Fire protection engineer Daniel Madrzykowski of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was honored on Oct. 3, 2013, with a Service to America Medal* for research and outreach efforts that have "dramatically improved firefighting practices," saving firefighters' lives and protecting property across the nation.
A 28-year NIST veteran, Madrzykowski is credited with advancing tactics for fighting fires ranging from high-rise blazes to house fires. Much of his research is conducted through fire experiments—or controlled burns—that he carries out with local fire departments in buildings that are planned for demolition.
"Dan epitomizes the NIST mission to do science that advances the public interest," said NIST Director Patrick Gallagher, who also is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce. "He's conducted top-notch fire-dynamics research that saves lives and dollars, and he's not content with just publishing the results. He spreads the word by teaching numerous courses, distributing tens of thousands of copies of educational videos, operating a popular website for the fire-service community and serving on many standards committees."
Madrzykowski is a pioneer in the relatively young field of fire dynamics in structures. Through controlled-burn experiments, he and his collaborators have challenged conventional fire-fighting wisdom, like banging open the front door or breaking windows upon arriving at a house fire. He has shown how the flow of air in a burning structure can dramatically influence how a fire grows in intensity and spreads.
These experiments have led to new science-driven firefighting methods for strategically ventilating and isolating fires that can prevent—or at least delay—flashover. This extremely hazardous phenomenon occurs when heat builds up in a burning structure's contents to the point that they burst into flames simultaneously.
At NIST, Madrzykowski has become a role model and mentor for translating research findings into actual changes in stakeholder communities. "His work demonstrates the value of collaborating with organizations outside of NIST to move information and ideas forward and into practice," Gallagher says.
A fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Madrzykowski has won numerous awards. In 2009, he was named instructor of the year by the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. The Fire Department of New York City inducted him as an honorary battalion chief in 2012. For more information about NIST fire fighting research, go to www.nist.gov/fire.