1
Introduction

Death rates from unwanted fires in the United States are among the highest in the industrialized world. Despite declines for residential fire death rates over the past 25 years, the U.S. remains a world leader in fire losses (Geneva Association, 2002). The total cost of fire in the U.S. (fire losses plus the costs of fire safety measures) is estimated between $100 and $200 billion per year (Hall, 1999) or between 1 and 2 percent of the gross domestic product. These figures describe a serious national problem, and even though it has been mitigated somewhat by advances in applied research to improve fire safety, basic research into the nature of fire, its causes, characteristics, and effects on people, products, structures, and the environment have the potential to further mitigate the problems. Further improvements in design, construction, and loss reduction strategies that will protect constructed facilities and the people and equipment housed within them are still possible. However, these gains will only be realized if the knowledge base is continually expanded through basic and applied research that has a ready path into practice.

BACKGROUND

In 1968 Congress passed the Fire Research and Safety Act, which mandated creation of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control to study the nation’s fire problem. The commission conducted an in-depth study and held hearings throughout the country. In 1973 it submitted its report, America Burning, to the President and Congress. Page one of the report stated as follows: “Appallingly, the richest and most technologically advanced nation in the world [the United States] leads all the major industrialized countries in per capita deaths and property loss from fire” (NCFPC, 1973).

America Burning offered 90 recommendations for addressing the American fire problem. Among them were creation of the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Fire Academy for the nation’s fire services. These agencies were created under the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 and are now functioning within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This same legislation established the Fire Research Center at the National Bureau of Standards—now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—thereby consolidating existing programs.

Under the topic “Research for Tomorrow’s Fire Problem,” America Burning also recommended a $26 million increase in federal funds for fire research ($113 million in today’s dollars). That recommendation was never acted on.

During the 1960s and early 1970s the NSF Research Applied to National Needs (RANN) program did have a fire research element, under the direction of Ralph Long. RANN funded university professors and graduate students at a host of universities including Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown, Princeton, the University of California at



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1 Introduction Death rates from unwanted fires in the United States are among the highest in the industrialized world. Despite declines for residential fire death rates over the past 25 years, the U.S. remains a world leader in fire losses (Geneva Association, 2002). The total cost of fire in the U.S. (fire losses plus the costs of fire safety measures) is estimated between $100 and $200 billion per year (Hall, 1999) or between 1 and 2 percent of the gross domestic product. These figures describe a serious national problem, and even though it has been mitigated somewhat by advances in applied research to improve fire safety, basic research into the nature of fire, its causes, characteristics, and effects on people, products, structures, and the environment have the potential to further mitigate the problems. Further improvements in design, construction, and loss reduction strategies that will protect constructed facilities and the people and equipment housed within them are still possible. However, these gains will only be realized if the knowledge base is continually expanded through basic and applied research that has a ready path into practice. BACKGROUND In 1968 Congress passed the Fire Research and Safety Act, which mandated creation of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control to study the nation’s fire problem. The commission conducted an in-depth study and held hearings throughout the country. In 1973 it submitted its report, America Burning, to the President and Congress. Page one of the report stated as follows: “Appallingly, the richest and most technologically advanced nation in the world [the United States] leads all the major industrialized countries in per capita deaths and property loss from fire” (NCFPC, 1973). America Burning offered 90 recommendations for addressing the American fire problem. Among them were creation of the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Fire Academy for the nation’s fire services. These agencies were created under the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 and are now functioning within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This same legislation established the Fire Research Center at the National Bureau of Standards—now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—thereby consolidating existing programs. Under the topic “Research for Tomorrow’s Fire Problem,” America Burning also recommended a $26 million increase in federal funds for fire research ($113 million in today’s dollars). That recommendation was never acted on. During the 1960s and early 1970s the NSF Research Applied to National Needs (RANN) program did have a fire research element, under the direction of Ralph Long. RANN funded university professors and graduate students at a host of universities including Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown, Princeton, the University of California at

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Berkeley, and others. The funding was approximately $2.2 million per year in 1973 ($9.6 million in today’s dollars). The RANN program was terminated in 1977. Subsequently, a fire research grants program at NBS was funded at approximately $2 million annually ($8.7 million in today’s dollars). Later on, however, funding for the NBS fire program was reduced, so that both the in-house and grants programs declined. NIST currently administers vestiges of the grants program, at a level of approximately $1.4 million (in today’s dollars). Adjusted for inflation, this fire research grants program has declined nearly 85 percent. As a result, there is no credible university grants program for fire research supported by the federal government today. Aside from the extramural fire research grants program at NIST, full-time government employees perform substantial in-house research. It is reported that over the past decades the number of NIST fire research staff declined by more than 50 percent (Lyons, 2002). Moreover, funding for in-house NIST fire research no longer comes primarily from direct congressional appropriation—about half now comes from other agencies. Quintiere has made a strong case for change: “Research funding has been all but eliminated for fundamental studies in fire. These fundamental studies are essential for developing the infrastructure of the discipline and the practice of fire protection engineering” (Quintiere, 2002). In 2002, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) performed a study of federally funded fire research. It identified a total of $37 million in fire research support among 11 agencies (SFPE, 2002). The preponderance of this support targets shorter-term mission support functions. About 87 percent is used to support federal salaries, contractors, and consultants. About 13 percent ends up supporting university professors and graduate students. It is not known what fraction, if any, is focused on longer-term, higher-risk basic research. INVOLVEMENT OF THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL NSF, recognizing its potential role in fostering a strong research base to support improved fire safety activities, requested that the National Research Council (NRC) create a committee to plan and convene a 2-day workshop to assess the state of knowledge in fire safety and suggest ways the NSF could align its programs, resources, and collaborations to help advance fire safety in the United States. In response to that request, the NRC assembled an independent panel of experts, the Committee to Identify Innovative Research Needs to Foster Improved Fire Safety in the United States, under the auspices of the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment. The 16 members of the committee have expertise in fire safety, fire science, fire protection engineering, structural engineering, polymer chemistry, materials performance, building codes and standards, architecture, emergency response, human behavior, and disaster and crisis management. Biographical information about the committee members is provided in Appendix A. STATEMENT OF TASK The committee was charged with convening a 2-day workshop to survey and assess the current state of knowledge, research, education and training, technology transfer, and deployment of practices and products in the fire safety field. The objective for the workshop was

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to define how best to marshal U.S. intellectual, financial, and institutional resources to develop the needed knowledge and break down the barriers to improvements in building design, construction methods, materials, and operations and maintenance that will save lives and reduce injuries and property loss from fire. Although the state of fire research and the research infrastructure were important topics of discussion, the workshop did not seek to develop a research agenda, building instead on recent efforts to identify research needs (e.g., SFPE, 2000). Similarly, the relative merits of performance-based codes and prescriptive approaches were not to be a focus issue, although the question of how best to develop a science base to support performance-based codes was. A critical question for workshop participants was how best to take advantage of NSF-sponsored cutting-edge research in materials and applications that can improve fire safety. The workshop presentations paid particular attention to the barriers that exist at the intersections of disciplines and institutional sectors as well as to the opportunities that these intersections provide for interdisciplinary research to eliminate barriers. Although these areas often tend to be overlooked by discipline-based activities, the barriers are frequently the primary inhibitors of progress. The outcome of the workshop and the subsequent committee meeting was a clearly articulated statement of research, education, and technology-transfer needs for improved fire safety in the United States, the resources necessary to meet them, and a path forward for NSF and other key U.S. science and technology agencies and institutions. ORGANIZATION OF THE WORKSHOP The Workshop to Identify Innovative Research Needs to Foster Improved Fire Safety in the United States was held on April 15 and 16, 2002, in Washington, D.C. In addition to committee members, 36 internationally recognized experts from academia, government, and industry attended the workshop (Appendix C). The participants were chosen for their expertise in fire science, fire protection engineering tools, human behavior, and regulatory processes and represented a broad range of perspectives. The morning of the first day provided a glimpse of the present “fire problem” in the United States. There was also a presentation describing the development of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), which was offered as a model for improving safety. The remainder of the first day and most of the second day were devoted to invited presentations and moderated discussion focused on seven topics: Fire and explosions, Materials and retardants, Fire protection systems, Fire protection engineering tools, Structural performance, Human behavior, and Public policy. The invited presenters were requested to submit written papers prior to the workshop to summarize the state of the art in their particular area of expertise. The papers and workshop presentations are included on a CD-ROM that is part of this report.

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After the workshop, the committee developed its findings and recommendations for research areas that should be pursued and strategies that could be implemented by NSF and others. The observations, findings, and recommendations for further research, which are presented in this report, are based on discussions facilitated by the workshop and the knowledge and experience of committee members. This report does not purport to be a comprehensive state- of-the-art assessment; rather, it reflects the consensus of the committee on what was learned at the workshop and in subsequent discussion. The report is intended to serve as resource for NSF and others in setting research priorities and evaluating proposals. Although the knowledge and participation of the workshop attendees were invaluable for the preparation of this report, the findings and recommendations represent the judgment of the NRC committee that was appointed for this purpose. The responsibility for the final content of the report rests entirely with the committee and the National Research Council. From the outset it was recognized that other groups, most recently the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE, 2000), had already done excellent work on a national fire research agenda. In 1999, with funding from NIST, the SFPE conducted a comprehensive research needs workshop in Washington, D.C. This involved more than 70 fire science, engineering, and business leaders from virtually all sectors, working in a structured 2-day workshop format. The end result was the SFPE Research Agenda Report, dated February 2000. It identified priority research needs in four areas: risk analysis, fire phenomena, human behavior, and data. The SFPE effort defined “fire research” broadly and went well beyond the traditional thermodynamics and fluid dynamics of ignition and combustion phenomena. The findings of the SFPE workshop helped to shape the agenda for the current study. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT The following chapters provide additional background and contextual material on the evolving practice of fire-related design for buildings and infrastructure. The unique role of universities is discussed, and a few comments are offered on the fire-induced structural collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. A more complete description of NEHRP is also presented. Chapter 2, organized broadly along the lines of the workshop, covers specific areas of research that are believed to need attention. Every effort has been made to include all of the topics covered in the workshop. Extensive use is made of bulleted lists to give the reader a convenient overview of the spectrum of research needs. Each bullet is an excerpt or paraphrase taken from one of the workshop participants or authors. All papers are found on the CD-ROM, giving the reader the opportunity to refer directly to a paper for the context surrounding excerpts or paraphrases found in the bullet lists. Chapter 3 contains the findings of the committee and its recommendations for a path forward. REFERENCES The Geneva Association. 2002. World Fire Statistics. Information Bulletin No. 18. Hall, J. 1999. The Total Cost of Fire in the United States Through 1996. Quincy, Mass.: National Fire Protection Association.

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Lyons, J.W. 2002. The Fire Problem. Paper prepared for the Workshop to Identify Innovative Research Needs to Foster Improved Fire Safety in the United States. April 15-16. Washington, D.C.: National Research Council. National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control (NCFPC). 1973. America Burning. Washington, D.C. Quintiere, J.G. 2002. Deterministic Models for Fire Protection Engineering: The Thermal and Fluid Mechanics of Fire. Paper prepared for the Workshop to Identify Innovative Research Needs to Foster Improved Fire Safety in the United States. April 15-16. Washington, D.C.: National Research Council. Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). 2000. A Research Agenda for Fire Protection Engineering. Bethesda, Md.: Society of Fire Protection Engineers. SFPE. 2002. Federal R&D for Fire Protection Engineering: A Baseline Report, March. Bethesda, Md.: Society of Fire Protection Engineers.