One primary focus of this organization is to fund foundational research into the development of procedures, processes, and heuristics that assist fire investigators in performing forensic tasks on the fire scene.
This foundation will attempt to attain research dollars through federal grants and donations.
Organizing and Completing a Fire Scene Examination with Multiple Interested Parties
Fire investigators and other professionals in the fire investigation field have different opinions on the proper ways to process a fire scene with multiple interested parties involved. Many assume that the scene will be processed in a complete and systematic fashion following proper standards. However, this is not always the case. There exists a lack of knowledge or an unwillingness to properly process a fire scene. Issues such as not taking sufficient evidence, not notifying properly interested parties, and not having the proper tools to conduct a thorough investigation are a few examples. This paper will outline a recommended procedure of basic steps to properly conduct a fire scene inspection from the initial scene exam, through notifying the correct interested parties, to properly identifying and collecting all evidence.
Fundamentals of Digital Photography for Fire Investigators
“A photograph is worth 1000 words” is a saying that is believed to have originated from the old Chinese Proverb “A photograph’s meaning can express ten thousand words.” Photographs are probably the most valuable form of documentation available to an investigator when documenting a fire scene. However, many photographs taken by investigators are of poor quality and some are completely useless. Often times, not enough photos are taken to completely document the fire scene. The author believes this is due to the investigator having a lack of knowledge regarding the basic fundamentals of photography, not knowing how to properly use his or her camera, and not being properly trained how to photograph a fire scene. This paper will educate the fire investigator in the fundamentals of photography and how to utilize those fundamentals to use a camera and properly document the fire scene.
Full-Scale Room Burn Patterns Study
Full-scale research burns into the nature of patterns in compartment fires were conducted at the new fire research facility of Eastern Kentucky University. Key questions to be addressed by the research burns were: (a) patterns persistence through flashover and full room involvement, (b) reproducibility of patterns geometry in minimal variable testing methods, and (c) reaffirmation of standard patterns analysis methodologies, such as heat and flame vector analysis, depth of calcination measurement, and truncated cone patterns formation and analysis. As an added value these research burns were designed to test the validity of the content of the National Fire Code© component document, NFPA 921 – Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations chapters on Fire Patterns, and Origin Determination.
These tests demonstrate a remarkable resemblance of patterns in minimal variable testing methods. Patterns persistence through flashover and full room involvement was observed, as well as the reproducibility of specific fire patterns, heat, and flame vector analysis results, and depth of calcination measurements. In addition, several ancillary fire effects, fire patterns, and post-fire analysis issues were successfully examined.
Fire Modelling: Best Practices For Constructing Academic High-Performance Computing Clusters
The prudent teaching of the forensic fire engineering analysis1 2of complex building fires must include the subject of computer fire modeling, particularly the use of the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS), developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). However, the problems associated with FDS require that large buildings be divided into rooms or zones, with each assigned to an individual computational mesh. These mutli-mesh models often produce relatively long execution times of days or weeks and typically require parallel processing computing clusters, which require technically challenging set up and maintenance. These performance gains can only be accomplished using high performance parallel processing computer clusters designed specifically to use operating systems and hardware that exploit the parallel functions of the FDS code. This paper presents best practices from the latest research in constructing small, medium, and large-scale high performance parallel processing computing clusters for use in academic environments to support NIST’s FDS fire model.
Computer Fire Models For Fire Investigation and Reconstruction
Fire modeling can be separated into two broad categories, physical and mathematical fire modeling. Physical fire modeling has been around since the dawn of man and consists of burning objects to evaluate their effects. Study of fire phenomena by utilizing mathematics began in the early 1940’s. Mathematical fire modeling can further be arranged into three categories based on the types of calculations performed, including: hand calculations, zone models, and computational fluid dynamics models. A general discussion of each type of modeling is presented in this paper. Computer fire modeling has been used to design and analyze fire protection systems (i.e. sprinkler systems, detection systems), evaluate the effects of fire on people and property, estimate fire risks, and assess postfire reconstruction. This paper focuses on the use of computer fire models for fire investigation purposes and provides a detailed discussion on the input data needed for fire modeling, available education and training, and its application in analyzing fire dynamics. Specifically, the use of computer fire models in validating or refuting an origin hypothesis by comparison of fire patterns was studied.
Fire Investigation Origin Determination Survey
The fire investigation industry is considered to be lagging behind the rest of the forensic science fields in its assessment of the performance of methodological approaches and conclusions drawn by practitioners within the field. Despite the best efforts of certifying bodies and industry members, there are still many unknowns within the profession. As such, the researchers have collected a large survey of demographics to formulate a picture of our industry with regards to experience, age, employment, training, and opinions regarding methodology within the industry. In addition to these demographics, the researchers collected data regarding area of origin determination both with and without measurable data (depth of char, calcination) to evaluate its effectiveness when applied without an on-site scene examination. This permitted the comparison of the demographics and accuracy in determining the most important hypothesis in fire investigations, the area of origin. It is shown that 73.8% of the participants without measurable data and 77.7% with measurable data accurately determined the area of origin. Thus, the total percentage of participants choosing the correct area increased 3.9% with the inclusion of measurable data as part of the given. Additional selected outcomes from this research are presented within this paper.
Fire Pattern Persistence and Predictability During Full Scale Compartment Fire Tests and the Use for Comparison of Post Fire Analysis
Fire Patterns, as defined by NFPA-921 are the visible or measurable physical effects that remain after a fire. Fire Pattern analysis has been a key factor in the determination of the origin and cause of fires for the past 50 years. During the International Conference on Fire Research for Fire Investigation, sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in November 1997 a number of fire pattern research issues were identified. Those research items included; “Means to validate identification of electrical faults as an ignition source, Impact of flashover on fire patterns and other indicators, Effects of ventilation on fire growth and origin determination, and Validation of fire models” among others. In addition, the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Protection Research Foundation in a White Paper “Recommendations of The Research Advisory Council on Post-fire Analysis2” issued February 2002, also identified a number of fire pattern research needs. The White Paper in Section III Recommendations, Origin and Cause Investigation Methods made the following recommendations: “Since knowledge of the origin of a fire is, in nearly all cases, essential to determining cause, a high priority should be placed on new or improved methods for identifying the point or area of origin including burn pattern analysis”. And, “Methods for analyzing burn patterns concerning their meaning in the early growth history of the fire are also important. In particular, how does one determine when in the course of the fire event a particular pattern was made and how it might relate to a given potential ignition scenario”?
Many years prior to these two initiatives, the Advanced Fire Patterns Project (1985) had been formed as a partnership between the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) and the Fire and Safety Engineering Technology Program, Eastern Kentucky University to complete research into the development of fire patterns on exposed surfaces and transfer that information to those that attended seminars and other educational programs sponsored by the two entities.
The purpose of this paper is to describe the results of the full scale test burns that were conducted at Eastern Kentucky University and sponsored by the Advanced Fire Pattern Project. A series of ten full scale tests over a three year span were conducted in identically constructed, finished and furnished compartments. In each of the tests with one exception all fires progressed to full room involvement. Additionally, a full scale test was completed on a specially constructed and furnished room to assist in studying fire growth and spread and the resulting pattern formation in comparison to the fire patterns that were witnessed in a compartment of an actual compartment fire in which there had been a fatality.
These full scale test burns provided a considerable amount of data concerning fire pattern development and evolution during fire growth and spread. Specifically, these test burns demonstrated fire pattern persistence and predictability during pre and post full room involvement fires. The full scale tests demonstrated that the fire patterns described in current literature are correct and when used properly can assist in the determination of the origin of a fire. The last and one of the most significant items was that if properly conducted, a post fire testing utilizing full scale burns and computer fire modeling may assist in the understanding of fire pattern development and fire growth.
Full-Scale Single Fuel Package Fire Pattern Study
This research project is a continuation of a previous study (Hicks, et al., 2006), which analyzed fire patterns produced from wood cribs. The current study continued this fire patterns research by burning ten commercially available polyurethane (PU) foam chairs and documenting the fire patterns. The reproducibility of fire patterns was analyzed to compare one PU foam chair test to the next, as well as in association to those produced by burning wood cribs. Two aspects of fire pattern production were examined. The first aspect focuses on the reproducibility of a conical shaped fire pattern formed on standard gypsum wallboard surfaces. Second, this study analyzed the effects of the upper layer and its role in the production of a conical shaped fire pattern. This study showed that although the time to reach the fire pattern differed, a duplicate fire pattern was reproduced from a similar loss of mass. The results of this study illustrates that similar fuel packages will reproduce a similar conical shaped fire pattern. Additionally, lowering of the upper layer was found to affect the resulting conical shaped fire pattern. A subsequent aspect of this research is the implication that these patterns can be utilized by fire investigators in determining an area of origin.
A Fire analysis Tool – Revisited Acoustic Soot Agglomeration in Residential Smoke Alarms
In modern fire incident analysis and the litigations that frequently follow from them, it is often of great importance to know whether a particular smoke alarm operated during a fire event. Like so many other issues involving the interpretation of fire analysis data, some scientifically verifiable means of determining if a given smoke alarm had activated properly was needed. Best would be some identifiable physical evidence of smoke alarm activation. As early as 1996, it had been put forward that the presence of enhanced soot patterns on fire event exposed smoke alarms was a useable method of determining that a particular smoke alarm had or had not properly activated. Research first published in 1999 and later updated research published in 2001 began to scientifically address the issue. Building on that earlier research, this paper produces additional research particularly focusing on the production of acoustic soot agglomeration patterns in both ionization and photo-electric single station residential smoke alarms. Producing new test data, and combining that with previously reported data, this research work concludes that the presence or absence of acoustic soot agglomeration patterns on smoke detectors exposed to sooty smoke atmospheres was in fact a viable fire analysis tool.
The Current Knowledge & Training Regarding Backdraft, Flashover, and Other Rapid Fire Progression Phenomena
Rapid fire progression phenomena, such as backdraft and flashover, can result in danger to firefighters. This paper examines current research and divides these phenomena into categories based on fundamental physical and chemical processes. Implications include improved communication and technology transfer between fire scientists and fire service training personnel, training and education of firefighters, and firefighter safety during fire suppression activities.
Final Report – Ignition Potential of Common Fuels by Residential Electric Range Cooktops
A study was conducted to analyze the competency of several types of electric cooktop ranges to evaluate the likelihood of them igniting a variety of common kitchen items. Three types of electric cooktop ranges were tested including a ceramic-glass cooktop range, an electric coil cooktop range, and an electric coil cooktop range with a Safe-T-element installed. The latest research was reviewed to select a representative sample of fuels commonly noted as the first fuel ignited. The eight selected fuels included cardboard (pizza box), a cotton dish towel, a roll of paper towels, a pan of canola oil, a pan of vegetable oil, a nylon short turn spatula (cooking utensil), a kitchen appliance (toaster), and a plastic storage container.
Each range was tested in the high, medium, and low thermostat settings on the large (8” diameter element) and the small (6” diameter element) resulting in a total of 48 tests per range type. A variety of data was collected for each test including video photography, infrared video photography, still photography, and thermocouple data. The heat sources were characterized using both thin skin calorimeters and heat flux transducers (radiometers).
The rate of temperature rise was found to be slowest with the Safe-T-Element, reaching its maximum temperatures 8-13 minutes slower than its ceramic-glass and electric coil counterparts. When the thermostat for the cooktops was placed on high, 85% of the time ignition occurred, regardless of the cooktop type. The high setting for all three ranges showed the maximum potential for ignition based on the total heat output produced by the 6-inch diameter and 8-inch diameter heating elements. 37.5% of the fuels tested on the ceramic-glass cooktop ignited at the medium setting, while only 18.75% and 6.25% of fuels ignited on the electric coil and Safe-T-element cooktops respectively. No ignition of any fuel occurred when the cooktop thermostats were placed on the low setting. In total, the electric coil cooktop resulted in ignition 39.5% of the time, Safe-T-element 35.4% of the time, and ceramic-glass cooktop resulted in ignition 31.25% of the time. Therefore, it can be concluded from these tests that all of the cooktops were similar in ignition competency for the provided fuels. Furthermore, it was found that when ignition did occur in similar fuels on different cooktops, that the Safe-T-element cooktop provided more time before ignition.
This study has validated a number of configurations of electric cooktop ranges in a variety of ignition scenarios. The competency of aforementioned cooktops as an ignition source given a number of common household fuels has been reported on in extensive detail within the body of this report.
Use of Damage in Fire Investigation: A Review of Fire Patterns Analysis, research and Future Direction
Fire investigators have historically relied upon damage as a means to conclude where a fire originated. This review evaluates the historical and current literature on the topic, with a specific emphasis towards the research conducted over the past 80 years related to fire patterns. The concept of fire patterns for this review has been broken into four components that better assist in evaluating their effectiveness in determining an area of origin. The first component evaluated is the ability to assess the varying degree of fire damage along the surfaces of the compartment and contents. Next, the ability to identify clusters of damage was evaluated. Interpretation of the causal factors for the generation of the fire patterns was next appraised. Finally, the availability of processes using fire patterns in determining an area of origin was assessed. This deconstruction of the problem provides a gap analysis of the current processes and identifies areas where future work is needed. A seven step reasoning process for evaluating damage for determining the area of origin, along with a new definition for the term fire pattern is proposed.
Fire Patterns Analysis with Low Heat Release Rate Initial Fuels
The science behind the formation of fire patterns and their ensuing use in the forensic analysis of fire scenes has been questioned since their introduction in the 1940’s. One key argument against the use of fire patterns, especially in post-flashover fires, is that they will be obscured beyond use by higher heat release rate items or by full-room involvement. This study addresses this concern by evaluating the persistency of these patterns in several scenarios. This experimental series consisted of 24 full-scale tests involving a variety of initial fuels and room configurations. Two representative tests are presented here. All of the tests completed were allowed to transition through flashover and burn in the post-flashover regime for a limited duration. It was the focus of this research to obtain a baseline for the resulting post-flashover patterns with the intent of studying longer duration fires in future testing. All tests in this study yielded enough evidence to accurately and reliably reach the correct area of origin and supported that fire patterns will persist regardless of the initial fuel package. It should be noted here, however, that these findings should not be extrapolated to all fires. With proper documentation of the scene and a sound knowledge of fire dynamics, an investigator was able to reach appropriate conclusions regarding the origin of the fire utilizing fire patterns in this test series.
Ordinary People and Effective Operation of Fire Extinguishers
There is much speculation about the average person’s ability to use a fire extinguisher effectively. This speculation includes the ability of a novice user to adequately extinguish a fire with a fire extinguisher without harming oneself or others.
This study employed a random sampling of the population to gather data that described and quantified several aspects relating to use, technique, and safety. Participants were presented with an extinguisher and asked to extinguish a controlled propane fire. The BullEx Intelligent Training System was used in this study to simulate a Class A fire through a controlled propane system.
Participants were recruited from the campuses of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Eastern Kentucky University. The sample pool consisted of 276 participants who participated in a two-trial process. The first trial observed the participant’s ability to use a fire extinguisher without any training or guidance from the investigators. The second trial observed the participant’s ability to use a fire extinguisher with a small amount of training provided immediately after the first trial. This enabled the investigators to determine the level of ability without training or guidance (Trial 1), and improvement demonstrated for each variable after a short training session (Trial 2).
Overall, the results demonstrate that the subjects of the study were able to operate a fire extinguisher without prior training. In addition, participants demonstrated increased confidence and performance in effective operation of the extinguisher when exposed to just basic levels of training.
Outgassing Phenomenon in Flash Point Testing for Fire Safety Evaluation
Accurate ignitable liquid flash point testing provides an important component in the evaluation of a liquid material’s relative flammability danger.
Government regulations and industry standards dealing with labeling, warnings, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s), and transportation and handling of ignitable liquids are frequently based on the physical property of flash point.
“Outgassing” in flash point testing is the condition in a flash point test in which nonflammable components of a liquid mixture tend to inert the vapor space being tested, while the evolution of gasses to the atmosphere outside the test cup are ignitable. Outgassing can mask the true flammable nature of a substance. When outgassing occurs during flash point testing, products capable of producing dangerously flammable atmospheres are frequently listed as having no flash point and thereby are classified as non-flammable.
This outgassing phenomenon most frequently occurs with liquids that contain certain halogenated hydrocarbons such as Dichloromethane (Methylene Chloride) in mixtures of ignitable liquids. When using industry standard flash point tests in the fire safety evaluation of certain common consumer and industrial products, the phenomenon of outgassing has long been known but frequently overlooked. Improper understanding of this flash point behavior and the inappropriate application of the standards has led to the dangerous mislabeling of consumer products and undue public safety risks.
The importance of truly recognizing and understanding the outgassing phenomenon becomes of critical importance when ignitable liquid manufacturers use halogenated hydrocarbon liquids, such as methylene chloride, in an attempt to “inert” an otherwise flammable liquid product.
The current research reported here was undertaken in order to provide further study and publicize this phenomenon. In this work the authors produced a detailed search of the current literature and test standards and performed a series of laboratory tests on outgassing-type ignitable liquids.
A series of laboratory tests were conducted on commercially available products containing halogenated hydrocarbons, as well as on pure methylene chloride. Each material was tested by ASTM standards D56 tag closed tester; D1310 tag open cup; D93 Pensky-Martens Closed Tester; D3278 and 3828 Setaflash; E1232 Temperature limit of Flammability of Chemicals; UL 340 Test for Comparative Flammability of Liquids; and NFPA 321 Standard on Basic Classification of Flammable and Combustible Liquids.
Structure and Evaluation of the Process for Origin Determination in Compartment Fires
The science behind the formation of fire patterns and their ensuing use in the forensic analysis of fire scenes has been questioned since their introduction in the 1940s. This paper provides an overview of a prototype method for determining the area of origin based on fire patterns analysis, named the process for origin determi- nation (POD). The POD is a seven step reasoning process for evaluating fire damage, which starts by identifying the value in further analysis of each surface and compart- ment of a structure and then procedurally evaluates each surface for use within the overall determination. This paper outlines the application of the POD with test sub- jects and presents an analysis of the outcomes showing its benefits. To facilitate test- ing the POD, numerical simulations and physical experiments were employed. The numerical simulations were completed through the use of fire dynamics simulator simulating a single compartment measuring 3.66 m 9 3.66 m 9 2.44 m with a single ventilation opening. The physical experiments were tests conducted specifically for fire patterns where accuracy rates had been previously identified in the literature. Sixty test subjects participated in the evaluation of thirty-two different origin scenar- ios. A decrease in variability, which indicates an increase in reliability, was noted in 21 of the 32 scenarios (66%) when participants used the POD. Three accuracy mea- surements were employed, all three of which illustrated an increase in accuracy when participants used the POD. The accuracy was shown to increase between 50% and 94% when participants used the POD.
Development and Assessment of a Decision Support Framework For Enhancing the Forensic Analysis and Interpretation of Fire Patterns
This paper addresses the issues with fire investigation and presents a hypothesis to standardize the analysis of fire patterns. The appropriate method of using fire patterns is to develop and implement into practice a decision support framework that will assist forensic fire investigators in assessing the efficacy of fire burn patterns as reliable indicators of the area of fire origin. This will be facilitated by the evaluation of visible and measurable fire patterns in the context of the fire environment wherein the pattern was developed. Ultimately, the framework will incorporate easy to apply tools, including checklist type forms for use on scene, supported by a software-based system that can be run in the laboratory or office to help investigators connect key observational and measured data to increase the reliability of pattern interpretation
Scientific Method-Use, Application, and Gap Analysis for Origin Determination
The fire investigation industry is considered to be lagging behind the rest of the forensic science fields in its assessment of the performance of methodological approaches and conclusions drawn by practitioners within the field. Despite the best efforts of certifying bodies and industry members, there are still many unknowns within the profession. This paper will present practical uses of the scientific method as it relates to Origin Determination. Several recommended practices have been identified and formatted to reflect the scientific method as utilized in NFPA 921. In addition, where practical, a gap analysis has been conducted on these processes with recommendations provided.