Illinois Fire Service Institute: Burn Simulation & Recovery Workshop

William Alan Schlaack, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Located on a sprawling 28 acre campus in Champaign, Illinois the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) serves as one of the premier firefighter training, education, and research centers in the world. Thanks to a strong affiliation with the University of Illinois the 21,000 square foot Learning Resource and Research Center is home to many workshops, research projects, and even the state’s only dedicated fire service library open to the public. On Wednesday, June 16, 2018, IFSI, in partnership with CARLI, graciously hosted the Burn Simulation and Recovery Workshop. The salvage and recovery portions of the workshop were led primarily by Jennifer Hain Teper, Head of Preservation Services for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), with assistance from Quinn Ferris, Senior Specialist Collection Conservator for UIUC. Twenty-eight librarians from across the state were in attendance.

After an early morning welcome from IFSI staff and networking over coffee, Fire Investigation and Fire Prevention Training Program Manager at IFSI, Chief John High spoke at length regarding working with fire professionals. Chief High discussed the various types of fires that he has witnessed over the course of his career, showcasing some of the differences between fires (e.g. sources of ignition and fuel) as well as insight into firefighting. This discussion transitioned into classroom-based fire extinguisher training assisted by Tim Romine, IFSI Associate Field Instructor. Building on the previous information provided, IFSI instructors demonstrated the variety of fire extinguisher classes - A (ordinary combustibles such as paper), B (for use on flammable liquids like grease), C (able to put out electrical fires), and D (works against flammable metal fires) -  and the PASS (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep) method of how to properly use fire extinguishers. Workshop attendees were reminded not only to know where and what class of fire extinguisher their library has, but also that fire extinguishers must undergo regular inspection to ensure that they are able to function if and when the time comes to use them.

Fire extinguisher training photo
The author using a test fire extinguisher to put out a simulated fire with IFSI instructor Tim Romine.

After the in class training, attendees put their fire extinguisher knowledge to use though an exercise featuring a simulated fire. The device used by the IFSI required those using the extinguisher to hit certain targets in a short period of time in order to properly neutralize the fire. All in attendance were able to complete the task using one of the various sizes of practice fire extinguishers. Lunch was provided alongside a viewing of a computer simulation of the 2003 Cook County Administrative Building Fire Report, which featured what went wrong during the fire as well as examples of various fire-prevention methods that could have been employed in order to mitigate the damage and possibly save lives. Following discussion of this report Jennifer Hain Teper presented on “Fire Response & Salvage of Cultural Heritage Materials.” This presentation offered attendees valuable information on topics ranging from developing library collection disaster plans and primary concerns after a fire, to proper assessment and damage recovery techniques in the event of fire damage to library collections. Key takeaways were the use of tools such as dPlan to develop a library disaster plan, working prior to any disaster with a disaster recovery vendor such as Blackmoon Mooring (BMS-CAT) or Belfor to lay the groundwork for large-scale disaster response, and presentation of recovery procedures and disaster response team protocols (e.g. Cornell University Library’s response and recovery outline).

Following Jennifer’s presentation, all involved moved out to the IFSI’s on-site training building to walk through a room filled with various library collection items ranging from newspapers to VHS tapes. The materials were donated by Illinois libraries for this educational program.  Librarians watched as the items burned over the course of a few minutes, observing for a while until the firefighter instructors moved in to properly extinguish the blaze.

Burn Simulation photo
The IFSI instructors prepared the burn test, stoked the flames, and put the fire out after a typical period of time required for firefighters to respond on-scene.

After a surprisingly lengthy amount of time required to allow the room to cool down enough for a walk through without protective gear, the damage was surveyed. While the fire damage was obvious and expected, what the fire choose to consume was rather unexpected, with some extremely brittle items such as newspapers spared while heavy-duty buckram covers melted and then swelled after being doused with gallons of high-pressure water. This was a critical point for those in attendance to observe: oftentimes many items that did not fall victim to flames still found themselves doused with water - posing among other complex issues, a mold risk in areas of high heat and relative humidity (especially considering most HVAC systems would no doubt be compromised as a result of failing structural integrity due to a large-scale fire). After the walkthrough, those able rolled up their sleeves and got to work using the boxes provided to remove all possibly salvageable materials. Many were surprised to find just how physically difficult this task was due to the lingering heat and sheer weight of water-logged materials.

Salvage and Recovery photo
Hands-on experience with the materials proved extremely useful to provide real world context to in-class instruction.

After bringing the materials to a nearby makeshift recovery station, Jennifer Teper and Quinn Ferris demonstrated how to make snap-judgement assessments of materials, asking attendees to arrange items from most recoverable to likely destroyed. Even with a few dozen boxes of materials and an ample number of trained volunteers this process remains extremely difficult, often subjective, and especially time consuming. Jennifer and Quinn demonstrated how to properly ventilate and dry waterlogged books, with focus given to materials particularly susceptible to blocking (i.e. coated paper often found in art books). After the full use of scheduled time, Jennifer and Quinn answered questions from various attendees regarding best-practices of salvage. Overall the workshop proved to be a valuable demonstration of the need for proper planning and education in order to best preserve our  library collections from fire disasters. All responses to the post-workshop feedback form confirmed that the workshop was worthwhile and useful for their respective jobs.

2018 IFSI attendees
Librarians and staff from multiple CARLI libraries pose alongside IFSI instructors.

The CARLI Preservation Committee greatly appreciates the generosity of Jennifer Hain Teper and Quinn Ferris as well as the entire knowledgeable and friendly staff of the Illinois Fire Service Institute. The CARLI Preservation Committee is currently planning future continuing education activities - suggestions for future programs or workshops can be directed to .


Chief John High presentation notes and slides
(To view presenter notes in your Web Browser, select the comment icon on the upper-left corner of the slides beginning on slide 2.
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Jennifer Hain Teper's presentation slides

Cornell University Library "Response and Recovery"

Cornell University Library "Procedures for air drying wet books and records"

Recommended Disaster Planning Resources