NIST fire data/simulations aid Chicago fire investigation

October 14, 2004

Had automatic sprinklers been present in a storage room in Chicago's Cook County Administration Building on Oct. 17, 2003, they likely would have controlled and probably limited the spread of a fire that killed six people. That's the conclusion recently reached by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) fire researchers who provided technical support to the Illinois governor's select panel investigating the events that took place on the12th floor of the 35-story Cook County facility.

In their report to the investigation panel (headed by James Lee Witt, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency), the NIST researchers detailed their re-creation of the Chicago fire in controlled tests at NIST's Gaithersburg, Md., headquarters and their use of the NIST-developed Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) computer modeling system to visualize the fire growth and smoke movement in the Cook County building. The FDS simulation allowed the NIST experts to virtually add sprinklers to the scenario, examine their computer-predicted impact on the fire and estimate that had the sprinklers actually been present, a tragedy might have been prevented.

A fact sheet on NIST's technical support to the Cook County Administration Building fire investigation is available at The complete NIST report, Cook County Administration Building Fire, 69 West Washington, Chicago, Illinois, October 17, 2003: Heat Release Rate Experiments and FDS Simulations (NIST Special Publication 1021) is available at The investigation panel's final report is available at

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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