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'Live burn' fire experiments begin on Governors Island

July 3, 2012 3:31:23 PM PDT
About 250 firefighters are part of the FDNY's 'live burn' fire experiment on Governors Island. It's a six day research and training event.

"What we hope to gain out here is a small advantage in how we fight fires," FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said.

Engineers started a fire in the basement of a vacant and soon-to-be demolished former Coast Guard building.

Inside the building, more than 100 sensors and cameras that monitor everything from oxygen levels to air speed to the flow of smoke. Investigators are focused on how and when firefighters ventilate the building.

"Should you open the front door and keep it open. Should you open a window. Should you cut a hole in the roof. These are some of the tactics that have been used all the time. But now we are looking at them a little differently. Maybe it'll be better not to do some of those things," John Drengenberg of Underwriters Laboratories said.

Firefighting tactics are being re-examined largely due to what's inside many homes these days - furnishings and petroleum-based products that burn faster and hotter. Years ago it took 15 to 20 minutes for a room to fully ignite. Today that can happen in 4 to 5 minutes.

"The hazards have increased, the fuel loads have increased, the type of construction has changed. So it's a very different working environment for the firefighters," Dan Madrzykowski of the National Institute of Standards and Technology said.

It will take engineers several months to analyze the data from this six day training event and formulate any suggestions and recommendations to the FDNY. However, if firefighters learn something that is so dramatic and potentially life-changing, procedures and tactics will be changed right away.

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