Do today’s fires burn the same way they did 20 years ago?

Blog Post created by rfash Employee on Nov 7, 2017


Do today’s fires burn the same way they did 20 years ago? It depends on who you ask. Many individuals and organizations believe that fire suppression methods and practices need to change in response to the modern environment. This viewpoint is supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), which conducted live fire testing in coordination with the New York Fire Department (FDNY).

The tests disproved many long-held beliefs on how fires reacted or responded to fire suppression approaches, with repetitive scenarios in identical dwellings showing how firefighters can improve overall outcomes of fire events. The testing also showed that flowpath control is a key approach to reducing the spread of a fire and allowing fire suppression to be more effective.

“But we’ve always done it this way.”
Many people in the fire service challenge the notion that tactics need to change and continue to believe that fires burn the same way did 20 years ago. They often ask questions like: “Did something change?”; “Have the laws of physics or thermodynamics changed?”; and “Do fires burn differently on the west coast versus the east coast?”

It’s true that the laws of physics have not changed. However, the environment in which firefighters operate has evolved at a rapid pace due to the technological advances in materials and construction techniques.

The phrase “but we have always done it this way,” represents a mindset that can hurt or kill firefighters. To not allow for the free discussion on emerging trends and to not look at scientific data presents a challenge to adapting approaches to delivering emergency services to the public.

Corporate America not only looks outside the box, they tear it apart just to see what can be improved in the delivery of goods and services to their customers. Many research and testing entities are doing the same by challenging the established techniques of fire suppression approaches.

NFPA 1700: is it the future of firefighting?
NFPA 1700, Guide for Structural Fire Fighting, was initiated at the request of some forward-thinking fire service leaders in 2014. Richard “Smokey” Dyer, a well-respected retired fire chief with the Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department spearheaded a request to the NFPA Standards Council to establish a Technical Committee on Fundamentals of Fire Control within a Structure Utilizing Fire Dynamics. Dyer is just one of many individuals and organizations that saw a need for fire suppression to change with the modern environment.

The time is now
NFPA 1700 is currently accepting technical inputs on this issue from the public. Although in a draft form, the stage is set to impact the fire service and its interaction with fire suppression activities in a positive way. Key aspects of the document address fire dynamics in buildings, the PPE design for modern fire environments, strategies and tactics based on data from live fire experiments, reducing overall contaminant exposures, and best practices related to training for the fire service.


Click to review the NFPA 1700 preliminary draft and make suggested changes; the NFPA 1700 fact sheet provides an overview of the guide and why it's being developed.