Area firefighters battling flames that burn quicker with thicker smoke

Local firefighters are combatting fires that burn quicker and produce thicker smoke now than years past and say it’s important homeowners take precautions because the combination is deadly.

“Decades ago, couches, chairs, and other common furnishings were framed primarily in wood and were typically filled with cotton, wool, or other similar natural products,” Dayton Fire Department Capt. Brad French said. “Today, however, those same types of furnishings are more often framed in plastic and are filled with synthetic foam materials. This change in fuel type has led to an increase in the speed and intensity of a typical housefire.”

Housefires can injure and kill residents not only through extreme heat but also through the smoke, French said, adding smoke inhalation causes more home fire deaths annually in the U.S. than thermal injury.

There have been two fatal fires in Dayton this year. The first took place Jan. 6 on Broadmoor Drive. Sharon O’Neal, 74, was killed. The second was on Xenia Avenue on Jan. 19 where 50-year-old James Robbie Hall died in a fire.

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After fighting the fire on Xenia Avenue, Dayton Fire Department District Chief David Wright said the fire was very hot and caused damage to the firefighter’s suits. He said the home was made of brick, which kept in more heat.

“We had a lot of heat throughout that whole first floor when we first arrived,” Wright said, adding that it was able to extend to other areas of the home. “Now the counterpart to that is there is not as much wood to burn. But there is plenty of content in the house and content today generates a lot more heat than they did in days past.”

New Carlisle Fire Chief Steve Trusty said the smoke firefighters encounter now also is different. He said smoke is darker and thicker than before and firefighters are using technology to help tame those flames.

“There’s less visibility,” the chief said. “We have thermal imaging cameras that you can take in the pitch-black dark and we can point it in the area and it will show the fire and if there is a victim inside.”

French said that studies have shown that generally, temperatures in fires have not increased greatly, but the speed at which a fire burns has.

He said the Dayton Fire Department doesn’t fight fires differently today, but they are aware of the changes and the potential growth of the fire. Trusty and French said their departments focus on ventilation and rapid water application when possible.

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The fire officials also said it’s as important as ever for residents to take precautions and make a plan to escape a structure fire. Smoke detectors should be placed throughout a home and fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide alarms also increase safety.

They also recommended that residents sleep with their door closed because some bedroom doors can protect a room from smoke and fire for up to 20 minutes, giving a person more time to escape.

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