Author(s): Kathleen Almand. Published on May 2, 2014.

ABOUT FIVE YEARS AGO, THE FOUNDATION collaborated with the detection industry and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) on a project to characterize the smoke generated by modern materials to ensure that smoke alarm test methods respond appropriately to those various smoke signatures. As a result of this work and other research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), changes are now being considered for the fire alarm certification test method to better address the detection of the burning of polyurethane foam. NIST, UL, and the Foundation are also conducting research on how to enhance the performance of smoke alarms in the presence of nuisance sources such as cooking. These efforts, designed to address the recurring problem of disabled alarms in homes, holds great promise for NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

In recent years, the detection industry has responded to advances in research with impressive new technology that allows more sophisticated and selective response to smoke and flame sources. I have confidence, based on the quality of both the research data and the emerging technology exhibited at SupDet, that this productive relationship will continue.

On the suppression side, I was once again impressed with the innovative response of the sprinkler industry to new challenges in the form of new materials in storage—think warehouses 150 feet high full of extremely combustible plastics. The Foundation is finishing a major research program to validate a unique protection scheme that eliminates the need for in-rack sprinklers with an innovative vertical barrier approach. Another new approach was presented at SupDet that uses horizontal barriers to achieve the same result but with reduced water demand.

Other suppression innovations, in both technology and configuration, were presented in the race to keep up with the warehousing demands of global companies, and with the drive of NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, to present protection solutions. The direct path of research to NFPA 13 is one of the reasons this standard is so highly respected and used around the world.

The SupDet suppression section also featured a session on water mist applications. Representatives from the tunnel industry showed us how they have overcome some of the challenges of this technology and how they apply it in demanding environments. As we learned at the workshop on this topic last year, installation challenges such as obstructions and water pressures must be understood and addressed before we can integrate water mist into our vision of broadly applied water suppression in buildings. The research presented at SupDet is taking us down that road, with NFPA standards providing the map.

For more on SupDet and to read the papers presented at this year’s event, visit

Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSPE, is vice president, Research, at NFPA, and executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.