Video: Improving firefighter safety

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    >>> here in new york city today an unusual scene to say the least. members of the fire department who usually put fires out starting them instead. they'll be back at it tomorrow. it's all part of an experiment that could help firefighters here and around the country figure out the best way to do their dangerous jobs and keep communities safe. nbc's ron allen has special access to what they're calling a live burn.

    >> reporter: when several fires erupted today on new york's governors island the fire department watched carefully then put out the flames they, themselves, had set. a rare chance to turn abandoned buildings slated for demolition into a fire safety laboratory.

    >> this isn't just brute force . firefighters have to be intelligent. they have to know what they're doing. they have to have a planned attack.

    >> reporter: experts say the construction and contents of modern homes make them burn faster. especially furniture made from synthetic materials. one tragic example in 2007 , a fire in a furniture show room in charleston that killed nine firefighters. here the fdny has put dozens of sensors, cameras, and monitors in 20 homes. in this scenario the fire is in the basement.

    >> this is what a firefighter would do. goes down into the basement.

    >> yes. they would bring their hose line and try and advance down and get to the seat of the fire.

    >> ignition is five, four, three, two, one, ignition.

    >> reporter: they ignite the couch and watch. in just eight minutes as you can see when we speed up the video the room fills with smoke. a big concern? how does ventilation, opening doors, windows, breaking through the roof affect fires?

    >> maybe the thing to do is just close the door and not go in this place. let the fire starve itself.

    >> reporter: they're not expecting to make any huge revolutionary breakthroughs here today but it is more about tweaking and refining firefighting tactics that work and in this case a tweak here and there can mean the difference between life and death . 83 firefighters were killed in the u.s. last year. on average more than 38,000 are injured fighting fires. they hope to reduce that along with the number of residents who die.

    >> we test it and implement it in our tactical strategies and we know it's going to make a difference.

    >> reporter: lessons that may well affect how firefighters everywhere do their jobs. ron allen , nbc news,

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