Despite improvements in firefighting equipment and protective gear, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) data indicates that firefighter deaths in the U.S. inside structures have increased over the last 40 years.1 While the tools firefighters use have improved, the materials used in building construction and furnishings during that time has also evolved considerably, often with the intent of improving efficiency or sustainability or reducing cost. Since 2008, UL has invested in important research to understand the correlation between changes in materials and the new array of risks for firefighters and consumers.
UL research has focused on materials, construction methods and newer home systems (such as photovoltaic panels) to understand how they impact the behavior of fire and the composition of smoke. Identifying how fire grows and moves in this new world is crucial to assessing firefighting theory and techniques and making life-saving changes in how fires are fought. Additionally, while seeking to protect consumers and firefighters from injury or death in a fire, understanding how the smoke created by new materials affects the health of humans is integral to the overall safety landscape.
As sustainability and efficiency gain more momentum, stakeholders such as policy makers, health officials, product manufacturers and others are striving to implement innovations and regulations to make our world more sustainable and efficient. In the midst of these efforts, it's crucial to remain focused on the bigger safety picture: protecting people in their living and working environments. This will require a convergence of varying points of view and the discipline to make safety a priority at all stages of a product’s life cycle.
"Firefighter Fatalities in the United States—2011," National Fire Protection Association. June 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2012.