FAIRBORN — The City of Fairborn is participating in a fire experiment that is aiming to increase understanding of fire behavior in order to develop stronger fire fighting tactics to better protect fire fighters around the globe.
The Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute (UL FSRI) has been conducting fire experiments since Sept. 13 on the Skyway Shopping Plaza on the 1000 block of Kauffman Avenue to understand how fires behave in strip mall environments. The UL FSRI has been utilizing tools that measure risks such as weather, roof temperatures and more as the research institute has compiled its data, which will be viewed by fire departments around the world.
“Firefighting is complex,” UL FSRI Director Steve Kerber said. “Anything we can do to make firefighters ready and able to take on the task … is why you see the UL FSRI do the work.”
Kerber added that in the more than 200 years of fighting fires, this is the first time a fire experiment has ever been conducted on a strip mall environment. Now that data involving best tactics for fighting fires in a strip mall is available, the UL FSRI has more information to build upon to continue conducting research.
“There is not one truth to how a fire burns because fire is so complex,” he said.
According to Fairborn Fire Chief Dave Reichert, the risks involved in a strip mall fire are the burning of the contents inside a strip mall, whereas a fire taking place on a residential structure focuses more on the safety of the involved individuals. Kerber added that it is also important when firefighters put out a strip mall fire to decrease property damages so that neighboring businesses are not set ablaze.
The Fairborn Fire Department was joined by fire departments from coast-to-coast Sept. 17 as the UL FSRI shared some of its results. Reichert said it was imperative that the local crews were able to participate in the research, because when a firefighter rolls onto the scene, they think about their experience and previous “images” they saw while on the job to determine the best tactic to put out the flames.
Legislative Chairman of the Fourth District of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters Andrew Rigsbee explained that in the more than 100 years of fighting fires, experiments such as the one taking place at the Skyway Shopping Plaza allows fire professionals to “connect the dots” and understand why they use the tactics they have been trained to utilize.
Rigsbee and Fire Chief of the Central Whidbey Island Fire Department Ed Hartin explained that fire environments are different now compared to when they trained for the job due to elements such as changing building materials.
“[With experiments like these, we can learn] how to fight fires in a different, more intelligent way,” Hartin said.
Kerber explained that the UL FSRI had conducted residential fire experiments previously in Beavercreek Township and The City of Sidney. Reichert said some crew members from the Fairborn Fire Department were attending a conference when they learned that the UL FSRI was seeking an area where they could conduct a fire experiment on a strip mall environment. They pitched the idea to city officials, who were on-board. Officials from the UL FSRI examined the Skyway Shopping Plaza and determined that “it was the perfect location,” Reichert said.
Since conducting the experiments, both Reichert and Kerber said they did not find any elements that were completely unknown, but did have some “surprising” moments when it comes to fighting strip mall fires, such as understanding how little time firefighters have before a roof would collapse.
“When we raised our right hand and took the oath, we assumed that there would be risks, but we want to be aggressive and smart [in our firefighting tactics] at the same time,” Reichert said, adding that the safety of his crew is his first priority as chief.