Simulated Burn Study with FESTI
In March 2013, I was provided the opportunity to participate in a simulated burn study that took place at the Fire & Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) located in Toronto, Ontario. The study was performed in collaboration with the personnel at FESTI (Brian Ross, Mike Hutchison, Sam Marshall, and Pike Krpan) as well as individuals from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (Eric Reiner and Karl Jobst), The University of Toronto (Anne Myers and Scott Mabury), McMaster University (Brian McCarry, Sujan Fernando, and Lorraine Shaw) and Restek Corporation (Jack Cochran).
Our goal was to simulate two separate types of fires in order to study the compounds generated in several types of combustion samples. We were provided a burn cell with two separate chambers within which we set two types of fires; a household fire and an electronics fire. The household fire contained a combination of furniture including a mattress, sofa, pillows, carpet, and a television. This fire was to simulate the contents of an average household that would combust in a residential fire. The electronics fire contained televisions, computers, printers, a microwave, and cables in order to simulate an electronics rich fire that you may find in a commercial fire. Objects likely to contain flame retardant materials were chosen, as the combustion products of flame retardants are of interest to all parties involved.
The electronics fire was completely extinguished whereas the household fire was allowed to smolder to simulate the hazardous conditions firefighters and other first responders may be subjected to after the initial extinguishment of a fire. A variety of samples were collected for analysis including air and particulate samples, ash and debris samples, water run-off from extinguishing, and wall wipe samples for particulate debris adhering to the walls.
My analysis of the samples collected will be in search of mixed halogenated planar compounds generated as byproducts of brominated flame retardant combustion. Compounds such as mixed bromo/chloro dibenzo-p-dioxins and furans are known to be byproducts of flame retardant combustion, having been found in municipal waste incinerators as well as large scale fires. Using the samples collected in these simulation studies, it is my goal to determine whether such compounds are also generated in household, commercial, and industrial fires that firefighters respond to regularly. Further work will be performed to determine the level of toxicity experienced from repeated exposure of first responders to fire debris. Hopefully this information will be used to help educate and protect future generations of first responders.