DIGGING DEEPER: Controversial firefighting technique being studi - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

DIGGING DEEPER: Controversial firefighting technique being studied

ROCKFORD (WREX) - When a firefighter puts out a fire it may seem like a straightforward job. Douse the fire with water. 

But 13 News is Digging Deeper to find out there's far more science behind attacking a fire than meets the eye. 

In just a few minutes a small fire can engulf a home. Modern open floor plans and synthetic materials fuel flames faster than ever. So firefighters are fighting science with science.  That's where Underwriters Laboratory or UL in Northrbook comes in.  

"The way we build houses change, what we put in our houses change. In some cases the fire department doesn't understand how those changes impact what they've done over time," said Steve Kerber, UL Firefighter Research Institute Director. 

Gone are the days of chopping a hole in the roof and flooding water into a home according to Kerber. UL is trying to show firefighters better ways to attack fires. And one way is with positive pressure ventilation. 

"It's where the fire department brings large fans off their apparatus when they arrive and they try and control where the fire goes in the structure by blowing air into the structure. And then they would follow that air with their hose line and hopefully more easily be able to put the fire out," said Kerber. 

Rockford firefighters joined dozens of other firefighters from across the country, even across the world, to see the demonstration as positive pressure ventilation is put to the test. The fire fills the bedroom in this mock home and the fan is turned on

"They had a nice clear path to get to the fire and put it out safer and faster," said Kerber. 

The method, however, isn't exactly new to Rockford firefighters.   

"We've been using it for years, however, its changed quite a bit," said Rockford Fire District Chief Benny Ognibene. 

And it comes with some controversy.

"If it's not used at the proper timing, it can actually push fire through the walls, into the attic space and actually intensify the fire,' said Ognibene. 

It's that controversy that has a majority of firefighters in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin not using the method. 13 WREX reached out to more than a dozen fire departments in the area. Only three say they have used the method to attack fires but two of those departments say they don't any more.

"There are many departments that have used it and had bad experiences so they've stopped using it," said Kerber. 

The hope at UL is to learn why it hasn't worked for some departments and what researchers can do to improve the method. Meanwhile, Rockford firefighters say it's a method working for them and it's worth a second look for others. 

"If it's used properly with the proper vent hole they call it, it will actually push that fire outside the structure so you actually take the fuel away from the fire so it actually doesn't spread," said Ognibene.

One reason many fire departments in our area say they don't use the method is because they don't have the manpower like Rockford's fire department. It will take UL about one year to study its results and release the findings to the public. 
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