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March 23, 2022

043 - Some neglected areas in fire science with Vyto Babrauskas

043 - Some neglected areas in fire science with Vyto Babrauskas

It is always a pleasure to interview a true legend of fire safety. And when the topic of the interview is their thoughts on neglected areas of our discipline, based on almost five decades of experience? This must end up great! And it did (IMHO).

Please join me and prof. Vyto Babrauskas in discovering what are the parts of fire science that are in need of research. What are some obvious solutions, that I think we all acknowledge, but for some reason, we do not have? What are the dead ends and missing links... And how many of the ideas go to sleep for decades, just to be rediscovered as the field matures.

Please learn more about prof. Babrauskas on his webpage: www.doctorfire.com and his scientific paper repository at ResearchGate

The paper mentioned by Vyto - Some Neglected Areas in Fire Safety Engineering  

Transcript
Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Hello, everybody. Welcome to Fire Science Show session 43. I'm super happy to tell you that today I am hosting a true legend of fire safety and fire science professor Vytenis Babrauskas. Vyto is well-known in the community. He's been active in fire safety fall. I think last five decades. He's supposedly the first PhD in fire safety engineering, which is an amazing feat amazing title and an author off absolutely landmark handbooks, such as the Ignition handbook and more recently Electrical Fires and Explosions handbook. And this. pieces have helped thousands of fire engineers in their profession. And more than that, he's also been involved in the development of the tools that we all use such. I just con colorimetry or furniture calorimeters, and many, many more. It's actually quite difficult to list all the achievements of his. A long and fruitful career. Anyway, we all know Vyto and I have invited him to, uh, the podcast to discuss. His views on where the fire science is lacking or where, what are the white spots in fire science? Because that was very interesting to me. And, given he has such a long. Professional career. I wondered if the problems we meet today or the. Unresearched areas we find today. we're also identified already 30, 40 years ago. And why the fire science has not picked on them. And actually, I think this is a quite interesting conversation. And that touches both the history and the future of fire safety. And many of the topics may be a little controversial or may sound controversial. But I think it's okay. We need diverse voices and sometimes you need to listen some harsh words to move forward. So I also appreciate that. Also, uh, what's interesting. In conclusions, Vito is going back to some very simple guidance, which sounds like obvious. We need to do cost benefit analysis. We need to have better statistics. we need to have, well, Clarified goals that are written in the law for performance busy engineering. I mean, these things are. on the first thought you would think they're not very deep and they're like very obvious. But then again, if you think we. First thing, we don't have them. Which is horrible. And the second thing, well, he's talking from five decades of experience doing that. So this gives these thoughts, this additional. Depth to truly consider them and maybe stop a while and think about it. And I think it's a very worthy thing. So I think this does not require any more. Introduction. I hope I got your attention already. And you're ready to listen to the interview. If you'd like to learn about, Professor Babrauskas and he's books and other stuff that he's providing. You can visit him at his webpage, doctorfire.com. And for this talk well, lets spin the intro and jump into the episode. Hello everybody. Welcome to Fire Science Show. I am today with Dr Vytenis Babrauskas, hello Vyto. So happy to have you in the show.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to share whatever I can, of my, experience and my points of view, within the profession.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Thank you so much. I, I really enjoy having, people who are leaders of the industry in here. And I really like, for some reason to talk about people's PhDs and you happen to be the first fire protection engineering PhD. And I, I would like come back actually to the times when he done that, I have happened to seen a big part of that. And the reason why I ask you about it is that, sometime ago there was a paper by John gales. John was actually on this podcast around episode 10, talking about it in about the historical origins of fire testing. And, many of that work was based on your work, for your PhD and the papers that were published in the seventies, in fire technology. But now with this new paper, you wrote a letter to editor. and obviously the letter and critique is interesting, but there is one sentence that has made me call you and get you onto the show because I, I find it brilliant. I will cited, you write about, historical, origins and then a sentence, even though we did not, this is this state, this, it was basically felt in that space of a short years, fire resistance testing would become an obsolete anachronism. Wow. Mind broken. Was that the state of your mind in like seventies, that is gonna go because boy, it did not

Vyto Babrauskas:

Well, it was not, you know, actually it wasn't in my, personal opinion, but that was the opinion of the professors that I worked with. And. And their colleagues and it was felt that, you know, science is going to triumph technology and that, things will become, very scientific. But, the, you know what I wanna tell you, the story, which is very interesting, you know, one big aspect of that is, Thermo structural, uh, behavior and Thermo structural modeling. And you see, when I was at, Berkeley in the 1970s, we had, one of the people who was, uh, in my guidance committee, who was professor Boris Bresler and was a very famous, man in, structural engineering and, and fighter engineering. And, he had a number of graduate students who built up the first really significant suite of computer programs for calculating Thermo structural behavior of building frames. And, uh, because, frames was the emphasis because, a two by four house does not have frames, but people worry less about that. They worry more about bigger buildings. So and he was very progressive. Those, students were very good. And so by the middle of the 1970s, we had this, capability to go to a computer and calculate, structurally what happens to building frames, when fighter happens upon them. Now, the very fascinating thing after that is, I don't know if, you know, in Europe, this story of rip van Winkle, where this was this man who went to sleep and then he slept for 20 years and he woke up 20 years later. Well, this same thing happened in Thermo structural. Design. And it was extremely bizarre that after professor Bresler retired, I think around 1980 but ever since, you know, these students finished in the, I think 75 70, something like that. And there was a 20 year period of sleeping

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Mm-hmm

Vyto Babrauskas:

and, they had made this absolutely major scientific advance. And for the next 20 years, absolutely nothing happened. And then about 20 years later about in the middle of 1990s, people started saying, oh, well, wait a minute. There's some, science possible that you could, compute. What happens to a structure of a building when there's a fire in it. And so why this 20 year, pause happened is I have no explanation is just very strange, but then the second thing happened, which is, I think is also strange is that now if you look in our, fire science journals, the, I think generally the number one, most popular topic is, fire resistance modeling and, various, calculations or some cases, experiments and calculations. On, beams and columns and joints and composite structures and things like that. And, actually you know, because I I don't tend to look from a, so much a professional point of view. I tend to look from a society point of view that I think it's more important to be a member of society than it is to be a professional member. So from a society point of view, I asked this question, is this the right place to put that many financial resource us? Because, you know, those people are doing, academically good work and they are producing graduate students. And the graduate students are earning the PhD degrees and, uh, the system is happy that way, but are we really. Cost effectively making an improvement in fire safety by doing that. And I don't think so because I think we are doing very, very small things, very detailed things, which cost significant amount of money, but the benefits are very small. So, in my view, they shouldn't be the things that we are doing

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Hmm.

Vyto Babrauskas:

and, you know, I will actually go one step further and, talking about the buildings and say, it is very interest thing. When you look at any kind of science research in the fire safety science profession, where is this taking place? Well, the overwhelming. Majority is for big buildings. And of course, nowadays there is for transport also for

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Mm mm-hmm.

Vyto Babrauskas:

things like that. But in buildings overwhelmingly, it is for big buildings. You know, like people will write about evacuation model and the evacuation models are always for some high rise building.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

not a single community dwelling.

Vyto Babrauskas:

yeah, exactly. But if you look at the Americans that the six and I think in any country in the world, they're pretty similar. The bulk of fire deaths are within people, houses, not within big buildings. So it's obviously very important to keep big buildings safe because, if there is a big fire, there'll be a big disaster. But the point is that, we are need even more emphasis. on houses because that is where, if you are gonna be the unfortunate victim who will die in a fire overwhelmingly, that is most likely to be, you know, something like 80% will be in a house, not in a big building. So one of the things that I will go back in my profession and tell you a little bit about a name, which you probably have never heard of, Dr. Bud Leven and, Bud Leven, when I went to work for NIST in 1977, Bud Leven was already there. He had been there a couple years. I don't know when he started, but he was a PhD. Psychologist. And he was working on, the human, behavior aspects and fires and what he realized in the, late 1970s and very early 1980s, is that the most important area where he can make an impact is on human behavior in houses.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay.

Vyto Babrauskas:

And so he, wrote a very early model called exitt and it's E X I, but the, and there's two letters

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Hmm.

Vyto Babrauskas:

TT and that was a very early model of how you evacuate a house, but what he realized. Is that, it's not a simple thing, because he was a psychologist, so he knew about some things about how people behave and he knew that, if you see most, evacuation models, assume that soon as there is a fire alarm, that there are people who will, progress either walking or running at a high speed, from where they are to the exit. And, what, Dr. Levin discovered, when he studied actual. Incidents of, fires and what happened in these fires. And he worked together with also, very now I think, somewhat forgotten, at professor John Bryan at, university of Maryland. He's a little bit more remembered, I think today. And, professor Bryan was a fire protection engineer, but they both shared this interest and they both did this work. Let's find out how people evacuate and how, how they behave in the fire and, evacuation being part of how they behave in a fire and what, Bud Levin started finding out and professor Bryan also found out is that it's very complex. Is that usually when there's a fire in your house, say. You do not run from the fire. You run towards the fire

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay.

Vyto Babrauskas:

So the first step is to run towards the fire and you investigate, and then you may or may not take action depending what you find from the investigation. And then you make some decision and only then do you take the next, step, which may be, several different choices. And so we had in the 1970s and 1980s, we had these studies what happens in fires, which are statistically the important fires, namely in houses. And then after about mid 1980s, we have. Forgotten that. And I went, and looked through, a couple years ago. We, have had a series of these, symposia called human behavior and fires, which are, very specialized they're important scientific, conferences. And they have published all the papers and you can look through the papers and you can find out what people were studying and people were overwhelmingly studying fires, not in residential houses. So, it's like this, stories of how, you know, the policeman and the drunk on the street and the drunk is stumbling around, and he's looking for something and, uh, policeman says, he, you know, what are you doing? Man says, well, I'm, I'm looking for something. And, uh, the policeman says, what are you looking for? Man says, I lost my keys. And, uh, policeman says, where did you lose them? And, uh, the man says over in these bushes and the policeman says, well, why are you looking under the street lamp? And the man says, well, because the light are good there.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay.

Vyto Babrauskas:

And, you know, so that's a traditional joke of the, the stupid man who is looking in the wrong place. But as researchers, I think we need to, understand this joke and. Use it appropriately that we should not be doing research under the street line, just because the light is good. There, we should be doing research where it's needed, not, where it's, easy and convenient to do now. You know, one thing, uh, I do wanna say that I, I'm not accusing people personally of acting unwisely because often it is the funding institutions that are the problem. In other words, if they fund research projects, for a evacuation of, a office buildings and do not fund, research on, human behavior and houses, Then, of course the professors will study the former, not the latter because that's what they can get paid to do. But, you know, we need to think about our, funding processes because the houses are where we are losing people. And so why we are spending proportionately less effort and less money now in 2022 on this problem than we were in 1970s and 1980s. And I think that's very strange and I would, I would like that to change.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah. that's a fascinating journey. and this point of view you've presented from early seventies or eighties where the fire science would be focused on, let's say. The down to earth problems like fires and houses. I think that's the time where the smoke sensors became a thing, in houses that's the, around the time where, house sprinklers were invented. So, there has been a lot of innovation, in this regard, and then some sort of fork happens, the industry has split into like parallel worlds, maybe even more than two, one Following the, the fire resistance and, doing business as, as usual testing things, applications, other being, a world of science and engineering, where you would use big word performance based engineering to design your perfect, system cattered that for a certain, occupancy or certain building. and now I think we are in this a, acrobatics where we try to, merge this somehow together we try to do that. We try to join performance based engineering and fire testing, for example, to improve on the fire testing because we see where it is lacking even more than ever. And, also because on how fundamental it became for modern industry, it's not something you can just replace that easily because it's at the cornerstone of every single building being built

Vyto Babrauskas:

Well, let me say a few words about performance based engineering, because back in the late 1990s, I actually wrote, I think it was a series of three papers on that topic because I was very concerned about what, was happening. And the context of that was that at that time, you know, many countries around the world were setting up systems of, a performance based, design for fire safety. And I was selected to be a us represe into the process that Japan was doing to, establish a performance based, guidelines over there. So I got to see things very intimately, not just. From United States, not just from, learning a foreign countries activities, but actually from participating in that process in a, country different from mine and I got to be very concerned and, Japan happened to be a very bright, positive, exception to what I saw, but what in the everywhere else in the world that I looked at. And I think the UK was the worst from what I could see though, I didn't examine every country's activities, things were in bad shape. And let, let me just sort of tell you a little bit about what the problems were the, performance based design is sort of a. By itself kind of a neutral process. It can be good, bad or indifferent. But what I realized, a very soon is that what you really need to focus on is what are the, criteria for assessing this a performance based design. And, so there, the two extremes I will point out is the one that they were developing in Japan versus in the UK, in Japan. what they said, I thought was just, perfect. What they said is there's a fire safety. Pie and we'll divide the pie into slices. In other words, subsystems of, fire safety, you know, like, fire resistance, smoke, the, notification systems, et cetera, et cetera. And we will establish a performance based criterion for each particular subsystem. Now we will allow you the designer to make designs of various kinds, according to various principles and ideas. But when you have made the design, there's going to be some sort of quantitative rule or formula. for each pie slice, how to assess whether you have succeeded in having a minimum acceptable, performance. I achieved in that design. So that was the idea in Japan. And I thought that's how things should happen. Well, in the UK, they took the extreme opposite approach. They actually wrote into the preface of their document saying that the client meaning the architecture, developer, whoever uh, wants to build this building. And the government official shall sit down and together, decide on a level of safety. As the starting point of the process. And I thought to myself, this must be one of the many definitions of insanity, because there is no way that a reasonable society should tolerate this. I mean, the same thing as if, you were to say, well, I have just, badly beaten up some person. Okay. So me and the policeman will get the together and we will decide on, the acceptable level beating a citizen, and then we'll go from there. I think most people realize that is not okay. In other words, in, the English speaking world, we have had a long history that, where we say that the rule of men and no, dishonored to women here, but that's traditional old time statement. The rule of men has been replaced by the rule of law, and that was in England way back, many centuries ago when king first allowed a parliament to be formed. And for the citizens to actually, have some input into how the laws are written, that it's not just the king shall say that I like you, therefore I will give you money. I don't like you. Therefore I'll put you in prison, said we have a system of laws that tell us what can be done and what cannot be done. Well, in my view, what, the British concept. Was to reverse this thousand years or whatever of legal, progress. And to go back to the rule of men before there was a rule of law, I view that as total, craziness, but so, you know, nowaday is, a performance based design what, what comes down to is the conscience of the a practitioner. In other words, if you are an honest person intending to do a good safety job, you may, work very well in the performance based design system. But, if you are a person of, poor ethical quality, and you are working in a performance based design system then, you are, likely to, do some really inappropriate things. Now, you know what people on the opposite side will tell me, well, yeah, that may be true, but we have a peer review system, that, it's, what if you make a performance based design, we'll send this out to a, a peer reviewer. Yeah, I say that really is not okay. Because again, it's extremely, based on personalities that in most cases, what will happen. is that people do not wanna criticize somebody else's professional work because they feel that, tomorrow will be, the tables will be turned.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

but also with the, with the peer review, you, if you are not clear about the goals or. Or expectations if they are not strict, what are you peer reviewing? Are you peer reviewing, someone's skill in performing CFD, or are you really interviewing the safety that is being delivered on the building and, and the peer, the peer review is just a part of the process and the issue is not with it being there or not, but the goal is not being defined. Right.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So, so you that I think is one and you see, I, it'd rather surprise me that I thought that, When public in the late 1990s made a bunch of noise on this topic. I thought that there would be other people that this would, promote a dialogue and promote a lot of, discussion within the profession did not happen. So, I went out to doing other things. I can't just sort of keep beating on something, but, I thought we did not have a very good, resolution to that. And, you know, the, way things are in the US today is that it's an interesting situation because, performance based design. Is not used a great deal. I mean, it is certainly known and accepted, but it is not used a great deal where it is used primarily is for, very big projects

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay.

Vyto Babrauskas:

and for, very big projects. You generally really do you to use that because the prescriptive codes, you know, if you're gonna design a sports arena or you're gonna design an airport terminal or giant projects like that, that, prescriptive codes are really not designed to cope very well with that type of project. people naturally, tend to need to use, performance based design, but you know what, mostly it's okay. Because there are the people who get the very big projects are very well known firms, very well established firms, and they tend to have, uh, decent, people there who are very concerned about their reputation. Very concerned about the firm's reputation and, try to do a very, an honest and, correct job. But you see what, what was the, the feeling, back in the 1990s is that, this thing would percolate, all the way down to, much, smaller projects, which I don't know about other countries, but, you know, in the us that is not. Uh, that has not happened. You know, if

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I'll tell You how it in Poland. it's quite interesting because we have a very, like, very strict prescriptive code, our, all these super, but there's one, uh, little point in it. where it says that the smoke controls should be designed. So it provides sufficient conditions for evacuation of people. And that's a performance based design statement in the prescriptive code that opened the whole world of, performance based design in smoke control, obviously based around ASET/RSET concept, which you were already kind to criticize in one of the papers that I know, but it did democratize performance based design up to even the smallest projects. So wherever you have smoke control and you know that it is maybe unwise to design it, letter by letter by the code, because it's inefficient in that matter, economically inefficient, you can optimize it quite well with the performance based design. so this came back all the way down to all of the projects. And now today, , it is just a part of engineering. It's, it's not anymore performance based engineering. It's engineering, we engineer, uh, smoke control systems. We have a set of goals that we achieve them. And in a way I think this is efficient, but it also opened a lot of dead ends a lot of traps for people because when competitors could not, not compete on the design of the systems anymore, they started competing about design fires or soot yield ratios, if I make simulations for my building with 10 megawats and you do yours with two megawats and your soot yield is for ethanol, and I do, polyurethane foam, well, your system is certainly better than mine, right? So.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Yeah.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

in this, in this loop, we've lost this, or we maybe we never had this capability, you know, to control the beast. The beast was unleashed. And as with your policeman and the drunk man, it started looking, in the places where it was brightest or, or in the places where it was easiest, the not necessarily in the places where it should have been. so that, that's fascinating. And I also know that you are largely involved in whole of your career in, in forensics litigation. And, I also assume that, much of your work is inspired by the tragedies that happened and, and seeking a way out. And I've listened to some of talks recently about ammonium nitrate and electrical fires as well. So, Was it also something that was fueling research in, let's say seventies, eighties, and you maybe do not see it now, or , what's your perspective?

Vyto Babrauskas:

Well, you know, we, basically learn almost nothing from real fires. And that to me is tragic that the, there has to be, to learn from real fires. There has to be some mechanisms for doing that and we don't have those mechanisms. So, what I think, learning from fires, you could sort of divide into, two categories, learning from very, important fires

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

mm-hmm

Vyto Babrauskas:

or learning from, routine fires. Those are kind of two ways of looking at it. Now, the one thing that to me is very interesting. And again, speaking from the us, if we have a airplane that falls down from the sky, we have an, government agency called NTSB, which goes and has technical people that investigate at accident in great detail and find out what happened, why it happened, how to prevent it. they write reports, they, you know, have dialogue with the affected, manufacturers. it's, a very, very, well developed system. But if we have a major fire that they place in the United States, we have absolutely no such system. we nowadays typically what happens in response to the fire is that we have a federal agency called, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives that, comes in and investigates. But they are, kind of an interesting agency because they're primarily criminal investigation agency and they generally do not make any kind of a report on what they do. They disappear and make a report, which you cannot get. So that does not really help anybody. And especially if there is no crime, then it doesn't even help put anybody in prison. and we have nothing else,

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

But, but this is the major fires. And what about the bulk of fires? The ones that you said there are 80% residential.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Yeah. and for those, we also don't have anything. Now, what I'm gonna tell you a little bit about the forensic practice in the us and tell you what I think should be done. You see in the us, if you have just any, not in major fire, but any kind of a fire that is, non-trivial. What will happen is that, usually the building is insured.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Mm-hmm

Vyto Babrauskas:

So, the first thing that'll happen, however, is the, fire department will come and deal with the fire. And then there will be typically a Lieutenant or a captain and the fire service who will, write, write a report. And, that will be the statistical report. If it's a slightly bigger fire, there will be an addition to the statistical report. There will be a textual report, a narrative report. And that is usually there will be a different type of Sonnel a fire investigator or arson squad or people like that. That'll be sent out to do that, but even this specialized person from the fire department, even if it's a significant fire, you know, unless there is just a giant loss of life, typically they will, you know, spend a, maybe three, four hours and write their report. Now, the, if it's a bigger fire, the next thing that will happen is that, There'll be insurance company or companies involved, and they all send, private fire investigators and the private fire investigator, may spend four days rather than four hours at the fire scene because they will really, they'll be asked to find a out the details of what happened and their budget is usually much bigger than the budget at the fire department. So they don't have to run away after four hours. They can, investigate more carefully and, on the basis of that and make a report. and it's usually, professional, detailed, report. The problem with that is that, unless you're a forensic expert, Like me and you show up in the courtroom, nobody ever sees that report. So if you don't see anything, you can't learn from it. Now, what I, have suggested to the profession, which, people are not listened to, but still it's a good suggestion is that there's an easy way to fix this because we have, a number of insurance companies in America and they are generally big corporations and they are generally, long term. In other words, they don't start up and shut down and disappear in the middle of the night. They generally, invested in the long term. So they're around for a long time. Now, what they consider is that, Report is proprietary and it simply goes into a file folder where nobody else can see it. Now, what I think, should happen is that the, insurance industry should get together and say that we can improve fire safety if we learn from fires. So what we should do is we should take these reports and we should take away the names and the addresses from there. Then we should find a way to, distribute that information and make it publicly available and do some form of, aggregation, compilation analysis. so that, the people could learn and that safety could be improved, but that is not happening. And, the industry in America has actually taken steps backwards because, back, 50 years ago, the, insurance industry used to have something called a national board of fire underwriters. And they were a technical arm of the fire insurance business. And they had engineers, they had technical people, they had resources, they published things, they investigated things and they published things and it wasn't, a major effort, but still it was. an effort and that disappeared. In other words, they closed that activity down. They just merged it into the purely, lobbying kind of organization. There is no more anything of that work, that national board of fire underwriters you

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

They have computers for that now. Yeah.

Vyto Babrauskas:

that's right. They did not have computers in the 1960s, but they were able to do that. So, this would be a way forward. The, insurance business is very widespread. You know, it generally is not localized, the one area, one type of building or anything like that. So, the same thing that company, a learns company, B learns and company C learns, there's nothing special in what you can learn as company B. So, that kind of information I think, should be shared on a industry basis. but it's not. So I would urge anybody, that, you should. Try to make some steps that your, fire insurance companies should make some, society or group or something where they can share information that, takes away names and addresses, but allows technical learning to take place.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Uh, I will, again, Tell you how we, in a way went there. I'm not representing an insurer, but I represent a fire laboratory, which also deals with the same, you know, issue, having a knowledge that's forbidden because it's proprietary. and we've been there. We we've done that on facades. We, we took, we've anonymized them. So we don't, put any bad name over any of the companies that, that we have, served. But from that book of knowledge, some patterns emerge and some important knowledge can emerge that in fact, leads to better design of systems and no harm can come out of there because if you. Are a company that manufactures something and that something causes a huge building to burn down. You're not gonna have a great business either. So, finding these issues earlier can actually not only save lives and environment, but also actually work in favor of the business of those who would be, in their first thought, hiding the information. And I think this, issues probably as old as the fire engineering, the ability to get into data and collect it and sort it and make it meaningful, like finding ways how you could really, really use it in fact. And I'm really glad that, at least from the, science. Perspective organizations like NIST or UL, they're openly sharing their data. I mean, not from litigations, but from experiments. And this is very well welcomed, thing you've also provided with ignition handbook, data with, uh, which could be used. And, this is also very, well received item. I know many people actually bought the book for the data with all the knowledge, but that, that, that is true. You, you need good data to support your engineering and, in this, few decades of your career, do you think we are improving in the ways how we collect and gather data, or we are running circles like chickens.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Well, the data systems are quite different in each country and, I have only the opportunity to study the data system in America. And, you see we in the, over, over the 1980s, they, it progressively, instituted and developed our, a data system is called NFRIS national, fire, information, I forget what the rest of the letter stand for. Anyhow,

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Before that we had nothing really, other than N FPA used to very anecdotally collect, data, very non systematically, but, this became a systematic, collection effort, but one thing that, I feel and I've written about that, whole area that is neglected is the one question that a fire information data system can ask. is how effective are the fire departments and their activities and the end for a system, in America has never been designed to ask those kinds of questions. So obviously we can't get any answers because of questions are not asked, but I think you could be, improving the system by asking questions that would allow you to make some statistical analysis of how successful our fire departments in dealing with their fires. And, I do not know why that, question was never raised, but it, it was never raised. , uh, you know, in, Australia back. I would say now about 20 years ago, they, did some research, did some specific research, in order to develop, something that's called fire brigade intervention manual. And what they did is they said, that the activities, of the fire, primarily, run against the clock. In other words, it takes so long to do each separate task. So what they did in Australia is they, said, let us. Make some sort of ad hoc studies and determine how long, it takes to bring up a ladder and raise it to the third floor or something like that. And, how long does it take to, bring a fire hose, down to the basement and charge it and start putting water on the fire that's in the basement. those kinds of questions and the, Australians, actually tried to, to answer that, but, they were going to sort of keep revising that that was gonna be a living document and near, near, as I can tell that, kind of never happened. I think those kinds of things do differ quite a bit country by country because, how a fire department is organized and now responds in Germany is obviously different from what's happening in Australia. So, you really need to do this on, national basis. And, I mean, in my own country, you know, it's a very rich country, a big country. Why is it that we have taken no interest in studying on some engineering basis? How fire departments operate? You know, it's crazy that we haven't done that, but.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

actually you are looking at the holistic picture of fire, with firefighter being a part of the environment. I had Bryan Meacham in this, uh, podcast as well. He expressed a view that, our system is built under the, expectation that if someone will come in and, and save, the building, which may not necessarily be the best, way to design a safe building, maybe the building should, uh, save itself, actually Bryan probably will kill me. I, twisted his words a lot, but dear listeners, please go listen to what Bryan said in Bryan's episode, because I'm not great at copying that however, I know in my, practice, the case of firefighters coming and rescuing and saving the building is something that we also include in our performance based analysis. You know, there are people who calculate how much time it'll take for firefighters to come to decide, how many minutes. So they end up their SU calculations at that minute, because at the point, the responsibility of is on the firefighters, not on these systems at all, but now we bring the case. We don't really know. We do not have a real life, statistics on how efficient this arrival water delivery, whatever it was, Was in fact, and most of that arriving at the skyscraper or, four floor down car park with deep underground does not really mean they've started action. It just means that they came to the site and, it will be different for different buildings. And here again, we at the goals of, fire engineering that, if you view it holistically, you need to understand what will happen to the building in fire that I find it really fascinating. And, well, I, I also know this data does not exist. I do not have to such data and it would be spectacular to have it

Vyto Babrauskas:

well, you know, you make a very good point about the expectation of fire service performance, because the that's, entirely correct. And I have not seen. That discussed anywhere in my country. And you see the big issue here in the United States is that, there's very big difference between cities and, very sparsely populated rural areas that if you live in a city and your house catches fire, you can expect the fire department to show up, say, within six minutes now, maybe they don't in some cases, but, generally that's would be a fairly typical expectation. It, if you are on a remote farm somewhere, it may, and you have a volunteer fire department. It may take 45 minutes for somebody to show up there. Now, if the fire department comes up after, 45 minutes, the only thing they can do is irrigate a smoldering foundation.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Mm-hmm

Vyto Babrauskas:

I mean, there's absolutely nothing useful they can do, even though they feel professionally obligated to go and put on this demonstration of action. we know that it should know that. I mean, anybody, you don't have to, to be a fire safety expert to figure out that, that's the reality. So if that's the case, why have we not required say fire sprinklers in all. newly built rural houses ever since the 1970s. I have no answer to that, but, it's a good question to ask because if the fire department is not going to protect you, and if they take 45 minutes, they are not going to protect you. a sprinkler system would be really worth the money that, it costs to put it in.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I think you've put that in, in past that, we don't really go into cost benefit analysis is, like, the cost of the sprinkler installation and a new house in the rural area, of course it exists and it would be some amount of dollars. But benefits of that, if you take the 45 minutes, arrival are insane. It's the difference between a smouldering foundation and, a house that smells bad. that's the difference foundation versus a bad smell. So, I think there's this cost benefit or this effectiveness. It's also not something visible in the overall system. And again, I, I wonder how did you, how did this evolve in this, in the history that you observe and, how disappointed are you with it?

Vyto Babrauskas:

well, you know, I think it's absolutely bizarre and unacceptable would be maybe a better term

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah.

Vyto Babrauskas:

that my profession, has never paid any interest. The cost benefit, ratios of any strategies. And, I think it's come from, some sort of, maybe innate arrogance point of view. In other words, that people saying, fire safety is so very, very, very important that the amount of money spent is, should be, ignored. I think that is incorrect because, for anything the money spent is, uh, important because there's never an infinite, sum of money available to do things. And you always, if you spend money on some, one thing, you don't have money to spend on another thing. So, it's never. Appropriate to say that we should just ignore how much money something, costs. But, you know, I've watched the building code process in the us ever since the 1970s and the, cost benefit ratio simp does not come into building code, discussions or building code provisions that are accepted. And I think, I'm just a single professional speaking my own opinions, but I think that is very wrong we should consider, and we should reject, proposals that have a poor, benefits compared to the cost. And we should really promote, proposals that have, Low cost Deni benefits, but we're not doing that. And, why are we not, not doing that? You know, there are a few, exceptions, like for instance, the consumer product safety commission in the us, for some, some of their regulations, the, they actually, commissioned, a, cost benefit, uh, studies or industry when in an, commissioned cost benefit ratio, studies. But those have been extremely few, examples. And, the building codes actually, because the consumer price safety commission is something separate. It's not related to our building codes and the building codes process. You just do not see that. And, Northern the NFPA codes, NFPA codes are more like worldwide. There's a lot of other countries that use them in addition to America. And we do not see the issue of cost benefit coming into there. And I think that is really wrong that, we should be doing that. and I hope that people start getting smarter enough to accept that , because there are a lot of places where we overspend money on fire safety, but there are also places where we don't spend enough. A program to retrofit certain buildings with sprinklers would have a positive, benefit, cost, situation. but people generally don't push for that. So, it's not all just going one way, but it's, you know, costs are just ignored and that's unfortunate.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

For us, I always bring the case of, excessive amounts of fire resistant, walls. For example, like you don't really need for our fire rated walls in the office office. Fire does not last that long that it's conservation of energy. I'm sorry. There's many cases in which we would overspend because something is written in the code. And often in the code, it was written because you need to have progressive increase of the requirements. So this one is one hour, two hours. Okay. This one should be four, without, without any big proof or. Or, you know, someone in the seventies said something and suddenly for the next 50 years, we're doing like that in my field in smoke control. You would not believe how many times in the discussions in the European commission, when we try to figure out why something is in place, we end up in a statement that Howard Morgan said, and no one ever questioned because it was ho Morgan who said that. So it was truth, and I, I really, I really wonder how many things like this exist in our system. And actually now I I'm actually scared because probably a lot. And, uh, now you mentioned there are solutions could add. Safety, just two or three episodes ago. I had, engineer Ingo Riess, from Switzerland. Who's dealing with tunnels and, he said some, many, many smart things that maybe you should not over invest in the safety of a tunnel, which in general is one of the safest places on the road. You can be like, you are more safe in a tunnel than on an open road. And maybe you could take this money. And invested in the safety features in the road network, because from the network operator perspective, not a tunnel owner, but network perspective. This is a well invested money and same in here. I had Daniel Antonellis her company Kindling is working to make safety as a, not as a privilege, , but as a human right fire safety and she's, helping , informal settlements, you know, people in poverty getting safety and then you think, you know, I I'm spending hours and hours doing very. Find CFD for this beautiful skyscraper in Warsaw and then there is 1 billion people living in poverty who do not have access to any safety. Like I'm not even talking about sprinklers or fire detection. I'm talking about water and electricity. they may not have access to this simple tools needed to create safety. So, from a building perspective, we do not have cost benefit analysis, but from the system perspective, oh boy, we really do not invest where it's, uh, needed or that's my feeling sometimes.

Vyto Babrauskas:

yeah, absolutely. So, you know, one thing that I would recommend to your, people that are list is that the, back in 2013, I published this paper called Some Neglected Areas in Fire Safety Engineering, and that is freely available because it's published in this journal called fire science and technology from Tokyo. And it's, freely available. You don't have to pay to download. And I think even though it, is now, nine years ago, I think, well, very, unfortunately I don't see that anything, positive has changed , from what I wrote back then. So the, I think people, I'm not knocking my profession. I do wanna say that. In other words, I think, you know, fire safety engineering has made. Big progress in the last, so many decades. So it is a profession that has, done improvements, but, there are certain areas where you basically, you cannot have an improvement unless you focus on needing the improvement. And so my, suggestion to people was to be aware of some areas, which I really neglected and omitted and overlooked. And, see if we can raise a little bit of consciousness that, a cost effectiveness is, well, I'll, I'll just tell you what, what those five areas where that, that I wrote about. Okay. One is learning from fire incidents in a systematic way. We already talked about that, that the biggest role would be insurance companies, but also, government investigation. Of big fires and, we don't have either of that in the us. Studying fires in residential houses, why did we,

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

with that. Yeah.

Vyto Babrauskas:

yeah. Why did we study that in seventies and eighties and stop after that, collecting statistics which are meaningful. So, you know, this, this will be very different from different countries, but I think certainly collecting statistics on how effective is your fire department versus the fire department? some other place would be useful, developing cost, effective codes and standards we just talked about that and finally, we haven't talked about it, but considering the unintended consequences of fire safety provisions.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Let's do that. Yeah.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Yeah, let, let me make, lemme say a few comments about , that thing, about a decade ago or so I started to, volunteer some of my efforts to an organization called the green science policy Institute. And, they basically tried to, to promote, a safer environment from a chemistry point of view. And one of the things that they were working with that I, decided to help them is on the issue of flame retardants that, the flame retard have, had a very interesting history that, they have gotten to be. In some categories to be very widely used and yet of, minimal or zero benefit. and so, you know, I'm not saying that inflammator are, useless across the board, but I think they're useful in fewer circumstances than people realize. I think the biggest positive example is, electrical circuit boards. I think electrical circuit boards should be made with flame, return materials and there's very simple way to explain the science of that. And that is that these chemical flame returns are effective. If the loading of the chemical. Is high compared to the size of the flame that is attacking the object. Now we realize this is not a quantitative statement, but you can find ways of quantitating it in specific circumstances. And so, we had this saga in the state of California that they mandate that upholstered furniture have, foams, which are, have chemical, inflammatory in and, without adequately studying whether that is doing anything good. And once, have studied that they found out that it wasn't doing, something useful. And yet, there were big, negative issues, you know, like for instance, it shows up in mother's breast milk. Which is obviously not a place where you would want, uh, certain jobs to show up. It lowers children's IQ. I mean, there's been studies of that sort, which is obviously very undesirable and then it goes into the water and, air and gets into the oceans and all kinds of, downstream, unintended consequences. So there, there have been, big concerns and there'll be people that are researching the ecological aspect of that. And then they don't have dialogue with the fire science people and the fire science people don't pay any attention to the ecologist. So it's, it is been that interesting situation. And, you know, I was, one of the first people to, Volunteer to actually help the ecologist community because, I felt that, some personal responsibility that, my profession should be doing good. It shouldn't be doing things that, have a more negative pro of them than positive, but it, it's also very, general issue. You know, we, we were, our profession was unreservedly recommending asbestos in anything. And every thing until people found out how dangerous asbestos is, and they never were thinking about the dangers of asbestos before they were happily using it. there's a whole number of examples like that, where people focus narrowly on something and say, Let's just go and jump and do this without thinking. Is there maybe an unintended consequence and that consequence is negative and maybe that oughta stop you

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

in, in your paper, you also mentioned halons and this is something, that's fascinating to me because from the first look halons are magic. They, they stop the reactions. They stop the fire at the chemical level. We're not even talking about the conservation of energy ignition. No, they, they stopped the chemistry, but on the second view and the reason why they are not used anymore is that they are very disastrous for the oxygen layer. Like they are as good as stopping as they are destroying ox. Uh, the ozone layer, ozone layer. Yeah. Ozone command Okay. That I understand that, but now now we understand a lot of more about the environmental impact of fires. So what is actually worse, a release of halon that stops fire or the fire itself with EITs CO2, which EITs a lot of many, many different, , chemicals. So I really wonder if after halons were banned, there was any discussion. what is actually worse, having a fires or having a release of a, of this substance.

Vyto Babrauskas:

well, you know, halogen was so of interesting because it was, specialized niche. You know, in other words, you did not have that for protecting houses, which you added as for you know, libraries, computer rooms fires, some, aircraft hangers, you know, things of that sort that, uh, were very narrow technical areas and the hell solutions were adopted before anybody gave any thoughts that their, it be anything

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah.

Vyto Babrauskas:

negative other than the cost of having to pay for it. and then, you know, that realization, came later, but, I think, today's perspective, what I think should be done and I'm not seeing being done. Is that any proposal of doing anything in fire safety, I think should be evaluated with a cost benefit assessment that, you know, if you're gonna have a, a product standard or a building code regulation or a UL standard of some sort or anything, I think you should consider the, the cost benefit of what you're proposing. And, that is not done. we still, we have not changed that mentality in any way that, we adopt fire safety provisions, unthinkingly that just because we think, fire is terrible. And fire safety is a good thing. Therefore, if somebody can convince us that this is a valid fire safety, tool, we will use it even though, there may be, negative aspects and problems with it. And I think I mean that, that is a sign of an immature profession the immature profession should consider, the pluses and the minuses of what people do. And if they just are full of enthusiasm and run away with a, uh, what they think is a bright idea and do not stop to consider, there may be a negative aspect. It suggests, immaturity. It suggests that, more thinking is required.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

this is a fantastic stick, a summary of this discussion. And, actually I'm. I'm very surprised to find that many of the research ideas are, coming back, like you've said that, the structural behavior modeling went to sleep. And, you've also mentioned behavioral psychology, which also not now is that's a beautiful area of fire science with so many brilliant people researching And, what more fascinating all these ideas you, did, they would also make a great PhD subject today because we still lack knowledge seems every time we move forward, we find more new questions and more new problems to solve, which is maybe not a best, concluding statement, but certainly great news for the new generation of fire safety engineers and scientists who come into the profession. And I'm very happy that, with your insight into the last few decades of the history of fire science, we could show that, many of these things have already been a little bit, research or a lot research, and you don't have to figure out everything from scratch. You need to seek answers in the past and just build on top of the shoulders of giants. That's, that's a great, perspective for young scientists in here.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Well, you know, let me sort of follow on that and say, one thing that I. Very happy when I got to write my PhD dissertation, is that the, my professors in my school, let me write, a thesis, which is broad rather than narrow.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay.

Vyto Babrauskas:

And so what I would suggest now, to the, professors in our, field who are, uh, having new PhD students, why don't you encourage some, young, uh, man or woman who is, in your office trying to find the best theme for their dissertation, allow them to write a, a broad topic. where should the fire safety profession. Focus in the future, and make a PhD thesis out of that. And I think that would be, hopefully a very positive effort by somebody who would do that because I think it is worthwhile to raise those kinds of fundamental questions. And if you have smart people, they may be able to give good input.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

And if you struggle to find a good PhD thesis topic, in the neglected areas in fire safety, you have five to pick up and a lot of them will be great, so that's like five needed and five, possibly great PhDs. Dr. Babrauskas thank you very much for joining me in the podcast. It was a joy to, to speak to you and, maybe less joy to find neglected areas in fire safety, but certainly a much needed and appreciated lesson and, , thank you for your time and, yeah, all the best to you man and thank you.

Vyto Babrauskas:

Thank you very much for inviting me and, let us hope the profession, is able to move, well in a positive of direction,

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I'm certain that it will thank you so much.

Vyto Babrauskas:

take care.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

And thats it. What the pleasure to talk to a true legend of fire safety. it was one of my dreams to be able to interview people like Vyto on this podcast. And this is achieved. A lot of credit goes to Elena Funk, a listener who really pushed me to do this interview. Thank you, Elena that's much appreciated. I needed a push and here we are. After a great talk with professor Babrauskas. Vyto has certainly brought the many interesting views on the profession. And I think. They're very relatable. Like, we're not really researching that much residential fire safety where. Homes are still the number one place where people die in fires. That's in a way astonishing. We still do not have a good, organized way to have, statistics. And we do not have way too recuperate the knowledge found in the post-fire investigations. This is horrible. Like, how are we able to act without having this data? When it comes to performance-based design, I guess there may be some split votes in here. , I don't think everyone thinks UK system is not working, but certainly that the ideas brought by Vyto that, , well post criteria and written in the law. Not subject to interpretation can be good thing. And I tell you, we have the same in Poland actually when the rules are not written in the law. And. It's up to a person to decide if they're passed or not. Creates issues. And I can certainly relate to them. Issues. Falling out or, or pointed out by Vyto finally. The problems of cost benefit analysis and not taking into account the possible negative aspects of. Fire protection is also is very, very interesting and. As we are living in, let's say a rich world. We can spend a lot on the fire safety. That does not stop us from being responsible to spend the money in the proper places responsibly. And I think it's very important that we put cost benefit analysis back into the equation of fire safety. Hopefully at the level of. the guidance law, the, at the top of the pyramid, so it's obvious that you need to do that. Not just A nice trick that someone would like to pull. And for this, I would highly recommend to listen to episode with Ingo Riess if you have not already. Because Ingo has shown a very interesting view from. Tunneling world where we're, this is really being used. And I think it's a direction where the whole fire profession can go on. So I hope you've enjoyed the interview with Vyto tell me what you like about it. Tell me where you do not agree with Vyto tell me, what questions are. Needed to be asked to my future guests. To clear out The neglected areas that, we're brought in life, in, in here. And I also know that many of you are. , researching actually the areas that. Vyto touched as the ones that are not received that much. And I would really, really love to hear from you. If you are there and you do research on some of this. Please send me an email and we'll organize an episode. I would love to talk. About how you're dealing with them. Because I would love to hear how the fire safety moves forward, especially in the areas that. Are. Possibly very important for the growth of the discipline. So, that's it for this a little longer than usual episode. I hope you have enjoyed it. I did a lot. And, one of the bucket list items is, is crossed which makes me very happy. Thank you all for being here. Thanks to Dr. Babrauskas for joining me in this show and as usual, see you next Wednesday. Bye.