Kill the Flashover 2014

By Robert Tutterow

This year’s “Kill the Flashover” (KTF) project was once again held at the South Carolina Fire Training Academy.

Regrettably, the February 10-14 dates coincided directly with the worst winter storm in more than 10 years for the region. Three inches of sleet followed by a quarter inch of freezing rain prohibited completing all the scheduled burns. However, there was valid information from the completed burns, as well as from the classroom presentations and intense networking.

KTF is a research project for gaining a better understanding of fire behavior. Under the leadership of Joe Starnes and Shawn Oke, it is based on the premise that much of the conventional wisdom on fire extinguishment is flawed. The objective is to learn to control extreme fire behavior through:

  1. Air management.
  2. Enhanced water streams.
  3. Thermal data.

This year’s event brought leading edge fire behavior experts from across the nation as well as Canada, Germany, and Sweden.

This was the fourth consecutive year of live test fires for KTF. During the opening session, there was a panel discussion with one pertinent question: “What have we learned from the past three years?” The immediate response from all the panelists was simple: “Don’t ever delay the application of water!” Or, as one panelist emphasized, don’t delay the application of “enhanced” water-i.e., water with an agent that breaks down the surface tension of water.

A key part of the KTF test fires is the captured data. There are multiple thermal couplers, thermal imagers, and video cameras documenting every second of the tests. So far, all the tests indicate that the best chance for occupant survival is to apply water as soon as possible, even if that means an exterior attack.

Air Track Managment

Air track management is one of three components of understanding fire behavior at KTF. A key tool in managing air movement is using a portable door or portable air curtain. The concept is to install a fabric cloth in openings to manage the movement of air. This is not necessarily limited to exterior door openings but also to openings within the structure. This includes openings such as hallways and other openings within a structure that do not have doors installed. At least two United States manufacturers have added air curtains to their product lines. A benefit of using fabric is that it indicates if the air flow is moving in or out of the structure or confined room. Dr. Michael Reick, a firefighter and fire researcher from Germany, reports that several German fire departments are users of fire curtains at all openings.

Another outcome from fire tests during the past three years is discovering that vertical ventilation is not nearly as effective as conventional wisdom suggests. For occupant survivability and firefighter safety, quickly applying enhanced water and isolating the fire room by closing doors and using air curtains are far better than the time spent performing vertical ventilation.

Thermal Imager Use

The success of the KTF fire tests is directly dependent on the data captured. In addition to thermal couplers and video cameras, using thermal imagers is mission critical. KTF staff members are adamant about using a thermal imager while performing a 360-degree size-up. In addition, the fire attack crew must use a thermal imager.

There has been a lot written about leadership and change that states we should make every attempt to make the “unknown known.” Thermal imagers help us know what would otherwise be unknown.

Buyers, beware when purchasing a thermal imager. There are companies aggressively touting units that are inexpensive-and they are. But, they will not perform as needed in the fire environment. Always purchase National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliant cameras. Equally important, give very serious consideration to getting a downloadable video recording option. Take a moment and think about the value of that option. Consider the value of understanding fire behavior and your impact on that behavior by viewing the video following every working fire and live fire training event.

Questioning Current Methods

Do the KTF tests produce results that question the conventional methods of fire attack? Yes. For example, the data captured on the first test burn-while using air curtains, enhanced water, and thermal imagers-revealed that the fire reached 1,500 degrees in the room of origin as measured by thermal couplers. Interestingly, the exterior temperature readings, determined using thermal imagers, were 300 degrees on side A and 80 degrees on both sides B and C. The outside air temperature was in the low 30s. The fire was extinguished with 13 gallons of water combined with 6.6 ounces of agent (Novacool) at 0.4 percent conentration.

Remember, nothing about fire behavior has changed. Yes, the fuel loads have changed. But what is changing is how we understand and modify fire behavior. Details about the KTF testing can be found at The project’s motto is: “We test. We demonstrate. You decide.”

ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).

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