International perspectives

There’s a first time for everything. So, this is my first blog in English. There is of course at least one reason for this, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

And, a fair warning may be appropriate at this point: there might seem to be commercial content in this blog. This is not the case. Instead, this blog is about a genuine interest in and a passion for improving the fire service community.

Recently a very good friend and a student of mine, Steve Kerber, came over for a meeting. Steve is not the average PhD-student. As an employee at UL, Underwriters Laboratories, in 2013 he got the opportunity to start an institute within UL, which he since then is the director of: Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute, ULFSRI. However, they started producing useful results several years earlier.

The institute is dedicated to increasing firefighter knowledge to reduce injuries and deaths in the fire service and in the communities they serve. Working in partnership with the fire service, research departments and agencies, they executes and delivers research benefiting the fire service and makes the results widely available to the international fire community.

With this in his mind, over the years Steve has pulled together a highly professional team of varying competencies, most of them with a background in the fire service. In several of their projects, they also apply an international touch to the work. As it happens, I’m a proud member of their advisory board together with a number of highly respected and knowledgeable people from all over the US. It’s a learning experience every time we meet. At least for me it is.

Over the years, the team have been looking at things such as the effectiveness of positive pressure ventilation, made comparison between modern and legacy home furnishing (yes, they have burned a lot of stuff from a well-known Swedish company…), and flowing a lot of water to look at how water is distributed when applied into a room. And plenty more. Plenty. Frankly, not everything is necessarily ground breaking to the Swedish fire service, but it’s still impressive work and they have been confirming (and disproving) things we thought we knew.

One of the things they have been focusing on recently is the health issue of firefighting. Their research includes looking at firefighter exposure to smoke particulates, training environments, cardiovascular and chemical risks faced by firefighters, and the impact of laundering the protective gear as well as the design of flash hoods.

One could say that healthy firefighters is in a sense an international project, although things have been going on in different places without any actual coordination. Procedures have been developed in several countries simultaneously, but ULFSRI has the data to back it up.

Apart from doing research, they also produce training material. And it’s impressively high quality training material. However, if you look at it please keep in mind it’s primarily for a US audience and, especially, based on a US context. Although there are more similarities than differences around the world, there are still a few differences.

Also, they have come up with a couple of spin-offs from their results: https://closeyourdoor.org/ and https://ulxplorlabs.org/.

The message in “close your door” is to keep your internal doors closed especially at night, simply because that might save your life in case of fire. Even a very simple door might be sufficient to keep the smoke out for some time. We have been sending a similar message in Sweden for many years, but now there are data to prove it.

The Xplorlabs is an educational platform designed to introduce and encourage students into solving problems using scientific methods and scientific results. One module is designed to help students with the understanding of fire, fire dynamics, and fire behavior. Of course.

Steve Kerber is without doubt one of the most influential individuals in the US fire service community, but also with a very high international impact factor. And he’s got a great team to back it up. No, I have not been paid to say all of these nice things about ULFSRI. If you are in doubt or otherwise interested in what they have been doing over the years, check out their work here. I’m pretty sure you will be at least slightly impressed.

So, what’s my point with all of this? It’s simple: We need more people like Steve and teams like his team. We need more people from the fire service community working together with people from the scientific community. We need people with knowledge and understanding from both sides.

And, we need the funding for research targeting fire service problems. There’s still so much to investigate and to learn.
If I am proud and honored to be involved? You bet!

STEFAN SVENSSON