The 1998 deaths of three FDNY firefighters bravely fighting a high-rise fire became the driving force behind the development of the K.O. Fire Curtain. This tragic event sounded an alarm in the minds and hearts of firefighters Patrick Kilduff and Thomas Oswald. Their response would be an innovative fire-suppression tool that would help revolutionize high-rise firefighting tactics.
Kilduff and Oswald started their careers in Engine 50 & Ladder 19 in the South Bronx. They have over 40 years of firefighting experience between them and are no strangers to high-rise fires. A November 1994 fire in which two civilians lost their lives and numerous firefighters suffered burns provided the impetus for their fire-curtain concept.
At a post-fire critique, Kilduff and Oswald concurred: ‘If we had a piece of plywood, a bomb blanket, anything that could have covered that failed window, the wind fuelling the inferno would have been blocked. With the wind tamed, the fire would have been easier to fight, in turn helping to save lives and reduce injuries.’ On that day, the K. O. Fire Curtain was born.
Numerous designs and rough drafts marked the start of the development effort, but endless hours of research, thousands of miles travelling and busy personal lives seemed to keep the curtain from becoming a reality. The 1998 high-rise tragedies reignited the passion of everyone involved and the concept moved vigorously forward. After a functional curtain came off the drawing board, the real progress began.
A US Patent was granted in 2003 and was shortly followed by an FDNY pilot programme designed to test the curtain under real conditions. In 2006, the K.O. Fire Curtain was deployed in an actual fire in Rockaway Beach, Queens, and played an important role in the successful suppression of an out-of-control blaze on the sixth floor. The curtain helped save the life of a trapped firefighter. Sadly, its development was too late for a comrade killed in the line of duty at the same building several years earlier.
In February 2008, the FDNY, National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) and NYU Polytechnic University conducted live burn experiments on Governor’s Island in New York. The concepts tested included stairwell pressurization with fans, water stream attack from the floor below the fire and wind control devices deployed over apartment windows. Officials from all corners of the US and Canada were on hand for the testing, and the K.O. Fire Curtain exceeded all expectations.
In the Spring of 2009 FDNY began its pilot programme, equipping 140 ladder companies with the K.O. Fire Curtain. Interest soon developed from over 50 fire departments, worldwide.
In 2013, K.O. Fire began exploring a new design. The call for an easier to carry and store fire curtain was growing. A prototype of a folding curtain was developed. Presented to FDNY in 2014, extensive testing and training was undertaken. Sales of the ‘F’ type folding fire curtain began in 2016 and it has now become K.O. Fire’s best-selling product.