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Fire Forensics

Disaster and Failure Studies

The Disaster and Failure Studies Program provides for the establishment of teams to assess building and infrastructure performance and emergency response and evacuation procedures in the wake of disaster and failure events that have resulted in substantial loss of life or posed significant potential of substantial loss of life.

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Charleston, S.C. Fire and Building Collapse

On June 19, 2007, NIST sent fire experts to Charleston, S.C., to gather information and examine the site of the previous night’s fire and subsequent collapse of a furniture store/warehouse located near the city’s historic district. Nine firefighters were killed in the collapse. The NIST experts worked with local officials and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to learn more about the collapse. Based on that reconnaissance, NIST is beginning a technical study of the June 18, 2007, fire at the Super Sofa Store furniture store/warehouse in Charleston.  >> More 


The Station Nightclub Fire Investigation

A fire occurred on the night of Feb. 20, 2003, in The Station nightclub at 211 Cowesett Avenue, West Warwick, Rhode Island. A band that was on the platform that night, during its performance, used pyrotechnics that ignited polyurethane foam insulation lining the walls and ceiling of the platform. The fire spread quickly along the ceiling area over the dance floor. Smoke was visible in the exit doorways in a little more than one minute, and flames were observed breaking through a portion of the roof in less than five minutes. Egress from the nightclub, which was not equipped with sprinklers, was hampered by crowding at the main entrance to the building. One hundred people lost their lives in the fire. Of the fatalities, 95 were due to the inability of the occupants to evacuate before being overcome by the untenable conditions along the egress path. On Feb. 27, 2003, under the authority of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) established a National Construction Safety Team to determine the likely technical cause or causes of the building failure that led to the high number of casualties in that fire.  >> More

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Cook County Administration Building Fire

On October 17, 2003, in the Cook County Administration Building, 69 West Washington, Chicago, Illinois, a fire resulted in six fatalities and several injuries. In response to a request from the Governor of Illinois, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) agreed to provide technical assistance to the Governor’s review team headed by James Lee Witt. NIST’s focus was the simulation of the fire using the Fire Dynamic Simulator (FDS) and visualizations using Smokeview to provide insight into the fire growth and smoke movement.

A team from NIST visited the fire scene to collect data for the model including; building dimensions, floor plan, door and window locations, materials of construction and furnishing, and fuels. In addition, information collected by the Governor’s team on fire service operations and building systems was used to develop the fire timeline. The NIST team also documented the fire damage in order to compare fire model predictions with the observed physical damage. Exemplar interior finish materials and furnishings from the fire floor, but undamaged by flames, were obtained for use in laboratory scale heat release rate experiments. Laboratory scale data for rate of heat release was necessary for the fire model input and comparison to fire model results.

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