Codes and standards
NFPA Impact: February 2010
By Sean Tracey
This being an Olympic-themed edition, I thought it a good time to discuss research activities and the researchers at the National Research Council of Canada. What is the link, you ask? Well, just like our Olympic athletes, Canadian researchers represent Canada on an international level and showcase our advancements in the understanding of fire science.
By Sean Tracey
This being an Olympic-themed edition, I thought it a good time to discuss research activities and the researchers at the National Research Council of Canada. What is the link, you ask? Well, just like our Olympic athletes, Canadian researchers represent Canada on an international level and showcase our advancements in the understanding of fire science. But, also like our Olympic athletes, these researchers operate on shoestring budgets and receive little recognition. They are valuable to our national pride.
The National Research Council of Canada’s fire research facilities in Ottawa and its testing facilities in Almonte, Ont., are world-class facilities. Their researchers have conducted some spectacular studies that have broadened our knowledge of fire. The researchers have presented these results in numerous international forums that have advanced codes and standards in these countries and garnered high praise for Canada. These projects include Calgary studies on building separations, a Montreal study in the modelling of a fire in which a captain was killed, leading advancements in compressed air foam suppression and, in December 2008, the culmination of multiple projects in the Fire Performance of Canadian Housing report. A new phase of research is currently underway that will study the impact of residential fire sprinklers on fire performance in Canadian housing. The testing is showing very promising results. It is our hope that this science can be incorporated into the next generation of building and fire codes. I cannot reasonably name all the research that the NRC’s fire researchers have done but the list of studies is extensive and all have led to our better understanding of the science of fire and its application in building codes and fire-ground operations.
Unfortunately, funding for this type of research is very limited. The research programs survive because of grants and corporate funding for specific projects. The lab’s director of research, Dr. Russ Thomas, must go hat in hand to find ongoing funding sources. If there is not adequate funding then the research opportunities dwindle and we lose the researchers. The fire service in Canada should look at ongoing research. We should be performing research on fire science similar to what is being done through the Canadian Police Research Centre. Unfortunately, few municipal departments consider funding research to be a priority item. This is an area that would benefit from the presence of a National Fire Advisor (NFA), as this individual could be a champion for the fire service for federal research funding and an agent to solicit funds from the municipal and provincial departments. Research priorities could be established and funds solicited. The NFA could also look at disseminating the research findings and making them relevant to fire-ground operations and building and fire codes.
The international understanding of human behaviour in fire has also been advanced by researchers at the NRC. This effort has been led by a true gold medalist, Dr. Guylene Proulx, senior researcher in the fire research program at the NRC and a PhD in architectural planning. Her unique expertise is in high demand internationally as she provided expertise to the U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) team investigating the World Trade Center disaster and the experts studying the Cook County administration building fire in Chicago. Throughout her career she made international and Canadian building and fire codes fall closer in line with human behaviour. In fact, a new emergency way-finding system and evacuation strategy was implemented in the World Trade Center as the result of her findings following the 1992 bombing and helped save many lives in the 2001 terrorist attack.
It is tragic to report that Guylene passed away on Dec. 1, from complications due to cancer treatment. Guylene leaves behind a young family and many colleagues shaken by her untimely passing. She was a professor at Carleton University and Worchester Polytechnic Institute, where she was enlightening a new generation of fire safety professionals on human behaviour in fire. Guylene was a true champion for her cause. On Dec. 31, Guylene was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first appointment of any fire safety professional to this the highest honour in Canada. She will be deeply missed by all who had the pleasure to know her.
Fire research in Canada is first class but, like our Olympic athletes, it suffers from underfunding. We have first-class individuals performing excellent work. As a matter of national pride, the fire service should be looking at ongoing funding to support them in their efforts and in the promotion of their work. We need to consider municipal departments pooling funds to support these projects and a mechanism to disseminate findings to improve our practices.
Sean Tracey, P.Eng., MIFireE, is the Canadian regional manager of the National Fire Protection Association International and formerly the Canadian Armed Forces fire marshal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org