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Fire Risk Reduction in Communities Program


To develop and deploy advances in measurement science to improve the resilience of communities and structures to unwanted fires through innovative fire protection and response technologies and tactics.


This program reduces community fire risk by 1) increasing the fire resilience of wildland-urban interface (WUI) communities and 2) enhancing the safety and effectiveness of fire fighters. In the United States there are over 46 million structures located in 70,000 communities that are either co-located or abut wildland vegetation and forests. WUI communities are especially susceptible to destruction from wildland fires. The 1991 Oakland and 2007 Witch Creek fires in California resulted in property losses of $2.7B and $1.5B, respectively.[i] This program combines lab- and field-scale experiments with computer fire models to characterize the WUI fire exposure in order to develop science-based standards, codes, and practices for fire resistant communities. This program is also working to reduce community fire risk by improving the safety and effectiveness of fire fighters. In 2011, the fire departments in the United States responded to more than 484,500 [ii] structure fires. These fires resulted in approximately 2,640 civilian fatalities, 15,635 injuries and property losses of approximately $9.7 billion.[i] In terms of tactics, most fire ground actions are driven by tradition and experience and are not based on an understanding of fire dynamics and fire science. Fire fighters rely on electronic and personal protective equipment to enhance their safety and effectiveness. Current test methods and standards do not fully characterize the performance of equipment under the extreme fire fighting environments in which they are operated. This program addresses the need to develop performance based metrics and standards for equipment and science-based approaches for tactics.

What is the Problem?

There are more than a million fires a year with property losses and costs totaling about 2 % of the gross domestic product[vii]. Communities lack sufficient resilience[iii] to resist and respond effectively to these adverse events that range from single structure fires to wildland-urban interface fires that may involve one or more communities.

Over 46 million homes in 70,000 communities are at risk of wildland-urban interface (WUI) fires, which have destroyed an average of 3000 structures annually over the last decade and is rapidly growing[vi]. Within the last 100 years in the U.S., six of the top 10 most damaging single fire events involving structures were WUI fires. The total cost of WUI fires is estimated to be over $14 B.[vii] In order to improve the fire resilience of communities, advances in measurement science are needed to characterize the exposure conditions that result in structure ignition in WUI communities. To date, no thorough study that measures the effectiveness of current risk mitigation practices, whether through ignition resistant building components or community design to limit fire spread, has been conducted. Improved fire resilience has been identified as a critical issue by the National Science and Technology Council report on disaster reduction,[viii] Western Governors Association (WGA),[ix] and the Government Accountability Office.[x]

Another component of community resiliency involves the ability of the fire service to respond effectively to structural fires. Fire departments in the United States annually respond to about 0.5 million [ii] structure fires. These fires lead to more than 2,500 civilian fatalities, 15,000 injuries and property losses of approximately $10 billion [i]. Science-based performance metrics are necessary to improve fire fighter safety and enhance fire ground effectiveness. The lack of adequate measurement science directly impacts the protective equipment and tactics utilized by the over one million fire fighters in over 30,000 fire departments in the US. Emerging technologies, like cyber-physical systems including fixed and mobile robot technologies, sensors and controls in buildings, and fire apparatus and equipment will enhance productivity and situational awareness. Improved respiratory protection, situational awareness technology, ventilation techniques, and suppression were identified as critical issues by participants at the National Fire Research Agenda Symposium,[xi] which was attended by over 50 organizations,[xii] including the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and US Fire Administration (USFA), and at the 2009 NIST Innovative Fire Protection Workshop[xiii] which was attended by over 60 organizations. 

What is the new technical idea?

There are two new technical ideas, using measurement science to promote: 1) the resiliency of WUI communities by addressing large-scale and infrequent WUI fires and 2) fire fighting safety and effectiveness. For WUI fire resilience, the new technical idea is to implement a mitigation framework for both individual structures and communities. The mitigation framework features three components, a) characterizing potential exposures, b) understanding the response of the structure, sub-division, and community, and c) designing the structure, sub-division, and community to withstand potential exposures. Characterizing the exposure requires understanding the impact of fuel type and configuration, wind, moisture, and terrain. This needs a coordinated effort comprised of targeted lab experiments, field measurements, post-WUI fire analysis, and a range of models including vegetation and structure fire models. Combining the exposure with the response of the structure and community enables the development of measurement science-based tools for improved fire-resistant design and forms the basis for improved WUI fire building test methods, standards, and codes.

The new technical idea for fire fighter safety and effectiveness is to incorporate cyber-physical systems and to develop performance metrics and standard test methods that directly relate to the operating environment and fire fighters' tasks. If relevant performance data is available for existing equipment or tactics, then a meaningful performance metric can be developed, but too often the necessary data is not readily available. For protective clothing there is a significant amount of data for new protective clothing, but very little data on used or soiled clothing. There is very limited data available on the performance of radios under typical fire conditions. Lab- and full-scale tests will provide the necessary data to generate comprehensive metrics for existing equipment. For other technologies such as positive pressure fans (ventilation) and hose nozzles (suppression), the equipment is relatively simple, but best practices are not clear. Computer models and full-scale experiments that generate the required data will facilitate development of situationally-appropriate performance metrics and tactics. For emerging technologies, industry often has little understanding of the operating environment or requirements of the fire service. Lab- and full-scale tests in combination with science-based metrics will allow industry to evaluate and improve their own products and develop new technology. Cyber-physical systems offer new opportunities in situational awareness, to enable robotic intervention in fires, and ultimately, to improve fire fighter safety and effectiveness.

What is the research plan?

The research plan includes three thrusts

  1. Improve fire resilience of wildland urban interface communities
  2. Improve the safety and effectiveness of fire fighters
  3. Cross cutting research through Fire Research Grants 

The first research thrust improves the resiliency of communities to infrequent, but large-scale adverse WUI fires incidents and includes three elements:

  1. Reduce fire spread among structures within a community
  2. Reduce the ignition of structures
  3. Incorporate research results into wildland-urban interface (WUI) building, fire codes, and standards.

Building upon the characterization of flame spread on individual components such as decks or fences in the previous phase, this phase of WUI fire spread element will assess the vulnerabilities to fire spread as several components are combined into structure assemblies. The current phase will examine how decks or fences cause a fire to spread to structures, as well as how wind, moisture, and terrain affect the fire spread. This effort will characterize the fire exposure through collection, analysis, archiving[xvi] post-fire data, and incorporating wind into the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) for UWI applications.[xvi]   An emphasis is place on examining how structures ignite. The current work will characterize how roof shingle or landscaping mulch ignition can lead to attic or exterior siding ignition. This will need an integrated science-based effort comprised of targeted laboratory experiments and a range of models including vegetation and structure fire models.   A Guide for implementing technical solutions and beginning to develop science-based performance metrics for mitigation of WUI ignition and fire spread will build on the August 2012 WUI Building and Fire Codes Technical Solutions Implementation Workshop. The work will involve transferring the improved characterization of exposure and response of structures and communities to building and fire code, and standards committees.  

The second research thrust improves the resiliency of communities and includes three elements, which enhance the safety and effectiveness of fire fighters through improved equipment and operational tactics. Expanding upon the high temperature performance of respirator results obtained previously, the current effort will address the high temperature performance of fire fighter electronic equipment including radios and fire fighter locators, and fire fighter protective clothing. Test methods will be developed to assess the performance of fire fighter equipment under realistic high temperature, rough duty, environments. The current phase of the tactics work will build upon the understanding of fire behavior that was gained previously on ventilation tactics. There are no national fire fighting standard operating procedures or tactics. Instead, tactics are developed locally and influenced by tradition and experience, not necessarily fire science. Measurements are needed to determine the capabilities and limitations of fire suppression techniques in real scale structures to provide a basis for science-informed tactics. Advances in cyber-physical systems will be exploited through development of performance standards for firefighting equipment, apparatus, and robotics.  

A third thrust involves cross-cutting research that addresses key aspects of the national fire problem and supports the strategic objectives of the fire programs within EL's Disaster-Resilient Buildings, Infrastructure, and Communities Goal. Several continuing and new cooperative agreements will support researchers external to NIST on a range of topics , including characterization of ignition in the WUI, fire modeling, and improved understanding of the thermal performance of self-contained breathing apparatus for use by structural fire fighters.

I. "How Much Do Wildfires Cost in Terms of Property Damage," Scientific American, June 2011.
ii. Karter, M.J., Jr., Fire Loss in the United States During 2011, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 02169-7471, August 2012, [www.nfpa.org].
v. Assuming 50,000 high risk communities and about 5000 structures burned per year; population of community 5000 or less, 1000 homes/community
vi. U.S. Communities Dealing with WUI Fire Fact Sheet (ICC) 1.1.2011; Headwaters Economics, [www.headwaterseconomics.org].
vii. Hall, J.R. 2009. The Total Cost of Fire in the United States. NFPA. Quincy, MA.
viii. "Wildland Fire" Grand Challenges for Disaster Reduction, National Science and Technology Council, Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction, www.sdr.gov (last accessed 5/27/08)
ix. Western Governor's Association Policy Resolution 05-04, June 14, 2005 [www.westgov.org/wga/policy/05/fire-weather.pdf] (last accessed 5/27/08)
x. Technology Assessment: Protecting Structures and Improving Communications during Wildland Fires, GAO Report to Congressional Requesters, 2005.
xi. National Research Agenda Symposium Report of the National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium June 1 – 3, 2005 Emmitsburg, Maryland.
xii. International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Voluntary Fire Council (NVFC), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), United States Fire Administration (USFA).
xiii. Innovative Fire Protection Workshop, June 4-5, 2009, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD.
xiv. National Institute of Standards and Technology Act, 15 U.S.C.271. As updated with America COMPETES Act of 2007, the NIST Organic Act incorporated Fire Research as Section 16 (15U.S.C278f, previously The Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974). Section 16 (a) (1) (E) includes "the behavior of fire involving all types of buildings……and all other types of fires, including forest fires, brush fires…" (G) includes "design concepts for providing increased fire safety consistent with habitability, comfort, and human impact in buildings…."
xv. CAL FIRE the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection; California city and county fire officials
xvi. Archiving data in Disaster and Failure Studies Program database.
xvii. Wildland Fire Dynamic Simulator.
xviii. Reduced Ignition of Building Components in WUI Fires Project
1) Manzello, S.L., and Suzuki, S., Exposing Decking Assemblies to Wind-Driven Firebrand Showers Fire Safety Science (IAFSS), in review, 2013.
2) Manzello, S.L., The Performance of Concrete Tile and Terracotta Tile Roofing Assemblies Exposed to Wind-Driven Firebrand Showers, NIST Technical Note 1794, 2013.
3) Manzello, S.L., and Suzuki, S., Exposed Wood Decking Assemblies to Wind-Driven Firebrand Showers, Fire and Materials Conference, January, 2013
4) Manzello, S.L., Suzuki,S., Suzuki, J., and Hayashi, Y., Firebrands Generated from Full-Scale Building Components and Structures Under and Applied Wind Field, Proceedings of 2013 Interflam Conference, 2013.
5) Suzuki, S., Manzello, S.L., Suzuki, J., and Hayashi, Firebrand Generation from a Full-Scale Structure, 2013 Annual Meeting of the Japan Association for Fire Safety Science (JAFSE), 2013.
6) Manzello, S.L., and Suzuki, S., Development and Characterization of Continuous Feed Firebrand Generator, 2013 Annual Meeting of the Japan Association for Fire Safety Science (JAFSE), 2013.
7) Suzuki, S., and Manzello, S.L., Firebrand Generation from Building Components with Cedar Siding, 2013 Annual Meeting of the Japan Association for Fire Safety Science (JAFSE), 2013.
8) Manzello, S.L., and Suzuki, S., Vulnerability of Decking Assemblies to Continuous Firebrand Shower, 2013 Annual Meeting of the Japan Association for Fire Safety Science (JAFSE), 2013.
9) S.L. Manzello, Firebrand Attacks and Dragons: Pioneering Research on WUI Structures Protection, Wildfire Magazine, March/April 2012.
10) Manzello, S.L., and Suzuki, S., Exposing Wood Decking Assemblies to Continuous Wind-Driven Firebrand Showers, NIST Technical Note 1778, 2012WUI Fire Data Collection and Exposure Modeling Project
1) Maranghides, A., and Mell, W.E., Framework for Addressing the National Wildland Urban Interface Fire Problem – Determining Fire and Ember Exposure Zones Using a WUI Hazard Scale, NIST Technical Note 1748, July 2012.
2) Maranghides, A., and Mell, W.E., A Case Study of a Community Affected by the Witch and Guejito Fires, NIST Technical Note 1635, April 2009
3) A Case Study of a Community Affected by the Witch and Guejito Fires: Report #2- Evaluating the Effects of Hazard Mitigation Actions on Structure Ignitions, Maranghides, A., McNamara, D., Mell, W.E., Trook, J., Toman, B., NIST Technical Note 1796, May 2013.WUI Building and Fire Codes and Standards Project
1) J.L. Pellegrino, N.P. Bryner and E.L. Johnsson. Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Research Needs—Workshop Summary Report, (NIST Special Publication 1150) May 2013.Enhanced Effectiveness of Fire Fighting Tactics Project
1) Opert, K, Assessment of Natural Vertical Ventilation for Smoke and Hot Gase Layer Control in a Residential Scale Structure, MS Thesis, University of Maryland, College Park, December 2012.)High Temperature Performance of Fire Fighter Equipment Project
1) Putorti, A., Mensch, A., Bryner, N., and Braga, G. Thermal Performance of Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus Facepiece Lenses Exposed to Radiant Heat Flux, NIST TN 1785, February 2013, http://dx.doi.org/10.6028/NIST.TN.1785.
2) Putorti, A., Haskell, W. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health / National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory) "Test Method Validation" National Fire Protection Association, Future of the Protective Clothing and Equipment Project Meeting, Nashville, TN, April 2013.
3) Putorti, A. and Donnelly, M. "Fire Fighter Electronic Equipment Thermal Exposures" National Fire Protection Association, Electronic Safety Equipment Committee Meeting, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, March 2013.
4) Output: Nazare, S., "Weathering & Related Issues Regarding the Aging of Firefighter's Turnout Gear" F.I.E.R.O. Fire Fighter Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Symposium, Raleigh, NC, March 2013.
5) Output: Putorti, A. "Thermal Performance of SCBA Facepiece Lenses" F.I.E.R.O. Fire Fighter Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Symposium, Plenary Session, Raleigh, NC, March 2013.
xix .Web of Science 2011 impact factor; [http://admin-apps.webofknowledge.com/JCR/JCR?PointOfEntry=Home&SID=2AEmAGKJ9p9p24El13m]
xx. Maranghides, A. & Mell W.E. NFPA Forest and Rural Fire Protection Standards Committee, ongoing
xxi. Manzello, S, ASTM E14 Subcommittee on External Fire Exposures, ongoing
xxii. Maranghides, A. " Retracing Flame's Destructive Path," December 23, 2007, Rohrlich, T., Mozingo, J., and Lin, R-G, Los Angeles Times

Major Accomplishments:

Some recent accomplishments in the area of Emergency Response Robots include:

  • Adopted 30 standard and draft standard test methods by the Joint Program Office for Countering Improvised Explosive Devices (DHS, FBI, ATF, ARMY) at 4 training exercises across the U.S
  • Adopted 8 standard and draft standard test methods by the DARPA Robotics Challenge for Disaster Response to evaluate robotic capabilities worldwide for their $100M development program focused on the Fukushima, Japan nuclear plant disaster.
  • Received Award of Merit from the ASTM International for "Outstanding Contributions and Leadership Resulting in Development of a Comprehensive Suite of Standard Test Methods to Evaluate and Improve Robot Capabilities for Homeland Security Applications.
  • Received Edward Bennett Rosa Award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce, for "Outstanding Contributions to the Development of ASTM International Standard Test Methods to Advance Emergency Response Robots.

Some recent accomplishments in the area of Enhanced Effectiveness of Fire Fighting Tactics include:

  • Report on a line of duty death fire investigation using the Fire Dynamics Simulator
  • Report on the investigation of line of duty injuries during a fire incident using the Fire Dynamics Simulator
  • Smart Fire Fighting Roadmap (NIST Special Publication 1191)

Some recent accomplishments in the area of Reduced Ignition of Building Components in Wildland Urban Interface Fires include:

  • NFPA 1144 standard on roofing requiring an ignition resistant cap sheet over the entire roof

Some recent accomplishments in the area of Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fire Exposure Data Collection and Modeling included:

  • A case study of a community affected by the Witch and Guejito wildland fires
  • The Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Problem –Current Approaches and Research Needs
NIST's Firebrand Generator generates burning embers (or firebrands) that are major sources of ignition of house fires during blazes at the wildland-urban interface (WUI).
NIST's Firebrand Generator generates burning embers (or firebrands) that are major sources of ignition of ouse fires during blazes at the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Photo credit: NIST

Start Date:

October 1, 2011

Lead Organizational Unit:



Program Manager: Jiann Yang

Jiann Yang