Research by Faculty of the Online Fire, Arson, and Explosion Investigation Program

The following includes example research conducted by the faculty of the Online Fire, Arson, and Explosion Investigation program.

DEVELOPMENT AND ASSESSMENT OF A DECISION SUPPORT FRAMEWORK FOR ENHANCING THE FORENSIC ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION OF FIRE PATTERNS

AUTHORS

Gregory E. Gorbett, MScFPE, MSc, CFEI, CFPS, IAAI-CFI, MIFireE
Assistant Professor/FSET Coordinator
Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology Program
Eastern Kentucky University, USA

Brian Meacham, Ph.D., P.E., Associate Professor
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Department of Fire Protection Engineering
Worcester, MA

Christopher B. Wood, J.D., P.E., Managing Member
FireLink, LLC
Tewksbury, MA

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ABSTRACT

This paper addresses the issues with fire investigation and presents a hypothesis to standardize the analysis of fire patterns. The appropriate method of using fire patterns is to develop and implement into practice a decision support framework that will assist forensic fire investigators in assessing the efficacy of fire burn patterns as reliable indicators of the area of fire origin. This will be facilitated by the evaluation of visible and measurable fire patterns in the context of the fire environment wherein the pattern was developed. Ultimately, the framework will incorporate easy to apply tools, including checklist type forms for use on scene, supported by a software-based system that can be run in the laboratory or office to help investigators connect key observational and measured data to increase the reliability of pattern interpretation.


FIRE PATTERNS ANALYSIS WITH LOW HEAT RELEASE RATE INITIAL FUELS

AUTHOR

Gregory E. Gorbett, MScFPE, MSc, CFEI, CFPS, IAAI-CFI, MIFireE
Assistant Professor/FSET Coordinator
Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology Program
Eastern Kentucky University, USA

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ABSTRACT

The science behind the formation of fire patterns and their ensuing use in the forensic analysis of fire scenes has been questioned since their introduction in the 1940’s. One key argument against the use of fire patterns, especially in post-flashover fires, is that they will be obscured beyond use by higher heat release rate items or by full-room involvement. This study addresses this concern by evaluating the persistency of these patterns in several scenarios. This experimental series consisted of 24 full-scale tests involving a variety of initial fuels and room configurations. Two representative tests are presented here. All of the tests completed were allowed to transition through flashover and burn in the post-flashover regime for a limited duration. It was the focus of this research to obtain a baseline for the resulting post-flashover patterns with the intent of studying longer duration fires in future testing. All tests in this study yielded enough evidence to accurately and reliably reach the correct area of origin and supported that fire patterns will persist regardless of the initial fuel package. It should be noted here, however, that these findings should not be extrapolated to all fires. With proper documentation of the scene and a sound knowledge of fire dynamics, an investigator was able to reach appropriate conclusions regarding the origin of the fire utilizing fire patterns in this test series.


FULL-SCALE ROOM BURN PATTERNS STUDY

AUTHORS

Gregory E. Gorbett, IAAI-CFI, CFEI, CFPS, MIFireE
John A. Kennedy & Associates (USA)

William Hicks, IAAI-CFI, CFEI, CFPS,
Eastern Kentucky University (USA)

Patrick M. Kennedy, CFEI, CFPS, MIFireE
John A. Kennedy & Associates (USA)

Ronald L. Hopkins, CFEI, CFPS
Eastern Kentucky University (USA)

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ABSTRACT

Full-scale research burns into the nature of patterns in compartment fires were conducted at the new fire research facility of Eastern Kentucky University. Key questions to be addressed by the research burns were: (a) patterns persistence through flashover and full room involvement, (b) reproducibility of patterns geometry in minimal variable testing methods, and (c) reaffirmation of standard patterns analysis methodologies, such as heat and flame vector analysis, depth of calcination measurement, and truncated cone patterns formation and analysis. As an added value these research burns were designed to test the validity of content of the National Fire Code© component document, NFPA 921 – Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations chapters on Fire Patterns, and Origin Determination.

These tests demonstrate a remarkable resemblance of patterns in minimal variable testing methods. Patterns persistence through flashover and full room involvement was observed, as well as the reproducibility of specific fire patterns, heat and flame vector analysis results, and depth of calcination measurements. In addition, several ancillary fire effects, fire patterns, and post-fire analysis issues were successfully examined.


FIRE MODELING: BEST PRACTICES FOR CONSTRUCTING ACADEMIC HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTING CLUSTERS

AUTHORS

David J. Icove, PhD, PE, CFEI
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

Gregory E. Gorbett, MS, CFEI
Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky, USA

J. Douglas Birdwell, PhD
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

Richard E. Merck, PE, CFEI
Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Rockville, Maryland, USA

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ABSTRACT

The prudent teaching of the forensic fire engineering analysis1 2of complex building fires must include the subject of computer fire modeling, particularly the use of the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS), developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). However, the problems associated with FDS require that large buildings be divided into rooms or zones, with each assigned to an individual computational mesh. These mutli-mesh models often produce relatively long execution times of days or weeks and typically require parallel processing computing clusters, which require technically challenging set up and maintenance. These performance gains can only be accomplished using high performance parallel processing computer clusters designed specifically to use operating systems and hardware that exploit the parallel functions of the FDS code. This paper presents best practices from the latest research in constructing small, medium, and large-scale high performance parallel processing computing clusters for use in academic environments to support NIST’s FDS fire model.


FIRE PATTERNS ANALYSIS WITH LOW HEAT RELEASE RATE INITIAL FUELS

AUTHORS

Gregory E. Gorbett, MScFPE, MSc, CFEI, CFPS, IAAI-CFI, MIFireE
Assistant Professor

William Hicks, MSc, CFEI, CFPS, IAAI-CFI, EFO, CFO, MIFireE
Assistant Professor

Ron Hopkins, MSc, CFEI, CFPS
Associate Professor (Ret) Eastern Kentucky University, USA

Patrick M. Kennedy, BSc (Hons), BSc, CFEI, CFPS, MIFireE
Principal Fire and Explosion Analysis Expert
John A. Kennedy & Associates

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ABSTRACT

Twelve full-scale research burns into the nature of fire effects and fire patterns in compartment fires were conducted at the research facility of Eastern Kentucky University. This series of tests was an evolution of the previous eight full-scale tests performed at this facility. The purpose of this test series was to evaluate the damage caused by an initial, low heat release rate fuel and the influence on this initial damage when a secondary fuel that is substantially higher in heat release rate and total energy output was involved. Key fire effects observed and measured are reported here, along with the test parameters and variables altered throughout testing.

These tests demonstrate a remarkable resemblance of fire effects and patterns in minimal variable testing methods. The observable and measurable damage still present in all of the tests was sufficient to lead investigators to the first fuel ignited. In these tests, the higher heat release rate fuels did not obscure or alter the fire effects from the initial item. *This paper as published is a combination of two, separately accepted proposals. However, due to their common discussion points ISFI has graciously permitted their combination into one single publication.


COMPUTER FIRE MODELS FOR FIRE INVESTIGATION AND RECONSTRUCTION

AUTHOR

Gregory E. Gorbett, MSc, CFEI, CFPS, IAAI-CFI, MIFireE
Eastern Kentucky University, USA

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ABSTRACT

Fire modeling can be separated into two broad categories, physical and mathematical fire modeling. Physical fire modeling has been around since the dawn of man and consists of burning objects to evaluate their effects. Study of fire phenomena by utilizing mathematics began in the early 1940’s. Mathematical fire modeling can further be arranged into three categories based on the types of calculations performed, including: hand calculations, zone models, and computational fluid dynamics models. A general discussion of each type of modeling is presented in this paper. Computer fire modeling has been used to design and analyze fire protection systems (i.e. sprinkler systems, detection systems), evaluate the effects of fire on people and property, estimate fire risks, and assess postfire reconstruction. This paper focuses on the use of computer fire models for fire investigation purposes and provides a detailed discussion on the input data needed for fire modeling, available education and training, and its application in analyzing fire dynamics. Specifically, the use of computer fire models in validating or refuting an origin hypothesis by comparison of fire patterns was studied.


FIRE INVESTIGATION ORIGIN DETERMINATION SURVEY

AUTHORS

Andrew T. Tinsley, PE, CFEI, CFII
Eastern Kentucky University, USA

Gregory E. Gorbett, MScFPE, CFEI, IAAI-CFI, CFII, CFPS
Eastern Kentucky University, USA

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ABSTRACT

The fire investigation industry is considered to be lagging behind the rest of the forensic science fields in its assessment of the performance of methodological approaches and conclusions drawn by practitioners within the field. Despite the best efforts of certifying bodies and industry members, there are still many unknowns within the profession. As such, the researchers have collected a large survey of demographics to formulate a picture of our industry with regards to experience, age, employment, training, and opinions regarding methodology within the industry. In addition to these demographics, the researchers collected data regarding area of origin determination both with and without measurable data (depth of char, calcination) to evaluate its effectiveness when applied without an on-site scene examination. This permitted the comparison of the demographics and accuracy in determining the most important hypothesis in fire investigations, the area of origin. It is shown that 73.8% of the participants without measurable data and 77.7% with measurable data accurately determined the area of origin. Thus, the total percentage of participants choosing the correct area increased 3.9% with the inclusion of measurable data as part of the given. Additional selected outcomes from this research are presented within this paper.


FIRE PATTERN PERSISTENCE AND PREDICTABILITY DURING FULL SCALE COMPARTMENT FIRE TESTS AND THE USE FOR COMPARISON OF POST FIRE ANALYSIS

AUTHORS

Ronald L. Hopkins, MS, CFEI, CFPS
TRACE Fire Protection and Safety, USA

Gregory Gorbett, MS, CFEI, CFPS, MIFireE, IAAI-CFI
Eastern Kentucky University, USA

Patrick M. Kennedy, BSc.(Hons), CFEI, MIFireE, CFPS
John A. Kennedy and Associates, USA

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ABSTRACT

Fire Patterns, as defined by NFPA-921 are the visible or measurable physical effects that remain after a fire. Fire Pattern analysis has been a key factor in the determination of the origin and cause of fires for the past 50 years. During the International Conference on Fire Research for Fire Investigation, sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in November 1997 a number of fire pattern research issues were identified. Those research items included; “Means to validate identification of electrical faults as an ignition source, Impact of flashover on fire patterns and other indicators, Effects of ventilation on fire growth and origin determination, and Validation of fire models” among others. In addition, the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Protection Research Foundation in a White Paper “Recommendations of The Research Advisory Council on Post-fire Analysis2” issued February 2002, also identified a number of fire pattern research needs. The White Paper in Section III Recommendations, Origin and Cause Investigation Methods made the following recommendations: “Since knowledge of the origin of a fire is, in nearly all cases, essential to determining cause, a high priority should be placed on new or improved methods for identifying the point or area of origin including burn pattern analysis”. And, “Methods for analyzing burn patterns concerning their meaning in the early growth history of the fire are also important. In particular, how does one determine when in the course of the fire event a particular pattern was made and how it might relate to a given potential ignition scenario”?

Many years prior to these two initiatives, the Advanced Fire Patterns Project (1985) had been formed as a partnership between the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) and the Fire and Safety Engineering Technology Program, Eastern Kentucky University to complete research into the development of fire patterns on exposed surfaces and transfer that information to those that attended seminars and other educational programs sponsored by the two entities.

The purpose of this paper is to describe the results of the full scale test burns that were conducted at Eastern Kentucky University and sponsored by the Advanced Fire Pattern Project. A series of ten full scale tests over a three year span were conducted in identically constructed, finished and furnished compartments. In each of the tests with one exception all fires progressed to full room involvement. Additionally, a full scale test was completed on a specially constructed and furnished room to assist in studying fire growth and spread and the resulting pattern formation in comparison to the fire patterns that were witnessed in a compartment of an actual compartment fire in which there had been a fatality.

These full scale test burns provided a considerable amount of data concerning fire pattern development and evolution during fire growth and spread. Specifically, these test burns demonstrated fire pattern persistence and predictability during pre and post full room involvement fires. The full scale tests demonstrated that the fire patterns described in current literature are correct and when used properly can assist in the determination of the origin of a fire. The last and one of the most significant items was that if properly conducted, a post fire testing utilizing full scale burns and computer fire modeling may assist in the understanding of fire pattern development and fire growth.