Higher Education: Backdraft Modeling Fires College Student Research, Debunks Popular Myths

Greg Gorbett spends unmeasured hours building scale-model rooms, complete with furniture and fixtures. He then judiciously stacks wood cribbing inside and burns his creations. More often than not, he generates a fairly rare fire phenomenon called...


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“Jim Pharr’s fire investigation class required us to write an investigation report based upon photographs of a reduced-scale burn,” Campbell said. “We had the option to make our own scale burn if you wanted to. I decided to build a 1/8-scale replica for my project. I scaled everything – not really understanding some of the rules for scaling compartments. I had a couple friends help burn it and we were just amazed at the results we got.”

Campbell said he became an ardent convert.

“I started doing more reading and research and gathering some really good information and things I wanted to look at,” he said. “In talking with Dr. James Quintiere at the University of Maryland, I found that the field of scale-model burning was wide open – ripe for research. He said I could go in just about any direction I wanted. From an investigator’s perspective, the scale burns are invaluable.”

It’s not necessary to pull an engine company out of a service to do suppression on a scale burn.

“We use a pump sprayer or a garden hose, so the cost is very insignificant,” Campbell said. “I put in video cameras, thermal couplers and a lot of instrumentation so my burns take a lot of time. But you can do a simpler burn and still collect a lot of data.” (He asks that those doing scale-model burns share research with him at mark.campbell@pk9d.com</a>.) n