By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – When the fire alarm sounds, the situation is much different today than it was just few years ago.

Quick response time has always been critical, but it is even more crucial today.

“Fires today burn hotter. They burn faster,” said Massachusetts State Fire Marshall Stephen Coan.

A fire simulation of a mock living room showed just how fast a fire can spread among today’s home furnishings. Thermal Scientist Abid Kemal monitors the situation with computer models to see how fast the room moves into a “flashover.” This is when a structure is totally involved.

A house fire today can reach flashover in just 3-4 minutes.

Flashover happens faster these days because of the way many modern furnishings are now made. Synthetic materials used in pillows and curtains can burn 10 times faster than cotton, for example.

“The survivability time has dramatically decreased over the last several decades because of what we put in our homes,” said Coan.

Firefighters are now rethinking strategies, such as how they ventilate a building. Traditionally, windows or doors might have been opened to help the search for survivors. But a burst of oxygen that comes after the flashover can fuel flames.

Another issue is the use of water. Dousing flames before going in a structure was something firefighters didn’t often do because of the concerns of steam burning victims.

But now because house fires burn so hot, techniques are changing because the stakes are so high.

Coan is adamant homeowners maintain smoke alarms as the first line of defense against a tragedy. He says families should also have two escape routes out of the home and meeting place a safe distance from the house.


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