Smoke Alarms + Sprinklers + Closed Doors = Lives Saved in Dorm Fires

Mar 31, 2010
These post-fire photographs of the dorm rooms show the difference a sprinkler makes. There is little visible damage the in the top photo that had a sprinkler in the room; there was no sprinkler in the dorm room in the lower picture. Credit: NIST

(PhysOrg.com) -- Experimenting on a university dormitory that was scheduled to be torn down, fire researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology have demonstrated that the correct combination of automatic fire sprinkler systems, smoke alarms and closed doors provided enough time and safe conditions for residents to escape safely and for firefighters to perform their job without undue hazard.

The study’s goal was to compare the hazard levels created by room fires in dormitory buildings with and without sprinklers in the room where the starts. Researchers used a dorm at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., that was scheduled to be replaced with a high-rise building.

Fires create many potentially fatal hazards, including high heat, loss of visibility and—what can be the most critical risk—toxic gases. In addition to monitoring thermal conditions and visibility, researchers also measured the oxygen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels to determine the tenability, that is, survival conditions, on the fire floor.

The five rooms used in the experiment were furnished as typical dorms are and included clothing, books and furniture. Smoke alarms were installed in the rooms and the corridors. The smoke alarms activated within 30 seconds of ignition of a trash container in a dorm room.

Experiments 1 and 2 were conducted with the dorm room door and windows closed and in both the experiments the corridor remained tenable, which would allow other students to exit safely past the room. Rooms for experiments 2 and 3 had automatic fire sprinklers installed. The automatic fire sprinklers activated within two minutes after ignition in both experiments. In the sprinklered experiments, tenability was maintained in the dorm room and the corridor.

Experiments 4 and 5 were conducted with the door of the dorm room open and no active sprinkler. In both experiments the tenability limits were exceeded in the dorm room and corridor.

“This study demonstrated the value of balanced fire safety design,” says NIST Fire Protection Engineer Dan Madrzykowski. “The results show the potential life safety benefits of smoke alarms, compartmentation and automatic fire sprinkler systems in college dormitories and similar occupancies.”

The experiments also demonstrated the importance of a closed door between the fire room and corridor in limiting the spread of smoke and gasses to other areas of the building.

The studied was performed as part of the U.S. Fire Administration’s initiative to improve fire safety in college housing and in collaboration with the University of Arkansas and the Fayetteville Fire Department.

Another series of experiment was conducted with fires starting in a day room area open to the dormitory corridor. The results of the two studies were published in “Impact of Sprinklers on the Fire Hazard in Dormitories: Sleeping Room Fire Experiments” (NIST Technical Note 1658, available at www.nist.gov/cgi-bin//get_pdf.cgi?pub_id=904640) and “Impact of Sprinklers on the Fire hazard in Dormitories: Day Room Fire Experiments” (NISTIR 7120, available at www.nist.gov/cgi-bin//get_pdf.cgi?pub_id=101409)

Explore further: Education Dept awards $75M in innovation grants

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NIST Test Fans the Flames for High-Rise Fire Safety

Nov 22, 2006

Reseearchers from NIST, the Chicago Fire Department and the Chicago Housing Authority recently set controlled fires in an abandoned Chicago apartment building to test a new fire-fighting technique -- using ...

'Smart' Buildings to Guide Future First Responders

Nov 03, 2005

NIST researchers are studying how "intelligent" building systems can be used by firefighters, police and other first responders to accurately assess emergency conditions in real-time. One of the biggest problems faced by ...

NASA develops new airplane fire sensor

Jul 20, 2005

NASA Wednesday announced the development of a new generation of fire detectors designed to significantly reduce the rate of false alarms aboard airliners.

NIST releases final WTC 7 investigation report

Nov 20, 2008

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today released its final report on the Sept. 11, 2001, collapse of the 47-story World Trade Center building 7 (WTC 7) in New York City. The final report ...

Recommended for you

Research band at Karolinska tuck Dylan gems into papers

Sep 29, 2014

(Phys.org) —A 17-year old bet among scientists at the Karolinska Institute has been a wager that whoever wrote the most articles with Dylan quotes before they retired would get a free lunch. Results included ...

A simulation game to help people prep for court

Sep 25, 2014

Preparing for court and appearing before a judge can be a daunting experience, particularly for people who are representing themselves because they can't afford a lawyer or simply don't know all the ropes ...

When finding 'nothing' means something

Sep 25, 2014

Scientists usually communicate their latest findings by publishing results as scientific papers in journals that are almost always accessible online (albeit often at a price), ensuring fast sharing of latest ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

COCO
not rated yet Apr 01, 2010
NIST tarnished rep on fire investigation since they dropped the 911 ball remains a concern - these clowns have no credibility but this conclusion is incipid and known - not real new research.