Smoke Study Updates Knowledge of Residential Materials' Combustion

Underwriters Laboratories and the Fire Protection Research Foundation, an NFPA affiliate, jointly announced the completion of a $700,000 study that may change firefighters' understanding of smoke's characteristics and keep people safer from fire. The Smoke Characterization Project studied how 27 materials and combinations of materials that are used in modern residential settings have changed the way fires behave in homes.

Besides UL, sponsors of the project included CDC, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, Kidde Fire Safety, BRK Brands/First Alert, GE Security, and Honeywell. UL invested more than $500,000 to conduct the study and obtain measurement equipment. "This review is the first of its kind to study such a wide range of materials now found in homes," said Kathleen Almand, the foundation's executive director. "What we are learning will enable public safety officials to further develop education and training programs regarding the use of smoke alarms in residential structures and provide valuable data to fire science engineers as they strive to develop new smoke detection technologies."

The project followed a 2004 study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that said fires in modern homes smolder longer, then burn hotter and faster than what was typical when smoke alarms were first introduced -- meaning occupants had to escape faster. "With this Smoke Characterization Project, UL and FPRF are helping move fire science to a whole new level," said Chief Jim Harmes, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. "Home furnishings and products constructed from new synthetic materials and formulations are growing in popularity. This project has provided the data and measurement techniques needed to more fully assess a burning material's impact on detection." John Drengenberg, UL's manager of Consumer Affairs, said the project's initial results "reflect that smoke can no longer be characterized just by color or density, but that smoke is highly complex and chemically different based on each unique fire event. From the sheer amount of data we've gathered, we believe the results will change the way the fire community perceives smoke produced in home fires, which could further reduce the risk of injury or loss of life due to fires."

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