Cheap, Plastic Furniture Makes Fires More Deadly In Our Homes

More and more furniture today is made using plastic-based materials, which burns much faster than the interior decor of yore, sucking all the oxygen out of a room at a faster clip and making it harder to evacuate people. It's a serious problem that's making firefighters reconsider how they put fires out.

The main culprit here is the plastic-based filling found in couches, chairs and beds. The New York Times writes:

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.

As long as there are no flames, firefighters prioritise search and rescue. But because of all of the plastic materials inside homes, a smouldering fire can rapidly catch again when firefighters burst in.

Now the Fire Department of New York is considering reversing its general protocol. So instead of rushing in to a smokey building, they might start hosing it down before entering. The department will be experimenting with a series of test fires by filling 20 vacant row houses with old plastic furniture from hotels and setting the buildings ablaze to see if a new approach might make a difference.

The new tactics might make sense, but you have to admit that it's pretty depressing that the mass-produced furniture that's supposed to make our lives better is actually making us harder to rescue from a fire. [NYT via Core77]

Image: Kratka Photography/Shutterstock

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    Finally the Americans will at least give a go to what Australia and most other developed countries have been doing for 20 years. Spend 30 mins on Youtube and you will quickly see that American Firies have a tendancy to arrive at a smoldering house, quickly smash out every window and door and cut holes in the roof with chainsaws to "release the hot gasses and *cool* the fire". 2 minutes later the place is fully involved and basically on the ground because of the rapid inrush of oxygen. In comparison Australian fire services (in general) are particularly good at offensive compartment firefighting. The amount of US videos we get shown during training is ridiculous and without any experience at all new recruits will easily identify things that can be done differently to how the US do it. Just because that's how it's always been done doesn't make it the best way.

    I have to agree with Shep. As a firefighter with Fire and Rescue NSW, this is exactly the kind of behaviour we are taught to avoid. In fact, there has never been a single instance in my experience where an arriving fire crew has attempted to "ventilate" a compartment fire by smashing out windows or removing roof tiles. The priority in this situation is a quick sizeup and, assuming offensive techniques are warrented, obtaining entry and immediately using gas cooling to reduce the risk of flashover and proceed to the seat of the fire.

    The danger here isnt the flames, it's the smoke - US fire services are well and truly behind the times when it comes to understanding fire behaviour. I can't count the number of times I was shown videos of firefighters in the US escalating an otherwise manageable situation in to a fully involved house fire - exactly what recruits in Australia are taught to avoid.

    Nobody bumrushes an entry anymore.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now