Support and expert witness services for fire investigations and litigations

Why do fire investigators, attorneys, and insurance companies need fire safety science expert help?

Despite the fact that it is a common, everyday phenomenon, fire is a very complex chemical, physical, and thermal event. When it comes to an unwanted fire, it is often important to answer questions such as: What exactly happened? or, Why did the fire get so large? or, If this product were made differently, would this have affected the outcome? These questions are usually difficult to answer and opposing parties tend to disagree. The personal experience of the fire investigator will be essential to define these questions and to begin answering them. Yet, even decades of experience can only give qualitative answers, whereas often quantitative answers are required.

The role of the fire scientist is to start with the data and hypotheses of the fire investigator and then to harness scientific theories, models, and specialized tests in order to progress from a qualitative to a quantitative understanding of what actually happened.

What is Fire Science and Technology Inc.?

FSTI is a firm specializing in fire science, contract R&D, fire litigation support, assistance in the development of products with improved fire safety, and related subjects. It is headed by Dr. Vytenis (Vyto) Babrauskas.

What are the unique strengths of FSTI?

Viewed very simply, the main tasks of the fire scientist are two:

  • The commissioning, analyzing, and interpreting of fire tests
  • The application of scientific/engineering formulas, equations, and computer models.

In both of these areas, all competent practitioners are able to apply the known principles and methods to the case at hand. However, Dr. Babrauskas has the distinction of actually having invented many of these methods.

  • The commissioning, analyzing, and interpreting of fire tests.

Dr. Babrauskas has nearly 25 years experience in developing fire test methods. He is the inventor of the Cone Calorimeter (ASTM E 1354; NFPA 264) and the Furniture Calorimeter (specified in UL 1056, California T.B. 133, etc.) His Ph.D. dissertation was on the subject of problems and uses of the fire resistance test, ASTM E 119. He was the main author of the first comprehensive state-of-the-art assessment of flammability test methods for electric wire and cable. He invented the laser smoke photometer, now widely used in various fire test methods and has written extensively on issues involving the measurement of smoke in fires.

  • The application of scientific/engineering formulas, equations, and computer models.

The first-ever computer fire model released in the U.S. was written by Dr. Babrauskas: COMPF (University of California, Berkeley, 1975). Since then, Dr. Babrauskas has contributed to the HAZARD I model of NIST, organized the fire modeling portions of the recent European research into furniture flammability (CBUF), developed a model for liquid pool burning, etc. He is one of the few individuals who have been actively developing fire modeling throughout the entire history of this specialty.

Relevant expertise in some areas pertinent to fire investigations

  • Electrical fires

Electrical fires are typically investigated in an empirical manner and systematic, scientific examination of this phenomenon has rarely been undertaken. Dr. Babrauskas has written several recent papers where he endeavors to place the understanding of ignition from electrical means on a systematic basis. The topic is also treated at great length in his Ignition Handbook. Much of the research in this field has been conducted in Japan and published only in Japanese; Dr. Babrauskas’ papers and Handbook have made these results available for the first time in English.

  • Ignition of fires and initiation of explosions

One of the essential aspects of a fire investigation is to determine, if possible, the circumstances that led to ignition. Quite clearly, this objective would best be served by reference to an ignition handbook. In 1996 Dr. Babrauskas observed this situation and noted that no such reference tool was available. So over the next 7 years, with the encouragement of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, he then undertook to develop an Ignition Handbook. This Handbook was published in 2003 and is a massive, unique tool for this purpose.

  • Analysis of fire toxicity effects

For a period of 6 years, Dr. Babrauskas headed up the toxicity research program at NIST. There, he finalized the radiant toxicity test apparatus, developed the first practical technique for quantifying carbon monoxide effects in fire tests, and developed a systematic engineering basis for treating fire toxicity effects.

  • Determining how fast items could have been burning in a fire

One of the most common issues to be determined in fire litigations is whether some item in question could or could not have been burning rapidly or excessively. Dr. Babrauskas is a leading authority on the subject of heat release rate. He invented the two fire test methods most commonly used today for determining “how fast things burn”: the bench-scale Cone Calorimeter and the large-scale furniture calorimeter. He has also contributed chapters on this topic to both the SFPE Handbook (a comprehensive compilation of burning rates) and the NFPA Handbook (a detailed discussion of furniture fires). He is also the author of a textbook on this subject, Heat Release in Fires.

  • Scientific analyses of fire behavior in connection with reconstruction of fire incidents.

Dr. Babrauskas has authored numerous papers which present various engineering techniques for predicting fire behavior, including ignitability, flame spread, smoke production, and corrosivity of combustion products. These techniques are now in widespread use in the engineering community. Quantitative fire hazard analyses combining toxicity and fire growth variables are now commonly done. Dr. Babrauskas, however, was the first to provide a successful worked example of such an analysis. Such a wealth of experience allows him to speak authoritatively on the scientific principles of analyzing fire growth and development.

  • Fire test methods

Often, fire reconstructions are concerned with proper use of fire test methods. Dr. Babrauskas has been studying and developing fire test methods for some 25 years and is able to give advice on a very wide variety of test methods. This can be an important advantage, since many technical personnel have read descriptions of the test standards, but do not have a knowledge of their history nor an appreciation of their limitations. To have on your side an expert who intimately understands the foundations of these test methods can be a real advantage.

A GENERAL NOTE ON PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Dr. Babrauskas was the first person to ever receive a Ph.D. degree in Fire Protection Engineering (University of California, Berkeley, 1976). He headed up fire test method development programs at NIST for a 16 year period. He is the author of over 350 papers on fire safety and is the author of the IGNITION HANDBOOK.