With modern furniture having plastic fillings, which burns faster than older materials like cotton, New York City firefighters are making adjustments in order to prevent injuries to themselves while still maintaining their culture of "aggressive interior firefighting," according to the New York Times.
For generations it has been normal practice for firefighters to open a hatch or saw through the ceiling of a burning building in order to ventilate the structure so gases and smoke can escape. However, with more plastic in homes, fires are more likely to use up all the oxygen in a room before it consumes all flammable materials. While the remaining, smoky fire appears to be depleting, it is in fact waiting for an inrush of fresh air – often brought in when firefighters break through roofs or windows.
According to firefighters and scientists, polyurethane foam – used as furniture filling – and other plastics, have drastically reduced the time it takes for a fire to heat a room above 1,100 degrees, which is the point it is likely to burst into flames.
"We're an organization steeped in tradition and we've been fighting fires for many years in certain ways and they worked," the fire commissioner, Salvatore J. Cassano, said in a phone interview with the Times. "But we owe it to everybody who works for us and the people we serve to look at the way we fight fires."
Starting next week on Governor's Island in New York Harbor, scientists and the fire department will begin an experiment to calculate which techniques work best in battling fires. Twenty vacant row houses will be filled with new furniture and set on fire, so scientists can study how alterations in ventilation affects the heat and pressure indoors.
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