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Fires involving newer furniture more dangerous to firefighters, people inside

Posted at 4:18 PM, Aug 20, 2018

SHADY HILLS, Fla. — Newer furniture can pose new dangers if you have a fire in your home; from the release of cancer-causing dyes and glues, to a shorter window to escape alive.

ABC Action News I-Team investigator Adam Walser recently teamed up with Pasco County Fire and Rescue to show you what you need to know about your furniture and how to get out alive.

More than a dozen Pasco County firefighters put on gear, hooked up hoses and trained to battle the types of fires they're seeing more and more often.

We filled a burn training room with thrift store furniture.

The first items included a wood chair, a cloth sofa and a solid entertainment center made decades ago.

“The old furniture was wood. Maybe had a coat of varnish on it, maybe had some basic paint on it,” said Deputy Chief Andrew Fossi.

When lit with a flare, it ignited quickly and burned hot.

Shortly after the four-minute mark, fire completely engulfed the training room.

“It's not survivable in that room right now. It's over 900 degrees. Our carbon monoxide levels are at a level where you're not gonna survive this fire,” said Pasco Fire and Rescue Public Information Officer Corey Dierdorff.

But within ten minutes, the fire slows down and cools down.

“It's definitely more well-built. It burns more like a campfire,” said Dierdorff.

But that wasn't going to be the case with the newer furniture we put in the room next.

“It's gonna burn fast, it's gonna burn hot,” Dierdorff said, pointing to synthetic materials including new fiber stuffing and bonded leather.

“This was made in a factory, with glues, different dyes crunched together into a solid material, versus a piece of leather that is an actual hide,” he said of the bonded leather sofa. “It's very flammable.”

The fire is a little bit slower to consume the materials, since they are coated with flame retardants, but that coating only slows the spread momentarily.

Then the fire burns hotter and creates a thick, smelly black smoke.

“It won't just burn up completely. It'll liquify and actually melt to the ground,” said Fossi.

We could see the material converting into a liquid form, as it melted to the ground.

“Our meters were going off the charts, exponential,” said Capt. Corey Epperson, who measured the toxic emissions from the fire.

The synthetic materials released high levels of carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen cyanide.

Some of the chemicals are believed to cause cancers in firefighters.

“The levels were 10 times greater on the synthetic,” Epperson said. “It means your time to get out of a burning room or burning building is very limited.”

Firefighters say it's more important than ever to have working smoke detectors, make and practice a family exit plan, and keep children's doors closed.

And if you find yourself in a burning home, stop, drop and roll.... since smoke and heat rise.

Dierdorff believes synthetic furniture fires like the one in the drill will become more common.

“Families are buying those cheaper furniture products. They're able to outfit an entire room for a couple of hundred dollars,” he said.

Not all new furniture is more dangerous.

Firefighters say if you are buying furniture made from synthetic materials, make sure they contain flame retardants, which can slow the spread of flames.

There are inexpensive sprays available online or in retail stores that will also help.

New furniture made from solid wood, real leather and natural materials like cotton is also available but usually costs more.

And there's always older furniture available at thrift stores, antique stores or even grandma's attic.

“Grandma's furniture is not horrible,” said Dierdorff.

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