also improves potential survival time. 


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Published: May 21, 2013