New Open-Access Journal: Case Studies in Fire Safety

case studies fire safety

The new publication, Case Studies in Fire Safety provides a forum for the rapid publication of short, structured Case Studies in Fire Safety and related Short Communications, and will provide an essential compendium of case studies for fire protection engineers, designers , researchers and other practitioners in the field of fire safety who are interested in all aspects of fire safety.

Alongside high quality theory-based research, insights into and sharing of practical design solutions is needed to address many problems relating to fire safety. Case Studies in Fire Safety provides a resource for the sharing of such insights and solutions. It will offer a valuable resource for practitioners and researchers working in all fields of fire safety. Published papers will be short and technically focused, rapidly reviewed and disseminated in an Open Access forum. All authors will be given feedback on the number of times their paper has been downloaded with information on the geographical distribution of the downloads.

The list of topics Case Studies in Fire Safety will cover is wide, and will include (but not be limited to): fire chemistry and physics, fire dynamics (including gas explosions), active fire protection systems (including detection and suppression), fire performance of structures, passive fire protection methods, people/fire interactions (physical, physiological and psychological), fire safety management, assessment and quantification of fire risk (including acceptability of risk), fire investigation, fire safety design (including consumer items, industrial plant, transportation, buildings), fire safety legislation, and fire safety education.

With this in mind, I would like to welcome you to Case Studies in Fire Safety.

Mr Peter Johnson, Arup. Editor-in-Chief, Case Studies in Fire Safety

Fires During the 2012 Hurricane Sandy in Queens, New York: A First Report

A preview of a featured article from the March, 2013 edition of Fire Safety Science News #34:

by Charles R. Jennings

John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The City University of New York, USA

The topic of fire during hurricanes has received scant attention in the scholarly fire engineering community and even in the trade press. While common sense clearly suggests that damage attendant to a hurricane and hazards of utilities and temporary measures for their restoration would produce heightened risk, particularly following an event, a casual review of scholarly indexes shows scarcely any mention of the topic. Hurricane Sandy will be remembered for its widespread swath of destruction. The images of fire-scarred Breezy Point, a community in New York was but one of several large fires that caused unprecedented damage in the City of New York on October 29-30, 2012.

While calls for emergency services were heightened throughout the City, the geography of the Rockaway Peninsula and its location on the southeastern border of the City made it the most severely exposed (along with Staten Island) to the storm’s effects. Remarkably, there were no deaths or significant injuries reported to responders or residents in these historic fires.

One point that is common to all these fires was flooding. The bulk of the Rockaways were inundated throughout

Figure 1. Damage following the fires in Breezy Point.  Looking north from the area of origin.
Figure 1. Damage following the fires in Breezy Point.
Looking north from the area of origin.

this event. However, because flooding was a result of both ocean tidal and storm surge effects, the water levels rose quickly and varied throughout the events. At their heights, water levels were sufficiently high as to prevent movement of even heavy vehicles – preventing the intervention of the local fire services – the Fire Department of New York (FDNY).

The other factor critical to these events was wind. With gusts reported up to 75 miles per hour (120 km/h) and sustained winds coming from the southeast, fire spread was driven by wind currents.


Breezy Point

Breezy Point is a beach enclave technically self-administering, located on the easternmost tip of the Rockaways. Originally established as a seasonal beach resort, it began with modest cottages and several resorts along the beach. Over time, it grew in to more substantial year-round occupation and many of the original cottages were improved or replaced with multi-story homes of conventional design. The physical plan of the fire area consisted of closely spaced dwellings separated by as little as a few feet (~1m) — with decks, porches and other features making a nearly- continuous field of combustibles. The street plan (refer to map) consisted of alternating narrow streets and smaller, paved paths designed to be navigated on foot or in compact service vehicles.  Construction was almost exclusively timber framed, with older cottages typically built on pilings and more recent homes equipped with masonry or poured concrete foundations and basement stories.

Figure 2: left) Map of fire limits in Breezy Point;
Figure 2: left) Map of fire limits in Breezy Point;


Figure 2: right) Map of fire limits in Belle Harbor
Figure 2: right) Map of fire limits in Belle Harbor

First reported at 1830, the fire was first reported at 173 Ocean Avenue. The extraordinary conditions faced by responders during the storm were illustrated by FDNY Assistant Chief Joseph Pfeiffer’s recollections about reaching the blaze. He reported winding through darkened streets, turning back to avoid fallen trees, driving through water, and ultimately having to stop as he crossed the Marine Park Bridge, which links Brooklyn to the Rockaway Peninsula over Jamaica Bay. “There was three feet of water on the far end of the bridge. I had to park my fire department sedan, and ended up boarding an Engine Company to ride into the scene. Water was up to the headlights as we drove toward the glow.”

Companies operating relied on drafting standing water in a large parking are on the north side of the blaze, and made use of hydrants – some of which were used only after firefighters made connections by diving into the floodwaters and connecting hoses by feel amid the storm. Figure 2 (left) shows the view of the damage looking north from near the point of origin.

Driven by the strong winds coming directly off the ocean, the fire spread from house to house in the densely packed enclave. Chief Pfeiffer credited stopping the fire to being able to position resources ahead of the moving fire, and being ready to exploit an opportunity when winds shifted early in the morning of the 30th.  He cautioned that had the winds not shifted, that the fire could well have continued to the west. The fire was declared under control at approximately 0630 on the 30th.  The fire destroyed some 126 homes and damaged another 22. The effects of manual fire suppression efforts are apparent as the demarcation of destroyed and damaged homes is very clear (Figure 2 left).

Belle Harbor

The Newport Avenue fire is perhaps the most interesting from the perspective of fire spread. Occurring in a predominantly residential neighborhood of detached 1-2 family dwellings, this fire was also driven by the wind, and exhibited a remarkable path of travel. Although timber frame buildings appeared to fare poorly, there were notable examples of fire extending into and through masonry structures as well.

Figure 3. Photograph of Building of origin on Beach 129 Street in foreground, looking to the northwest.
Figure 3. Photograph of Building of origin on Beach 129 Street in foreground, looking to the northwest.

Figure 2 (right) shows the pattern of damage for this fire. The fire began on Beach 129 Street in a 2-family timber frame house (Figure 3), extended to an adjacent  brick exterior 2-family house, driven by winds it moved across backyards, possibly into a detached car storage structure and spread to three houses in a row on Beach 130th Street. The last of these houses was a masonry exterior home on the corner of Newport Ave and Beach 130 Street. The fire, driven by high winds, spread via a likely combination of flying brands, across the Newport Avenue (shown running left to right across the photo) and into a 2-story masonry-faced commercial building housing a restaurant. Despite its being detached, and surrounded on three sides by streets or a parking lot, the fire spread in two directions count – northward along Beach 130 Street, and across the west side of Beach 130 Street, where it consumed an additional 16 buildings[1].  Thirty-two buildings were destroyed in all. The fire was stopped mid-block with a brick-walled home suffering significant fire damage on the west side of the street, and a large timber frame home suffering damage to vinyl siding on its façade. The home on the east side of the street had a larger space between the fire and the other houses on the block. Fire suppression stopped this fire from spreading further, and like the others, firefighting was delayed because of high water levels.

Rockaway Beach Blvd.

The Rockaway Beach Boulevard fire occurred in a commercial strip of buildings predominantly of ordinary construction (masonry exterior walls and timber interiors with some incidental steel structural members). The buildings ranged in height from 1 to 3 stories.

Interestingly, the fire spread was constrained by its location adjacent to a rail yard, which prevented its spread to the north. A masonry building with no windows abutting the building of origin prevented spread to the east, while a gap of roughly 3 feet (0.9 m) and fire service intervention limited spread on the western end of the block, although the building exposed suffered some damage, mainly scorching of its façade. This building was of brick and timber joist construction, which likely prevented the propagation of the fire and permitted successful intervention by fire services. Sixteen buildings were destroyed. Figure 4 shows damage resulting from this fire.

Figure 4. Map of fire area, Rockaway Beach Boulevard.
Figure 4. Map of fire area, Rockaway Beach Boulevard.


Three concurrent large fires in a relatively small geographic area of an island is highly unusual in New York City. The spread of fire between brick or stone facade buildings was worthy of further study, as was the transmission of fire across a wide thoroughfare in the Belle Harbor fire. The extraordinary efforts of the FDNY were instrumental in stopping these well-developed fires and point out the need for well-staffed and equipped fire services during extreme events not commonly thought to be “fire” emergencies.


References and Acknowledgments: Information on cause and origin and numbers of buildings damaged or destroyed came from FDNY Media Advisory “Fire Marshals Determine Causes of Several Major Fires from the Night of Super Storm Sandy – Including Breezy Point Fire Which Destroyed 126 Homes” December 24, 2012 online. Field investigation and photography was assisted by Chaim Roberts of the Christian Regenhard Center for Emergency Response Studies at John Jay College. Mapping was donated by Tom Vaughan of Manitou, Inc., Peekskill, NY. We acknowledge the assistance of several members of the FDNY who provided information to support this effort.


[1] The official number of buildings was determined by counting addresses destroyed – the count made after the fire by the author relied only on foundations and aerial imagery to establish a count.


US 4th Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference Recap

The US edition of the 4th Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference – co-organized by IAWF (International Association of Wildland Fire), IAFSS, Tomsk State University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute – was held in Raleigh from February 18 to 22, 2013. This conference allowed wildland fire researchers to meet around the main topic: “At the Crossroads, Looking Toward the Future in a Changing Environment”. This topic arose from the feeling that the changing environment substantially modifies fire behavior and fire regimes in the forests as well as at the wildland/urban interface.

This edition can be deemed as a success, with around 350 attendees, 7 keynote presentations, 85 oral presentations and over 50 posters representing the last research developments in fire behavior and fuel modeling. In addition to the presentations, over 10 workshops were held on February 18 to discuss specific fire topics or present new applications developed in research and now available to end-users.

In addition to the U.S. edition, the Russian edition will be held in St. Petersburg from July 1 to 4 (Download Flyer PDF at: Contributed oral, poster and special session papers may cover a wide variety of topics. Proposals that make creative use of the conference theme are especially welcome. Visit the conference webpage ( for a full listing of suggested topics and an explanation of the session formats.

The CALL FOR ABSTRACTS deadline for the St. Petersburg, Russia, Conference was March 1st but we decided to offer a grace period until March 17th for IAFSS members to encourage more submission from fire scientists. Your contribution will be much welcomed! Please, send your abstract directly to: [email protected].

A selection of the best papers from Raleigh and St. Petersburg will be published in special issues of the International Journal of Wildland Fire and the Fire Safety Journal. IAFSS awards will also be given for the best paper, best applied paper and best student paper in St. Petersburg.

All abstracts for the St. Petersburg, Russia, conference will be reviewed and notification of acceptance made by 15 April 2013.

Fire Safety Science News #34 – March, 2013

The March, 2013 edition of Fire Safety Science News, the official newsletter of the IAFSS newsletter is now available online. The latest issue includes four invited Featured Articles. The first article reports on the urban fires caused by the October 2012 Hurricane Sandy in New York. These recent fires also captured the attention of the international media worldwide (and were even linked indirectly to climate change). The second article is on the new version of Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) that will be released soon. FDS has become a very important tool for fire safety science and news of the last version is received with expectation. The third article focuses on the early history of fire testing going back to the 1790’s. It reminds us of the dangers of focusing excessively on artificial testing environments while ignoring the real fire behavior. For the last Featured Article, I made sure to include in this issue what was missing in the last one; an overview of why flame retardants are important for fire safety. Two other articles, submitted independently by the plastic industries in response to articles in the last issue, join this debate. This on‐going debate, started because of a series of articles in the Chicago Tribune, needs a much stronger presence of the fire safety science. It is my hope that Fire Safety Science News could contribute towards a larger participation of IAFSS members in public discussions.

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Fire Safety Science News #33 – August, 2012

The August, 2012 edition of Fire Safety Science News, the newly-renamed official newsletter of the IAFSS newsletter is now available online. The latest issues includes three featured articles on the toxicity and effectiveness of fire retardants, news from the membership, upcoming events and much more.

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UMD FPE Team Submits Entry to Flame Challenge

A group of FPE students, research staff and faculty members has teamed up during the last two weeks of March to prepare a video response to the question “What is a flame?” The question was asked by Alan Alda, actor, director, writer and science popularizer, in the form of an open science-outreach competition organized by Stony Brook University’s Center for Communicating Science. This apparently simple question is seen as an example of the type of challenges faced by engineers and scientists who typically struggle to communicate to the general public the relevance, interest and excitement of their work. To make things even worse (as well as more interesting), the “Flame Challenge” question was to be answered in a way that an 11-year-old would find intelligible and maybe even fun.

Because of mid-term exams and Spring Break, the FPE team was composed mostly of graduate students. The team included Paul Marcus Anderson (PhD student), Luis Bravo (PhD student), Haiwen Ding (former FPE graduate, currently a staff member of the UM Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute), Haiqing Guo (PhD student), Vivien Lecoustre (Research Associate), Isaac Leventon (PhD student) and Rosalie Wills (BS student). The team was advised by Professors Stas Stoliarov, Peter Sunderland and Arnaud Trouvé.

Entries to the “Flame Challenge” were accepted in different formats, including writing, video or graphics; the FPE team decided to submit a video. In a matter of a few days, the FPE team wrote a script, performed several experiments, made video recordings, enlisted two 10-year-old children (Jamel Johnson and Anthony Romero) from a local school (Mount Rainier Elementary School) to recite the text, and produced a movie that was then submitted by the April 2 deadline.

Entries have been submitted from all over the world and number up to several hundred (perhaps more than 1,000). Entries will be judged in part by panels of 11-year-olds (the Center for Communicating Science is working towards a goal of more than 10,000 young judges). Go Terps!

To learn more on the “Flame Challenge”, visit the “Flame Challenge” web site, the Center for Communicating Science web site or listen to the NPR interview of Alan Alda by Ira Flatow during the Science Friday show recorded on March 23, 2012.

For more information on the FPE entry to the “Flame Challenge” competition, please contact:
Prof. Arnaud Trouvé
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 301-405-8209

A ‘Sound’ Experiment – DARPA Extinguishes Flames with Sound

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is showing off a new system that can put out flames using only sound [1]. It’s part of the U.S. defense agency’s Instant Fire Suppression program. Using two speakers arranged on either side of a pool fire, an acoustic field was emitted and engulfed the flame. The sound increases air velocity, which thins the boundary layer of the flame, making it weak and much easier to douse. “We have shown that the physics of combustion still has surprises in store for us” commented DARPA manager Matthew Goodman in a statement. “Perhaps these results will spur new ideas and applications in combustion research”. Lest you think this is really surprising, here are a couple of earlier mentions of the concept.

First, a Google search leads quickly to the Wikipedia entry for Charles Kellog [2] which cites the following from a 1926 newspaper article: “In The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday, February 4, année 1926: Sound vibration – Extinguishes Fire: New-York, Feb. 2. 1926: Mr Charles Kellogg, a Californian scientist, give firemen here a demonstration of extinguishing a gas flame two feet high by tonal vibration. Mr Kellogg passed a bow, like an enlarged violin bow, swiftly across an aluminium tuning fork, producing a screech like an intense radio static. Instantly the yellow flame subsided to six inches and became a sputtering blue flare. Another movement of the bow completely extinguished the flame. Mr Kellogg claimed that in future buildings would have a scientifically-determined pitch, with a screech for extinguishing fires tuned in from a central firehouse, where it would be produced by a much larger bow. He said that the General Electric Company was experimenting with the matter”.

Second, from a book The Theory of Sound published in 1896 by Lord Rayleigh, 1904 Nobel Prize winner for Physics [3]: “Singing flames may sometimes replace electrically maintained tuning-forks for the production of pure tones, when absolute constancy of pitch is not insisted upon. In order to avoid progressive deterioration of the air, it is advisable to use a resonator open above as well as below. A bulbous chimney, such as are often used with paraffin lamps, meets this requirement, and at the same time emits a pure tone. Or an otherwise cylindrical pipe may be blocked in the middle by a loosely fitting plug (Phil. Mag. vol. vii. p. 149, 1879).

Vibrations capable of being maintained are not always self-starting. The initial impulse may be given by a blow administered to the resonator, or by a gentle blast directed across the mouth. In the striking experiments of Schaff’gotsch and Tyndall (Sound, 3rd edition, p. 224, 1875) a flame, previously silent, responds to a sound in unison with its own. In some cases the vibrations thus initiated rise to such intensity as to extinguish the flame.”


by Jack Watts. Fire Safety Institute, USA, and Associate Editor of Fire Safety Science News REFERENCES 1. Video: Darpa’s ‘Wall-of-Sound’ Fire Extinguisher, Wired, July 13, 2012. 2. Wikipedia contributors, ‘Charles Kellogg (naturalist)’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 June 2012, 20:24 UTC,[accessed 30 August 2012] 3. Rayleigh, John William Strutt, The Theory of Sound vol.II , 2nd ed., Macmillan, London, 1896, p. 228. —

FREE Student Membership

The Committee of the IAFSS are inviting all Fire Science and Engineering Students enrolled in bonafide courses or with registered PhDs to apply for Free membership of the Association. Membership will be valid until their studies have been completed. Go to Membership Page for details.