Editor's Note: Bob Luedeka, associate director of the Polyurethane Foam Association, offered the following information in response to Tough to Sit Back, Relax On 'Fatal Foam' ( Forum Discussion Board Real Estate Forum Answers Expert Advice ), a recent www.nemmar.com story by Broderick Perkins.
It is a popular belief that flexible polyurethane foam (FPF) was involved in The Station fire, but this may not be the case. An Occupational Safety & Health Administration laboratory in Salt Lake City analyzed a sample of the foam found in the basement of The Station that survived the fire. OSHA did not run a chemical analysis on the product, but they did burn a sample and the products of combustion did not match what would be typical for a polyurethane product.
There are a lot of foams that look alike, but are made from different materials. All of them are flammable. But in the worst case, if the most flammable product were applied to the stage area at The Station, it could have ignited and burned very rapidly, but there should not have been enough fuel from that amount of foam to cause wall-to-wall devastation. If you review the news videos, several shots are made through windows and doors of The Station and you can see burning material dripping from the ceiling in the main area of the nightclub. That would not have been the foam applied to the stage.
Although what appeared to be a cellular foam on the walls and ceiling of the stage area was certainly involved in the fire, based on the sound absorbing product's reported thickness and the size of the area it covered, it is unlikely that there would have been enough fuel from that product to cause the devastating wall-to-wall fire we saw on the news. Also, I have not seen any report of furniture containing FPF being used or available in the main area of the club.
I think we need to wait for the official fire investigation report before we specifically mention polyurethane foam. The main fuel for the fire should be identified in the fire investigation report. In October, Rhode Island fire officials announced that it could take up to three years to complete the fire investigation.
Also, the information shared on smoke content was basically accurate, except that the order was reversed. Burning home furnishings containing FPF cushioning release dense smoke. Like all organic products including natural fibers and wood, the main product of combustion is carbon (the black in the smoke) and carbon monoxide (a colorless extremely toxic gas), far down the scale would be small amounts of hydrogen cyanide (also common to all organic products when they burn). The principal problems with a fire involving combustible organic materials is smoke density (affecting vision to aid escape), heat, lack of oxygen and the presence of potentially lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
The Polyurethane Foam Association offers this information about the flammability of furnishings containing FPF cushioning:
For more than 30 years, FPF has played an important role in fire prevention. Since the mid 1970's FPF has been used without flame retardants to help mattresses comply with the Federal Mattress Flammability Act (FF 4 72). A layer of FPF below the cover fabric helps resist ignition from smoldering sources such as lit cigarettes. And cigarettes are the leading cause of fires involving home furnishings.
Without flame retardants, the thermal behavior of FPF causes it to retreat from a smoldering heat source. The addition of fire retardants to the foam often changes this important behavior.
Furnishings manufacturers and their component suppliers work with a matrix of possible combustion performance objectives. For instance, combustion modification objectives might be to increase escape time (slow combustion), to resist open flame ignition, to reduce smoke density, or to resist smoldering ignition. Each objective requires different furniture construction and component approaches and, almost always, a coordinated approach to cover fabric and foam selection. There are numerous types of flexible polyurethane foams, and at least as many different fabric options. And satisfying one objective may affect another, creating performance tradeoffs. Flammability regulators are aware of the complexities and that's why it takes time and scientific research to develop effective standards.
All filling materials used in home furnishings are flammable. Cotton, wool, polyester fiber and foam offer "loft" for comfort and that requires high air content, making them potentially flammable (Fire = fuel + oxygen + ignition). FPF is selected for almost all cushioning applications because it offers the best solutions to many cushioning challenges.
Most people are careful with cigarettes, lighters, matches, and candles. But, if an accident happens and home furnishings containing any type of filling material ignite, a very serious fire can result. It is critical to immediately leave the building and then call 911. Let professional firefighters do their job.
Burning home furnishings release heavy, dense smoke that can affect visibility and interfere with escape. Large amounts of heat can be generated and oxygen can rapidly disappear. When burning, all organic products including natural fibers, foam and wood, produce carbon monoxide, a highly toxic gas. So, it is critical to quickly escape.
The Polyurethane Foam Association supports the Consumer Product Safety Commission's efforts to develop national flammability standards for mattresses and for furniture. But, even furnishings that will meet those standards will by no means be fireproof. The truth is, given an ignition source with enough heat, anything will burn. So, please remember to keep matches and lighters away from children. Create and practice escape routes, and keep ignition sources such as smoking materials, space heaters, electrical cords and bare light bulbs away from furniture and mattresses. Install and frequently check smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. Many people are also installing sprinkler systems during new home construction, a very effective way to prevent serious fire damage and possible injury.