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Fire hazards workshop singles out construction materials for more research

Firefighters from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) look over the end of a controlled test to study the impact of fire on cross-laminated timber (CLT) buildings. CLT has been identified in a new NIST report as needing more flammability research. Photo courtesy NIST
Firefighters from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) look over the end of a controlled test to study the impact of fire on cross-laminated timber (CLT) buildings. CLT has been identified in a new NIST report as needing more flammability research.
Photo courtesy NIST

A recent workshop on fire properties of materials concluded cross-laminated timber (CLT) and insulation applied to the exteriors of high-rise buildings are among the materials most in need of urgent research and development. Organized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the fire workshop brought together key stakeholders from industry, government, academia, and public laboratories. It also resulted in a new research roadmap.

A strategy for reducing the thousands of deaths and injuries and billions of dollars in damage resulting from the more than a million fires each year in the United States is detailed in the roadmap. It provides guidelines for developing science-based approaches to solving fire problems for multiple materials.

The workshop participants agreed the highest priority for future scientific studies and development projects in flammability should go to cross-cutting research approaches that can work against multiple hazards across a wide range of materials and applications. These are:

  • Real fire behaviors: To understand how the actual use of a product impacts its fire service-life (the fire resistance over the life of a product) and burning behavior;
  • Engineered fire-safe products: To enable the development of technologies yielding products compliant with flammability regulations for their entire lifetime; and
  • Bench-scale and computational tools: To develop and use physical testing methods and computer modeling systems that accurately predicts a material’s real-life fire behavior.

The new roadmap strongly recommends these research approaches be applied to the five most critical and urgent fire hazards including:

  • residential upholstered furniture;
  • residential buildings in wildland urban interface (WUI) communities;
  • timber used for multistory buildings;
  • passenger railway cars; and
  • insulation applied to the exteriors of high-rise buildings.

“The workshop participants determined these application areas should be prioritized for R&D because reducing flammability in all five should significantly reduce the overall losses from fires in the future,” said NIST materials research engineer Rick Davis, one of the authors.

NIST has already begun putting the new roadmap to work, added Davis.

“Based on extensive discussions with our in-house experts after considering the roadmap’s guidelines, we are planning changes in our upcoming year’s research and modifying our long-term strategies.”

More information on NIST’s efforts to reduce flammability is available online.

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