Understanding & Fighting Basement Fires

Experiments were conducted during the summer of 2017 in a test fixture that represents a single family home with a basement. From the experiments, ISFSI will develop training modules that will be available to firefighters across the country. This project is supported with a DHS/FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant.

Over the years fire fighters have died while trying to extinguish a basement fire or a fire on level lower than the front entry point of the structure.  NIOSH has documented 19 LoDD cases where 27 firefighters perished.  Typically these cases involved the firefighters falling through a wood floor assembly into a burning basement.  According to the NFPA report on firefighter fatalities in 2014, there were six LoDDs that involved a basement or operating above the fire in residential occupancies. Two of the fatalities were trapped in a basement, two of the fatalities fell into a basement, and two of the fatalities were operating above the fire floor and were over taken by a rapid fire event. Many firefighters are also injured in cases involving basement fires.  Based on newspaper reports alone, in the 100 days from 12/28/15 to 04/07/15,  nine firefighters had been injured due to falls through the floor of a burning home.

In Sept 2016, three firefighters died as the result of the first floor collapsing to the burning basement.  Several other firefighters were injured at this incident.  There must be a better way. Over the course of the summer of 2017, experiments will be conducted in a test fixture that represents a single family home with a basement.  A variety of tactical approaches will be examined to gain knowledge on best practices in size-up, ventilation control, suppression, and structural assessment.   The tactical use of thermal imagers, exterior hose streams, penetrating nozzles, cellar pipes, and PPV fans will be examined.

Experiments will examine the location of the water application relative to the seat of the fire. The access to the basement will be another test parameter.  In some cases the basement will have no windows, which requires an access hole to be cut into the floor or wall section of the basement in order to cool the fire gases down.  In other experiments, small windows, high on the basement wall will be provided to enable the introduction of water. In these scenarios the fuel package may be obstructed and remote from the area of the water stream access to measure the impact under less than desirable conditions.  The third ventilation and access scenario will involve an exterior basement door and large basement windows on one wall.

Experiments will be conducted to examine the impact of gypsum board protection of the floor assembly on the fire development and subsequent fire attack.  An experiment will also be conducted to examine the activation of an automatic fire sprinkler system on a basement fire and how that would impact the firefighting and the fire assessment.

Understanding & Fighting Basement Fires Research Report

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Lieutenant Matt LeTourneau, Philadelphia FD,  passed away on Saturday, January 6, 2018 in a tragic LODD after succumbing to his injuries suffered from a structural collapse while fighting a rowhouse fire.

Matt was an essential part of the research team and also a contributor to the Tech Panel of the ISFSI Basement Fire Research and Curriculum.   In honor of his contributions, the ISFSI Understanding and Researching Basement Fires project will be dedicated to his name. 

Understanding Basement Fires

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