I-Team Report: New home, new danger - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report: New home, new danger

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
SAGINAW TOWNSHIP, MI (WNEM) -

We all dream about a nice new, modern home filled with fancy, top of the line furniture. What many don't know, though, is all the new stuff could be creating a fire trap with a room that is full of flames top to bottom.

It’s a firefighter's worst nightmare, called a flashover. 

A few decades ago, they weren't very common. Now, firefighters are seeing flashovers after just three-and-a-half to four minutes of a house burning. 

"We're seeing just about every fire the fire service responds to. Either it goes to flashover or it needs more oxygen to go to flashover,” said Steve Kerber, with Underwriter Laboratories.

The culprit is a combination of modern materials, like newer synthetic furniture, which is a petroleum product. It burns faster, and in less than four minutes the synthetic furniture flashes over.

Natural furniture made with hair and wool takes nearly 30 minutes.

Another modern fire hazard is newer building materials.

"They're being used in almost all new homes. All new homes, a lot of new commercial buildings,” said Kevin O’Brien, with Saginaw Township Fire Department.

O’Brien said there’s a reason the material is popular.

"It's very strong material. They hold more. They're straighter. They come in longer lengths,” he said.

They burn faster than the old stuff, though.

“Mass equals fire resistance,” O’Brien said. “When you have a lot of mass, like this traditional dimensional lumber, you have a lot of burn time. You can have a fire for 20 minutes and still be able to work on this floor."

The newer hazards have led to more training for firefighters to keep both them and homeowners safe.

"Training our firefighters to look and notice the differences between construction types. We go in with our axes and pound on the floor and stomp. You can sometimes tell the difference if a floor is ready to go or not,” O’Brien said.

O'Brien said most people either have foam furniture in their home or it's built with engineered wood. He said modern material isn't going away any time soon because it's generally stronger, more affordable and what the market demands.

"Housing changes, building construction changes. The things people put in their houses change. So, does the fire service,” he said.

O’Brien said the biggest thing you can do to counteract modern fire hazards is make sure you've got early smoke detection.

The sooner they're alerted to a possible fire, the sooner they can stop it.

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