ARCHIVED - Burning up the town!

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February 01, 2003— Ottawa, Ontario

Fire research test on a house in Kemano, B.C.Fires cost lives and money. In Canada, recent figures place the total economic cost of fires at $11 billion per year. Using a team of engineers, physicists, chemists, and environmental psychologists, the NRC Institute for Research in Construction (NRC-IRC) conducts extensive research to improve the safety of Canadians and reduce the high cost of fire to Canada.

Fire research test on a house in Kemano, B.C.Research often involves the use of full-scale fire experiments, mainly using specialized facilities such as fire resistance furnaces, and a 12 m-high burn hall. Where possible, researchers also use abandoned facilities to help simulate real-world conditions. Kemano was a company town built by Alcan in Northwestern British Columbia to support a regional hydroelectric station. When the station was automated, the town became obsolete and was donated to B.C.'s fire services for fire research and training. The 40 abandoned houses filled with donated furniture and props made an ideal, full-scale experimental fire research site.

Fire research test on a house in Kemano, B.C.Working with the B.C. Fire Commissioner's Office, the NRC-IRC research team completed two rounds of tests to evaluate residential fire-prevention systems. To test the response of smoke detectors, researchers started small fires using a variety of materials (wood, paper, upholstered furniture, etc.), which grew slowly to challenge the smoke alarms. Results suggested that the use of combined ionization-photoelectric smoke-alarms can, in some cases, be more effective than using ionization or photoelectric units alone in homes. Each type of unit is designed to detect different types of fires. A second round of tests evaluated the performance of residential plastic sprinkler systems.

Lessons learned from these experiments will help protect Canadians from fire for years to come.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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