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Burn Through: Research Into Keeping Firefighters Safe

An attack hose is a firefighter's lifeline and a critical tool in helping to put out a fire at your home. Now researchers in Massachusetts say in some cases those hoses can be compromised.

For Kathy Crosby Bell, the emotion is still very raw. She lost her son, Boston firefighter Michael Kennedy, along with his partner Lt. Edward Walsh, during a wind-swept fire in March 2014 in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood.

In the aftermath it was discovered that the intensity of the fire caused Kennedy's hose to burn through which prevented water from being delivered.

"I need to be sure that when a firefighter calls for water, they get it," Crosby Bell said.

New research being done at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which is funded by Crosby Bell's Last Call Foundation, is revealing an alarming pattern.

Researchers, some of them firefighters themselves, began surveying fire departments across North America. So far 150 have reported so-called burn-throughs and WPI's survey has only just begun.

"When we first spoke with the fire service, some people didn't believe that there was a problem," Ray Ranellone, a WPI research engineer, said. "This database is showing that in fact there is a problem."

Necn got an inside look at the research being done by WPI's Department of Fire Protection Engineering, a cutting edge facility helping to come up with new ways to keep firefighters safe.

Currently researchers are in the early stages of testing various types of attack hose material. They've also been examining a burn-through on a hose from the Worcester Fire Department that was damaged even though it wasn't inside the building that caught fire.

"A lot of this material is from the roof and it would drip onto the hose and cause the hose to burn through," Christopher Angelo Scangas, a researcher, said.

Up until now, no one collected data on burn-throughs but the National Fire Protection Association sets the standard for attack hoses. NFPA said those hoses are not required to be fire proof but rather heat resistant.

They add that the Back Bay fire "has since prompted many important questions about the flammability and limits of fire hoses."

Kenneth Willette, NFPA's division manager for public fire protection, said the organization will use WPI's research and come up with the best standards possible.

Researchers are only in phase one of the project. The ultimate goal is to have a more fire resistant hose in the hands of every single firefighter in the United States.

"Usually what you are doing is you're announcing the answer to that problem," Rannellone said. "What we are doing now is announcing there is a problem."

Researchers are hoping that the solution to the problem will not only make for better attack hoses but protect the lives of all firefighters.

"When we make the changes that's when I know I can meet my son and say 'You know what, we got it done,'" Crosby Bell said.

"The Department of Fire Services is always in favor of research that will increase the safety of an inherently dangerous profession," Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said. "WPI has a long history of research that has improved the safety of firefighters and we look forward to their results."

The Boston Fire Department is still waiting for the results of two investigations into the Beacon Street fire. One is an internal probe, while the other is being done by an outside federal agency. Both are expected to be completed this summer.

"We support any research being done and we certainly want to see the results from the researchers," Boston Fire Department Spokesman Steve MacDonald said.

WPI is encouraging all fire departments nationwide to participate in the survey. You can find a link to it right here

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