Those of us of a certain age remember the Doobie Brothers hit, "Taking It to the Streets." In the fire service, we’ll soon be bringing science to the streets in the form of a new online tool kit called FSTAR—Firefighter Safety Through Advanced Research.
Being offered by the IAFC in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), FDNY and the U.S. Fire Administration, FSTAR will translate scientific research on fire dynamics into free, web-based training programs and helpful resources, with the goal of improving our approach to firefighting.
Thanks to the research conducted by UL and NIST, there's now more critical fire-science data available than ever before, addressing everything from flow paths to the influence of modern-day construction and home contents on fire behavior.
To date, it's been a challenge to locate organized, concise, nontechnical explanations of the latest and most relevant scientific research. It’s been just as challenging to understand exactly how to apply this research.
Where FSTAR Comes In
The online toolkit will break down silos between the academic world, science labs and the fireground and will offer easy, coordinated access to the latest scientific findings and refreshed tactics for fighting today’s fires. It will also offer access to the ALIVE training program, which has already been adopted by more than 100 fire departments nationwide, including FDNY, the Chicago Fire Department and the Cleveland Fire Department.
Scientific research has steadily shown that building construction and contents are driving the hazards that firefighters face today, requiring both firefighters and leaders to understand how some elements of fire-scene operations have changed over time. As in many other fields, when science reveals new information, the fire service must reevaluate and educate its members about operational changes on the fireground.
Managing ventilation and flow paths, understanding the effects of air and wind on fire and recognizing the influence of new building-construction materials and home contents are the latest adaptations needed for safer operations on the fireground. The fire service must start establishing new methods based on standardized actions and national standards—often identified using scientific research—for sizing up an incident scene in order to keep everyone safe on the fireground.
There's a wealth of research underway at leading labs, universities and private companies, but it will have little impact on the reeducation of firefighters and the application of safer tactics unless it reaches those who need it most—firefighters and fire service leaders.
"We want the FSTAR toolkit to be a one-stop shop where firefighters at any level within a department can access the latest, most useful and relevant information about the most current fire research," said Mark Light, CEO and executive director of the IAFC. "The toolkit has something for everyone: fact sheets summarizing the key scientific findings from UL and NIST; access to nationally recognized training opportunities, like ALIVE; case studies that highlight fire departments who have used science to adapt their tactics; and an implementation guide to help fire chiefs socialize and embed the most effective tactics into their departments."