Firefighters flock to Fairborn for experiments in old shopping center

Fire departments from all over the country have flocked to Fairborn to study fire and firefighter safety.

Underwriters Laboratories, a fire safety research group, has conducted fire experiments in Fairborn since Sept. 13. Their final experiment will be on Thursday, a researcher said.

Fairborn Fire Chief Dave Reichert said this week’s study was one of the first done on a commercial building.

“Fairborn has the ability to impact firefighting worldwide,” Reichert said.

A number of different fires were lit in the old Skyway Shopping Plaza on Kauffman Avenue, which will be demolished after the study and become the city's new public works facility. Fairborn, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Beavercreek and Goshen fire departments helped put out the fires.

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Fairborn Mayor Paul Keller started the first fire on Tuesday with the click of a button. Black smoke billowed out of the old shopping center as the group tested how changing ventilation affected the flames.

Conducting the study in a vacant building, rather than in a lab, allows researchers to get as close to the real thing as possible, Reichert said.

John Ceriello, a captain with FDNY who sits on the advisory board for UL, said a lot of what the researchers want to learn is driven by questions asked by firefighters.

“Firefighters have a vested interest in other firefighters,” Reichert said. “I have a vested interest in making sure my guys and gals go home safely at the end of the day.”

Jack Regan, a research engineer with UL, said studies like this are a first-hand look at what protocol could help firefighters in the future.

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Inside the test site there are temperature probes, called “temperature trees,” that relay back to researchers what temperature the room gets throughout the experiment. Researchers put carpet in the room and stacked cardboard boxes filled with plastic cups to simulate how a real convenience store or warehouse might burn.

Regan said UL used plastic cups and cardboard boxes because they understand how those materials burn.

Ray McCormack, a lieutenant with the FDNY, sits on the technical board. He said having veteran firefighters on the board to bring real-life experience helps define the various experiments.

“In the end we’re basically selling the end results to the fire service, so it has to be a mix of science and the streets,” McCormack said.

In a couple months, the results of the studies conducted in Fairborn will be shared with firefighters around the world. These departments can watch and learn new tactics from a study like this, Ceriello said.

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