I-Team 8

Modern homes are burning eight times faster

Stephanie Zepelin - AVON, Ind. (WISH) -- First responders say fires today are burning faster than ever, putting you and your family at risk. I-Team 8 learned your choices in furniture and home decor may be to blame.

Lieutenant Jerry Bessler with the Washington Township/Avon Fire Department said it was about ten years ago he noticed fighting fires started to change -- flames were burning hotter and faster. This was about the same time synthetic furniture materials became the norm.

"I'm really glad you called because it's something that needs to be put out there because it's dangerous these days," said Lt. Bessler.

A video from UL shows the difference.

As part of their research into the topic, the had firefighters set two fires in two rooms to demonstrate the difference between a room with modern synthetic furniture and one with natural materials. The fire in the naturally furnished room stays small and contained to one area.

The room with synthetics is full of flames and smoke in a matter of minutes: flashover, meaning floor-to-ceiling flames, in just three minutes and 40 seconds. The room with older furnishings took almost half an hour to become fully engulfed. The newer room took less than four minutes.

Lt. Bessler said most synthetics are made of petroleum (just like gasoline), which means your home could go up in flames in just minutes.

"When that (synthetics) starts to burn, it can choke you out and take the place of the oxygen in your body within two to three minutes of exposure," Bessler said.

UL, the safety consulting company that did the demo and studied this, says modern home fires burn eight times faster.

"We actually have to be better prepared and we have to be quicker to get our jobs done," said Lt. Bessler.

This puts more pressure on firefighters at the scene, and they are in more danger than they've ever been before.

"The nickname we have, it's sometimes called methyl-ethyl-death," Bessler said. "There are so many chemicals we are exposed to---whether you're the homeowner, whether you're a firefighter or anybody that's inside that structure, you're exposed to these chemicals."

The International Association of Firefighters says cancer overtook heart disease as the number one killer of firefighters.

If you go online, you can easily see why these materials exploded in popularity. Most synthetic furniture and decor options are a fraction of the price of their natural counterparts.

So what can you do? We did a story about one quick step you can start taking now.

Bessler also offered the following tips:

    • Make sure you have working smoke detectors
    • Do not go for open concept home
    • Have an escape plan, and go over it with the whole family

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