On April 8, 2011, researchers and students from Virginia Tech and Virginia Western Community College participated in an unusual experiment in the name of fire safety by igniting two nearly identical residence hall rooms on fire. Oak Flame 2011 is the result of partnership between Virginia Tech and several area community colleges and is part of a $3.8 million Department of Labor grant. The project provides community college participants with valuable construction and management experience while demonstrating to students living on college campuses and university officials the importance of sprinkler systems and obeying fire safety regulations.
Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Environmental Health and Safety, Oak Flame 2011 featured two mock residence hall rooms custom-built as a class project by Virginia Western Community College students with the assistance of Virginia Tech’s Myers-Lawson School of Construction. Each room reflects contemporary designs and building codes and is furnished like typical student rooms. Like many rooms, they featured elements such as decorations and unapproved curtains that violate existing fire safety rules.
Engineering students from Virginia Tech’s student chapter of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers outfit both rooms with sensors and high-tech cameras. Only one room, however, was retrofit with sprinklers, courtesy of Eagle Fire Inc.
At approximately 1:30 p.m. both rooms were set on fire. Since the rooms were built with large viewing windows, participants were able to see the difference in combustion process, flames, and other factors as the fire spreads through the two rooms.
Researchers also gained a sample fire model for residence hall rooms that will be used to inform future building projects and codes. Organizers of Oak Flame 2011 hope to take the data and video images from the burn and develop educational materials for students and residential life administrators at campuses around the world.
“We want students and others to see how these furnishings and decorations contribute to a fire and make them realize the reason behind fire codes and other safety regulations in dormitories with visual representation,” said event organizer Tolga Durak of Blacksburg, Va., a Ph.D. candidate majoring in environmental design and planning in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and Virginia Tech fire engineering programs manager. “Also, we want to demonstrate the effectiveness of sprinkler systems in general.”