NIST to Develop Computer Simulation of S.C. Warehouse Fire

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has announced it is beginning a technical study of the June 18, 2007, fire at a furniture store/warehouse in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine firefighters. Within 36 hours of the fire, NIST had a reconnaissance team of fire experts on site to assess the situation and gather data about the fire as well as the subsequent collapse of the building. Based on that reconnaissance, NIST has determined that additional study is warranted.

At the invitation of NIOSH, the NIST team of fire experts has also participated in interviews of the Charleston Fire Department personnel who witnessed the fire. The NIST team will use the interview data to establish a timeline for reconstructing the fire in a computer simulation, both for NIOSH's use and for further NIST research. The hope is that such information will help determine why and how the fire spread so quickly and, if necessary based on further evaluation, why and how the building collapsed so quickly.

NIST says that a fire such as the one that occurred in Charleston raises a number of questions, which, if answered, might serve as the basis for improvements in how buildings are designed, constructed, maintained, and used; improved tools and guidance for the fire service and building owners; recommended revisions to current model codes, standards, and practices; and improved public safety. A similar NIST study of a 1999 townhouse fire in Washington, D.C., resulted in a computer model that determined the cause of the rapid burst of flames up a stairway that claimed the lives of two firefighters. Based on the finding, District of Columbia Fire Department operating procedures were changed and the computer simulation is now used as a training tool nationwide.

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