February 01, 2011

WPI researchers monitor a test of a new flashover detector.

A story by ABC News on the increasing flammability of American homes quotes Kathy Notarianni, head of WPI's Department of Fire Protection Engineering, and describes a burn test that Notarianni helped conduct last summer with researchers in WPI's Precision Personnel Location program.

The ABC story notes that thanks to the greater quantity of belongings we cram into our homes, the amount of synthetic materials used to make them, and the less-expensive, energy-saving materials used to build houses, our homes burn much faster than they did 30 years ago, affording occupants only a few minutes to escape to safety.

The story leads off with a description of a fire test conducted by WPI researchers in July 2010 at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy. The burn, designed to test a new device for warning firefighters of the imminent danger of flashover—a device developed by a team of Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty members led by David Cyganski and James Duckworth--was conducted in a small building decorated to look like the living room in a home. Set ablaze, the room reached flashover in less than three minutes.

"It is scary. This isn't even as stuffed as a real living room would be," Notarianni told ABC News. "That living room was sparsely furnished compared to an average living room."

  • Read the ABC News story.
  • Read more about the WPI flashover sensor and other technology to protect firefighters in this Popular Science article.
  • Watch a video about the burn test in an episode of the Daily Planet on Discovery Canada TV.