As many struggle to keep cool this week as parts of the country hit record-high temperatures, some firefighters in New York are turning up the heat.
On Governor’s Island off the southern tip of Manhattan, firefighters are setting eighteen abandoned houses on fire. Why? Because modern construction means that houses don’t burn like they used to…
According to Assistant Chief of the Fire Department of New York, Bob Maynes, “We started noticing the change about 1983 or … [When] due to energy efficiency, they started using energy efficient windows, more insulation, making residences more tight. So you can imagine if it’s holding the heat in in the winter what happens when you have a fire. Now firefighters are going into that environment so they’re being exposed to much higher heat much more susceptible to burns.”
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It’s not just construction that’s changed how firefighters tackle blazes. New furniture materials are also making it trickier. That’s because synthetic fillings found in today’s sofas and chairs burn faster and emit more dangerous fumes than cotton.
To study how today’s fires spread more accurately, engineers are placing thermocouples throughout the houses, which can sense where the heat’s going.
As one engineer, John Drengenberg, says, “We’ll know how the fire is spreading or how the heat is spreading through the basement, through the second floor. It will give us a lot of good information.”
It’s been decades since firefighters changed up their strategies, Maynes says. And considering that last year 83 firefighters were killed and 38,000 were injured, it’s about time.