Understanding the role of furniture in residential fires

    OTTAWA, June 2 /CNW Telbec/ - An engineering professor at Carleton
University is conducting potentially lifesaving research by determining the
role of flammable upholstered furniture in fires, thanks to a grant he
received from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
    Dr. Ehab Zalok is leading one of 18 research projects funded under CMHC's
External Research Program (ERP) in 2008. The goal of this program is to
support the work of housing researchers across Canada to improve the quality
of housing for Canadians. Dr. Zalok joins two other CMHC grant recipients in
Ottawa: Betty Dion of Betty Dion Enterprises Ltd. (BDEL), and Dr. Paulette
Guitard of the University of Ottawa.
    Before firefighters enter a building, they need to do a burn assessment
to determine safety, and a slight misjudgement can cost them their lives.
Firefighters examine indicators including, floor space, window size and fire
type, but what is hard to predict is the flammability of furniture.
    Approximately one-third of residential fire deaths are attributable to
upholstered furniture. Dr. Zalok points to flammable upholstered furniture as
the cause for a fire in Montréal last year that ended in tragedy.
    "Some apartment-dwellers had been away for a few days, and they had a
sofa leaning against a heating element," says Dr. Zalok. "There was some
smoke, so the neighbours called for a fire response. When the firefighters
tried to move the sofa, it caught on fire, and the whole apartment went into
flashover. Two of the firefighters escaped, but one died on the scene."
    A flashover is a sudden jump in temperature that can cause everything in
a room to ignite. It's one of the more dreaded possibilities in an enclosed
fire, and because of a lack of research, it is often difficult to predict.
    Dr. Zalok and his team plan to develop a database from existing
information on fires attributed to upholstered furniture. By using computer
models for typical single houses and townhouses, the team will study how
different types of furniture could influence burn rates and times to critical
events such as flashover, sprinkler activation, loss of visibility or release
of toxic gases.
    The task will be a complex challenge.
    "Window size and floor area are easy to calculate," says Zalok. "But it
will be difficult to collect real data from manufacturers about the properties
of their furniture, and characterize it in a way that will be useful to the
    Still, this project may help to save lives - and raise awareness about
the role of furniture in fires.
    "For example, if people lean sofas against heating elements, it may take
four to five years for the material to dry out and become a fire hazard," says
Dr. Zalok. "I hope (the research) will lead to better recommendations to
occupants about where they should put their smoke detectors - something that
builders can pass along."

    About CMHC

    CMHC has been Canada's national housing agency for more than 60 years.
CMHC is committed to helping Canadians access a wide choice of quality,
affordable homes, while making vibrant, healthy communities and cities a
reality across the country. Results of a wide range of housing research
sponsored by CMHC may be obtained by calling 1-800-668-2642 or by visiting the
CMHC Web site at www.cmhc.ca

For further information:

For further information: Julie Girard, (613) 748-4684

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