The Washington Post

NIST researcher works to make firefighting safer for those in the trenches

Daniel Madrzykowski

Position: Fire Protection Engineer, Fire Fighting Technology Group, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Commerce

Best known for: Madrzykowski has spent a good portion of his time in government burning down buildings to study how fire behaves. The result has been radical changes in firefighting practices that are saving lives and protecting property. Madrzykowski finds buildings set for demolition and re-creates fires in which firefighters were injured or killed.

His analyses of these blazes have resulted in improvements on everything from ventilation and fire-suppression tactics to the protective equipment that firefighters wear. In 2011, 70,090 firefighters were injured and 83 died on the job, according to the National Fire Protection Association. During that same year, there were almost 1.4 million fires in the United States, 3,005 deaths, 17,500 injuries and $11.6 billion in economic damage.

One key area of research has centered on understanding and mitigating the dangerous problem of fire driven by wind, which occurs frequently on the upper floors of tall buildings. The research started when Madrzykowski was called to study the dynamics of a 1998 Brooklyn blaze that killed three firefighters. When wind blew through a corridor with open doors and windows, the firefighters were overwhelmed by the intense heat.

Madrzykowski worked with fire departments in urban areas in five states, conducting fire tests in high-wind conditions. Fire departments now are trained to consider the impact of wind on structure fires and employ innovative tactics to use the wind to their advantage.

Madrzykowski is also the administrator of, a Web site dedicated to translating fire research results into accessible research reviews.

Government work: Madrzykowski has worked full time at NIST since 1988, serving in numerous positions that include supervisory fire protection engineer, supervisor of the Large Fire Research Facility, manager of the Advanced Fire Service Technology Program and now as leader of the Fire Fighting Technology Group.

Motivation for service: Responding to firefighters’ needs and getting feedback on how they have used the research to reduce risks and save lives are what keep Madrzykowski pushing forward.

Biggest challenge: Conducting fire experiments in structures ready for demolition to provide the most realistic results. These experiments could never be performed in any other way, but require significant collaboration and support from state and local authorities, and approvals from legal teams, environmental authorities and property owners. There also is the challenge of making laboratory quality measurements in the field.

Quote: “Every town has a fire department full of people who are ready to put the needs of their community before their own needs. It is great to have a job where I can do something to improve the safety of these firefighters.”

— From the Partnership
for Public Service

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