Marshall Group Fire Safety Modeling System Highlighted by SFPE

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A rendering of a building at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) that was used for full-scale tests of the Cyber Physical System. Thanks to a combination of specialized software and sensors, researchers were able to observe fire, smoke and ventillation activity in the computer model, and at a safe distance, as a real fire moved through the structure.

A Cyber Physical System (CPS) developed at the University of Maryland that shows first responders what a fire is doing before they ever enter a burning building has been highlighted by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). Department of Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) Associate Professor Andre Marshall and FPE graduate student Rosalie Wills (M.S. ’15), designed the system with support from Siemens Industry, Inc. and the SFPE Foundation’s Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant, funded by Bentley Systems, Inc.

The article explains how Marshall’s team used data from commercial sensors, data from Siemens' specially designed experimental sensor system, and Bentley’s 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) software to visualize conditions in a full-scale experiment conducted at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI). The model shows both an accurate representation of the building and dynamic fire activity within, including the temperature, size and location of the fire, carbon monoxide levels, ventilation conditions, and smoke layers. This realtime information allows firefighters to build a strategy, improve preparedness, and make decisions before entering the flames – including choosing not to if conditions are too dangerous.

“A custom research project like this can be challenging,” says Siemens Manager of Industry Affairs for North America, Daniel Finnegan, “We are doing things with fire and smoke sensors and fire alarm control panels that are generally not done in the normal practice of fire life safety applications. We did have some challenges, but what needs to be highlighted is that everyone continued to work together, adjusting were needed, pulling in additional technical resources and meeting the needs and intent of this important research project. We wish to thank [Siemens Building Technologies’ Director of Sales] Mike Knoll and Siemens management for approving this investment in the future of fire life safety.”

In addition to project management provided by Finnegan and Knoll, Service Account Engineer Kevin Kidwell of Siemens Industry, Inc., oversaw the installation of the sensor system. MFRI director Steve Edwards arranged for the use of MFRI’s facilities, and MFRI Industrial Training Specialist Martin LePore helped organize the live burn experiment.

To learn more about the project, see “Development of a Cyber Physical System Test Bed for Fire Safety,” online at

Published September 28, 2015