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FDNY Conducts 'Live Burn' Firefighting Experiments on Governors Island

GOVERNORS ISLAND — The FDNY started a fire — and then put it out — on Governors Island Tuesday as part of a series of experiments on battling blazes in residential buildings.

Over six days this week, nearly 300 firefighters will conduct "live burns" in abandoned buildings on Governors Island, working with researchers from Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to study how fires spread and how best to fight them.

The effort is funded in part by a $75,000 grant from the FDNY foundation, and by Underwriters Laboratories.

"Firefighting conditions have changed," Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said Tuesday on Governors Island. "This has changed the way we fought fires. It...makes a difference in the way we fight fires in residential buildings."

For Tuesday's drill, the FDNY set fire to rooms in Brick Village, a group of non-historic buildings from the 1980s that were once used as Coast Guard housing. The buildings will be demolished once the fire testing is done.

John Drengenberg, a consumer safety director at Underwriters Laboratories Inc., said each room in the burned buildings had infrared cameras and more than 100 heat sensors — devices that can detect slight changes in factors such as ventilation.

"They measures the way the smoke moves, the way the flame moves," Drengenberg said. "They research whether putting water on the fire right away is a good way to go.”

Since testing began Monday, Steve Kerber, a research engineer with Underwriters Laboratories Inc., said he has seen conventional firefighting wisdom turned on its head. Slipping a hose through a window or door and putting water on the fire first — rather than opening a door and exposing the fire to air before setting a hose on the flames — appears to put the fire out faster, he said.

"We opened the door, flowed water through [the] door of the basement, and the temperature decreased right away," he said after the live burn Tuesday. "It could be a very vital tactic — we need to make sure we see that over and over again."

Other areas that researchers will examine include the way modern synthetic materials such as polyurethane ignite. Those materials tend to burn "hotter and faster," Drengenberg said.

Underwriters Laboratories Inc., which has been working with the FDNY for more than 10 years, will provide the data to the department after the experiments are done.