As furniture burns quicker, firefighters reconsider tactics

Joseph Goldstein, reporting for the New York Times:

With more plastic in homes, residential fires are now likely to use up all the oxygen in a room before they consume all flammable materials. The resulting smoky, oxygen-deprived fires appear to be going out. But they are actually waiting for an inrush of fresh air, which can come as firefighters cut through roofs and break windows.

Scientists and the Fire Department will conduct an ambitious experiment beginning Monday on Governors Island in New York Harbor: they will burn down 20 vacant row houses stuffed with modern furniture, to gauge which techniques work best in fighting the blazes.

When furniture was made of more organic materials, firefighters used to have a handful of minutes to search for survivors and get in position to douse the flames. Now if they’re lucky, they have one.

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