Members of the Philadelphia Fire Department are learning the latest science on fire dynamics and firefighting techniques thanks to a $3.5 million federal grant and a partnership with the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute.
Understanding how fire behaves in different building types and under various ventilation conditions can help firefighters choose the best tactics for saving lives and protecting property. The PFD is one of the nation’s busiest fire/EMS agencies, responding to about 7 severe fires and over 100 fire-related incidents each day.
“In order to provide the most effective and safe service for our residents, businesses and visitors, it was vital to bring these important lessons to the streets of Philadelphia,” said Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel.
Earlier this year, about 100 PFD members attended a UL FSRI fire dynamics boot camp that served as a train-the-trainer program. Last month, those members began teaching the PFD’s more than 2,200 firefighters in smaller groups across the city.
“Over a decade of firefighter research and fire service partnerships precipitated the development of this hands-on course,” said Steve Kerber, UL FSRI Vice President of Research. “It will help firefighters understand how to apply their fire dynamics knowledge on the fireground, enabling better and safer decisions.”
The PFD’s two-day course uses classroom instruction, videos and demonstrations to cover topics including fire science, reading smoke, building construction, burn experiments and wind-driven fires. Instructors light small fires in a specialized glass box to demonstrate the effects of closing doors, opening up roofs and breaking windows. A small fan simulates how wind affects the flames.
“You can read about it and watch videos, but this clearly shows first-hand the cause and effect of different ventilation tactics,” said Firefighter Ed Anderson of Ladder 8 in Germantown, which was among the first companies to receive training.
Thiel noted that fire dynamics training was recommended for the PFD in a federal after-action report on the death of Lt. Joyce Craig, who lost her life battling a house fire in West Oak Lane in 2014. The course also honors the memory of Capt. Matt LeTourneau, who worked on the research with UL FSRI before his line-of-duty death at a fatal fire on N. Colorado Street in 2018.
Funding for the training comes from an Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.