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Iroquois Theater Fire in Chicago, IL - December 30, 1903

Tragedy occurred  at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago, Illinois on December 30, 1903. Many of the 602 victims were women and children who had taken advantage of the Christmas holidays to travel downtown to see a play.


From the NFPA Journal v. 109, no. 4, 2015

"The post-fire investigation of the Iroquois Thearre revealed that the building, on which construction had not yet been completed, was far from 'fireproof,' as the builder claimed. Of the 30 exits, 27 had been locked and few of them were marked. There were no fire escapes, alarms, sprinklers, telephones, or water connections. The only provisions for firefighting were six canisters of a dry chemical used to put out chimney fires."


For more information regarding this or other historic fires, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Library. The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. Library staff are available to answer reference questions from members and the general public.

Photo credit: Karsten Moran/New York Times


A fire occurred at a high-rise building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side early this morning, where nine people escaped to the roof to wait out the fire and were safely rescued. Knowing your building's evacuation plan is critical, whether it's relocating to the rooftop or remaining in your apartment. This incident reinforces that sometimes getting outside to street level may not be possible, and that signaling for help on another level of the building is a safer option. Make sure you’re familiar with your building’s evacuation plan.

NFPA offers critical advice for people who live in high-rise buildings:

Know the plan: Make sure you’re familiar with your building’s evacuation plan, which should illustrate what residents are supposed to do in the event of an emergency. The evacuation plan should be posted in places where all residents can see and review it.

Practice is key: Building management should hold a fire drill with occupants at least once a year.

Never use the elevator: In case of fire, always use the stairs to get out, never the elevator. If someone in your family has difficulty climbing down steps, make sure to incorporate a contingency for this into your plan.

Stay low: Smoke from a fire is toxic and deadly no matter what kind of structure you live in. When you hold your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to the exit. In the event of a fire, if both stairwells are filled with smoke, stay in your apartment and wait for the firefighters.

Seal yourself in for safety: If you can't exit an apartment building due to smoke or fire in the hallway, call the fire department to report your exact location and gather in a room with a window to await their arrival. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to create a seal around the door and over air vents in order to keep smoke from coming in.

Stay by the window: If possible, you should open your windows at the top and the bottom so fresh air can get in. Don't break the window - if smoke enters the room from outside the building, you won't be able to protect yourself.

Signal to firefighters: Wave a flashlight or light colored cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located.


Visit NFPA's website for more detailed information on escape planning in tall buildings.


At its December meeting, the NFPA Standards Council approved TIA 13-2 to the 2013 edition of NFPA 1982, Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems. The TIA is effective December 21, 2016.


The TIA was submitted to address concerns related to the audibility of PASS devices, and to incorporate changes to the alarm sound. Read the submitted TIA and substantiation in its entirety in the October 2016 edition of NFPA News.


The Technical Committee on Electronic Safety Equipment has also provided revisions based on the TIA to the upcoming 2018 edition of NFPA 1982. See the approved TIA at, under the “Current & Prior Editions” tab.

7017SB.pngNFPA has issued the following errata on NFPA 70, National Electrical Code®:

  • NFPA 70, Errata 70-17-2, referencing 840.3(G) of the 2017 edition, issued 12/16/2016

An errata is a correction issued to an NFPA Standard, published in NFPA News, Codes Online, and included in any further distribution of the document.

The NFPA Standards Council met on November 30-December 1, 2016 in San Diego, CA. At the meeting, some of the following items were addressed by the Council:


  • act on the issuance of proposed TIAs on NFPA 13, 52, 70, 99, 1125, 1616, 1982
  • consider an appeal regarding membership on the NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, Technical Committee on Supervising Station Fire Alarm and Signaling Systems
  • review new projects/documents on driver training simulators used by fire service personnel during emergency vehicle driver training; and discuss fire and emergency service operational standard for the response to active shooter events and incidents.
  • consider requests from Committees to change revision cycle schedules and committee scopes.
  • approve the Annual 2019 revision cycle schedule for NFPA 70, National Electrical Code.

Read the Council's preliminary minutes for the results of items addressed at the meeting.


Also, the Council issued a Final Decision regarding membership on the NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, Technical Committee on Supervising Station Fire Alarm and Signaling Systems (Agenda Item 16-11-17-g)


The NFPA Standards Council is a 13-person committee appointed by the NFPA Board of Directors that oversees the Association's codes and standards development activities, administers the rules and regulations, and acts as an appeals body. The Council administers about 250 NFPA Technical Committees and their work on nearly 300 documents addressing topics of importance to the built environment.

On Wednesday our Division Manager of International Programs, Olga Calendonia, wrote an excellent blog post about the devastating fireworks explosion in Tultepec, Mexico this week, which has now claimed 35 lives and injured dozens more. The video below gives viewers a sense of just how catastrophic this explosion was. Did you know that this is the third fire-related disaster at this very market since 2005?! While the NFPA standards surrounding fireworks manufacturing and display are the obvious go-to standards in a time like this, the new NFPA 1300 also came to my mind. 


Video courtesy of CNN


What stood out to me was the frequency of similar incidents in the same location, and the perceived risk of storing and selling consumer fireworks at a market where many people, food, and other merchandise vendors all cohabitate. NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development, could play a role here. For instance, a risk assessment matrix could reveal both high frequency and high impact for the hazard that is the sale/storage of consumer fireworks in this highly trafficked holiday market. Identifying the risk level is one of the first steps to reducing risks in any given community. It's also important to note that a "community" doesn't have to be a country, state, or city. A community can also refer to an area, event, or building; as big or small as the need demands. 


Risk Assessment Matrix from NFPA 1300


How do you think a community risk assessment (CRA) or community risk reduction (CRR) plan could play a role in a scenario like this one?


My heart goes out to those affected by this explosion, and I know that NFPA will continue to work towards preventing tragedies like this one.

Merry Christmas - Firecode Fridays

Earlier this year I became Staff Liaison to NFPA's Fire Code project and the Fire Code Technical Committee responsible for the development of NFPA 1, Fire Code.  I was excited to take on the responsibility of such an important document that touches so many areas of fire protection, life safety, property protection and fire fighter access and protection.


I then asked myself, "How can I take a document with so much information and make it more useful to enforcers and users of the Code? How can I help get the word out about all of this information?"  And so, "Fire Code Fridays" was born. 


Today marks my 44th "Fire Code Friday" post.  My first post, about indoor children's play structures, was published on Friday, February 26, 44 weeks ago!  In my 44 weeks writing these posts, I have not only learned a lot about the Code myself, but also about how far reaching this Code truly is.  It impacts people, buildings, events and activities every single day.


It impacts AHJs responsible for seasonal events such as carnivals and fairs, display fireworks and parades, and holiday activities such as crop mazes, haunted houses, and Christmas trees.


It affects basic electrical installations, commercial cooking equipment, and the installation and design of PV systems


It requires the availability of clear and unobstructed fire department access to buildings and structures and adequate fire flow for fire fighter operations.


It requires that enforcers and users have an understanding of the storage and use of hazardous materials including their classification, quantity and protection.


It even requires the basic enforcement of objects such as grills and hibachis, sky lanterns, heating appliances and the management of combustible waste and trash.


And above and beyond the provisions that are unique to NFPA 1, there is also an added responsibility to understand the 50+ documents that are extracted into the Code, such as NFPA 101 and NFPA 72.


All in the pages of one, single document.  And there is still plenty for me to share in 2017, including the discussion of new provisions for the next edition of the Code!


Thank you for reading my weekly posts. I hope you have enjoyed them!  If you have suggestions, or feedback, please comment. 


And a very happy holidays, and a safe and healthy New Year!


~Kristin Bigda, NFPA 1 Staff Liaison


As NFPA will be closed December 24 – January 2, Fire Code Fridays posts will resume on Friday, January 6, 2017.

 Massive fire in Japan


A massive fire in Itoigawa, Japan, started yesterday morning at a ramen shop. Fanned by winds gusting to 35 miles an hour, the fire spread to 140 buildings and took 10 hours to control, according to news reports. An evacuation advisory was issued to more than 740 people among 360 homes identified as high risk. Fortunately, only two minor injuries have been reported.


While the cause of the fire is yet to be determined, we know that wind-driven fires can spread extremely fast and pose a significant threat to people and property. A fire that occurred in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few weeks ago, was also propelled by wind, damaging 16 buildings and displaced 125 people. 


Sadly, the conditions for a conflagration are still present in many of the world’s older cities. Combustible construction, congested neighborhoods, aging electrical systems, poor fire prevention practices, inadequate water supplies, and limited fire apparatus access are a recipe for disaster.  Since 1896, NFPA’s codes and standards, combined with our research, training and public education resources, have focused on ways to prevent these tragic events.


A report from the Fire Protection Research Foundation, Firefighter Tactics Under Wind-Driven Conditions, addresses appropriate tactical options for fire departments operating under wind-driven conditions. 

December 19, 1964 - Dallas Department Store Fire (image source: Dallas Fire Department)

(Photograph courtesy of Dallas Fire Department)


During this holiday season with decorations and shopping all around us, we remember one of the most costly department store fires in history. 


From the NFPA Fire Journal v. 59, no. 3, 1965

"During the early-morning hours of Saturday, December 19, 1964, fire of undetermined cause started in display materials near the open escalators in the second story of the seven-story Neiman-Marcus Company Department Store. The fire spread upward by way of the escalator openings to the fifth story, where the escalators terminated. At the time of the fire, the store was heavily stocked with merchandise for the Christmas season. The $7,240,000 estimated property damage was the largest dollar-loss building fire in the United States in 1964 and the largest loss in the history of Dallas, Texas. Business interruption loss was set at $2,800,000... As a result of the December 1964 fire, the store officials decided to install a complete system of central-station supervised automatic sprinklers throughout the building."


For more information regarding these or other historic fires, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Library. The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. Library staff are available to answer reference questions from members and the general public.

As partners in electrical safety, NFPA knows it’s important for industry professionals to have the latest edition of NFPA 70: National Electrical Code. To that end, we are working on a series of videos that help highlight and explain the changes to the 2017 code edition that impact our industry as a whole, as well as the work you do every day.


Please join me for a look at our fifth video in this series. In this latest installment I talk through the significant changes affecting special occupancies, special conditions and special equipment. The changes can be found in Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the 2017 NEC edition. These include:

•    Section 501.10 (A) (1) (a) covering wiring methods in Class 1, Division 1 locations has been revised to permit Type HDPE conduit for underground installations
•    Multiple revisions and additions to the terms defined in 517.2 unique to electrical installations in health care facilities
•    New 680.14 identifying the types of wiring methods required in “corrosive environments” associated with swimming pools, spa, hot tubs and other bodies of water covered in Article 680.
•    Added requirement in 700.3 (F) calling for the installation of a means to connect a portable generator where the emergency system consists of a single alternate power source.


… plus many more impactful changes from the 2017 edition that you absolutely need to know.
The following is a video preview:


You can watch the full half-hour video if you are logged into Xchange.

Haven't registered for Xchange yet? It’s easy to do. Look for the login link above to login or register for your free account on Xchange. And Xchange is more than a blog? It's an online community that connects you with peers worldwide and directly with NFPA staff. Don’t miss out; get involved today!

fireworks market explosion in Tultepec, Mexico

image courtesy of


An explosion at a popular fireworks market in Tultepec, Mexico, yesterday resulted in at least 29 civilian deaths and 72 injuries, according to the latest news reports; some people are still unaccounted for. The explosion ripped through San Pablito market, which is a densely populated area known for fireworks sales. The market was especially busy as people purchased fireworks for the holidays.

The cause of the explosion, which sent a series of huge plumes of smoke into the sky, has not yet been determined. However, this incident highlights the deadly potential fireworks carry.

Antonio Macias, our Latin America representative, is based in Mexico City, which is 25 miles south of Tultepec. He is following up with local authorities on how NFPA can support their efforts in the aftermath of this tragedy.

NFPA’s fireworks codes only address professional use of fireworks. NFPA 1123, Code for Fireworks Display, contains information on how to set up and operate professional outdoor fireworks displays. NFPA 1124, Code for the Manufacture, Transportation and Storage of Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles, establishes fire and life safety requirements for the manufacture, transportation, and storage of fireworks, pyrotechnic articles, and any components containing pyrotechnic or explosive compositions. It does not apply to the retail sales, associated storage or the use of consumer fireworks by the general public.

In this week’s edition of #101Wednesdays, I’ll take a look at what I think is one of the Life Safety Code’s most widely misunderstood requirements: emergency lighting.


We take for granted that when we’re in a public building, if the lights go out, emergency lights will kick on to illuminate the path of egress in the event of an emergency. In many, but not all, cases this is true. Emergency lighting is required by the Code where specified by the applicable occupancy chapter. In some cases, emergency lighting is always required (e.g., health care occupancies). In other cases, it depends on the number of stories in height and occupant load (e.g., business occupancies). To determine whether emergency lighting is required for a specific occupancy, go to the X.2.9 subsection of the applicable occupancy chapter, where X is the chapter number (e.g., 38.2.9 for emergency lighting requirements in new business occupancies).


Where emergency lighting is required, the performance requirements are specified in Section 7.9, which prescribes such criteria as illumination levels (average of 1 ft-candle at the floor level – and maximum delay from the time the normal illumination source fails (10 seconds – These criteria are widely understood and implemented. What are not widely understood and implemented, in my experience, are the conditions under which emergency lighting must be provided, as specified in* The emergency lighting system shall be arranged to provide the required illumination automatically in the event of any interruption of normal lighting due to any of the following:

(1) Failure of a public utility or other outside electrical power supply

(2) Opening of a circuit breaker or fuse

(3) Manual act(s), including accidental opening of a switch controlling normal lighting facilities


Let’s take a look at each of the three scenarios described in and the means by which emergency lighting might be provided.


Item (1) describes a condition where the building loses its normal, incoming power supply from the grid (e.g., lightning strikes a pole and takes out a transformer; the neighborhood is in the dark). If emergency lighting is provided by battery-operated unit lights, the units will sense the loss of power to the lighting circuit and activate, illuminating the egress path. (It’s important to ensure that the unit is wired or plugged into a lighting circuit, and not a power circuit. The unit needs to activate when the lighting circuit loses power, not a power circuit.) If emergency lighting is powered by an emergency generator (emergency and standby power system), then likewise, the system will recognize the loss of power to the building, the emergency generator will start, and subsequently power the emergency lighting circuits. In most cases, compliance with Item (1) isn’t a problem.


Item (2) describes a condition where a circuit breaker or fuse, located anywhere in the building, opens, resulting in loss of the normal means of egress illumination. This could be a breaker in a distribution panel on, say, the 8th floor of the building. If such a breaker protecting a lighting circuit trips, again, battery-operated unit lights on that circuit will activate and provide the required illumination. But what about systems powered by a generator? We wouldn’t expect the generator to come online when a breaker in a distribution panel trips. So how will emergency lighting be provided in this case? Hold that thought.


Item (3) describes a condition where someone accidentally flips a light switch and the required means of egress illumination goes dark. Battery-operated unit lights won’t activate because the circuit still has power; power has just been interrupted from the switch to the luminaire (that’s code-speak for light fixture). Likewise, we would hope the emergency generator won’t start every time someone turns out the lights (and it doesn’t). So how can we possibly meet the emergency lighting performance criteria for the scenario described in Item (3)?


It’s important to note that the Code does NOT tell the designer how to arrange the lighting circuits; it only specifies the required performance criteria. I can describe one means to meet the performance requirements of, but keep in mind, it’s not necessarily the only means: arrange the lighting circuits so that no area required to be provided with emergency lighting is normally illuminated by fewer than two separate lighting circuits, one of which is an emergency lighting circuit where an emergency generator is employed. Here’s how it works:


Scenario (1): Building loses power; all lighting circuits are de-energized; battery-operated unit lights activate, or generator comes online, transfer switch energizes emergency lighting circuit; good to go.


Scenario (2): Distribution panel breaker trips; regardless of which lighting circuit loses power, the other circuit in the same area will still be energized. As long as an average of 1 ft-candle is initially provided along the designated egress path, the emergency lighting performance criteria have been met without necessarily activating any battery-operated unit light or the emergency generator; again, good to go.


Scenario (3): Someone accidentally opens a switch controlling the normal lighting; like Scenario (2) above, the other circuit will provide the needed average 1 ft-candle. Using this arrangement, the NFPA 101 emergency lighting performance criteria are met for all three conditions.


When I describe how works in NFPA’s three-day Life Safety Code Essentials seminar, I usually see some jaws hit the table (figuratively), which indicates, to me, that these provisions are, perhaps, not being widely implemented, or enforced. It’s the Code’s intent to provide emergency lighting for any condition that causes the normal illumination source to lose power, not just failure of the building’s normal power supply.

I’m hopeful that this installment of #101Wednesdays has illuminated some of you.


Since NFPA will be closed December 24 through January 2, this will be the final installment of #101Wednesdays until 2017. I’d like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season, and I look forward to posting lots more topics next year. Until then, stay safe!




Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I’d love to hear your suggestions!


Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.”

Over the course of several months, High Hazard Flammable Liquid Train (HHFT) and Pipeline Incidents have shared the news with spectacular footage of train derailments and fires and pipeline fires and spills. First responders are met with challenges from science-based risk assessment to mitigation of large scale incidents and jurisdictional concerns.

NFPA has lead the way in proactive discussions, assisting in training and educational development, awarding grants for research studies, and providing standards and guidance for added value to the responders’ knowledge and information foundation to work safely and effectively at these types of incidents.

From the provinces of Canada to local municipalities in the United States, NFPA is supporting responders, private industry, and authorities having jurisdiction with common threads based on NFPA standards coupled with subject matter expertise panels and research based workshops that further expand first responder engagement in NFPA.

           Navigate to to view the recently completed project supported by the Fire Protection Research Foundation and The Department of Transportation’ Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on details for Enhancing Incident Commander Competencies for Management of Incidents Involving Pipeline and Rail Car Spills of Flammable Liquids. Available at the site is the project summary, High Hazard Flammable Trains On-Scene Incident Commander Field Guide, Liquid Petroleum Pipeline Emergencies On-scene Incident Commander Field Guide, the HAZMAT FLIC App and download, the report of the HAZMAT IC workshop, and the report on the KPC HH IC workshop.


Tom McGowan

70E BLOG.png


One of the most frequent issues faced when responding to questions regarding NFPA 70E® is that it does not tell someone exactly what to do. Why doesn’t the standard tell me that I have an arc flash hazard? Why doesn’t the standard tell me how to train my employees or what I should be training them about? Why doesn’t the standard tell me who should sign the energized work permit? Why doesn’t the standard tell me who is qualified to do the work? These questions stem from a desire to have a cookbook on what exactly to do rather than thinking of what is trying to be accomplished when it comes to worker safety.

Qualification is not only equipment and manufacturer based but also task based. No one and no standard can determine 100% of the worker qualifications needed for 100% of the potential tasks on 100% of electrical equipment in 100% of the possible installation locations along with 100% of the potential outcomes, hazards or risks associated with 100% of the possible situations 100% of the time. You must determine the most appropriate way to qualify your employee to conduct the task that you will assign for your specific situation.

A lot of what NFPA 70E requires is based on a worker who is a qualified person. This is someone who has demonstrated skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to identify and avoid the hazards involved. Seems clear to me when I consider what NFPA 70E is trying to accomplish. That is electrical safety in the workplace. Everyone may have their own theory of what qualified means. Here is mine.

NFPA 70E addresses electrical safety. So the first thing is that the person needing qualification is interacting with or is around electrical equipment. If nothing is electrical there is no need to use NFPA 70E. Are they knowledgeable about the electrical equipment they are interacting with? An administrative assistant who turns the lights on at a breaker each day should at least be aware of what is involved with the operation of the equipment in that regard. They may not need to know as much as the electrician who works within the panel but some knowledge of the equipment is necessary.

The next is demonstrated skills. Keeping with the assistant turning on the lights, shouldn’t they know ON from OFF? Maybe the panel is full, shouldn’t they be able to show which breaker is for the lights? The electrician better demonstrate more along the lines of how to disconnect the main, swap out a breaker and establish an electrically safe work condition.

Does the assistant need any training on the installation? Probably nothing specific beyond what has already been shown. But they should have knowledge on the construction. A panel typically has a hinged cover. To open it, know which way it swings, etc. requires some concept of its construction. Once again the electrician better know more such as where the busbar is, whether there is an internal terminal block cover, what the grounding scheme is or what power sources feed the panel.

The assistant should be trained to recognize and avoid hazards. The assistant should trained to recognize that crackling, arcing or a hot switch on the breaker could be problem. They should know the potential danger if a breaker slot was left uncovered. They should be trained to know if the breaker should be thrown or not in these cases. They will have recognized and avoided the hazard. The electrician of course is exposed to more hazards and must have a more detailed training.

Think about it in a broad context. Shouldn’t any person doing any task have the training to do that task, to know something about the equipment they are interacting with and know how not to get injured? Seems simple to me. I most likely would consider the assistant as qualified for operating that circuit breaker to turn on the lights each morning in that specific panel. I would not recognize them to turn something else off in that panel or at another panel until I qualified them to do that. (This assistant is not really a qualified person under NFPA 70E but an unqualified worker who has been shown what is necessary for them to conduct the task safely. It was just to prove a point). The electrician would be qualified to work in that panel but not in a piece of switchgear without additionally being qualified for that. Just what the definition says.

Next time: Are you the employee whose safety is put at risk by working on energized electrical equipment?

At its November 30-December 1, 2016 meeting, the NFPA Standards Council considered the issuance of several proposed Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs).  The following TIAs on NFPA 13, NFPA 52, NFPA 70, NFPA 99, NFPA 1616 were issued on December 1, 2016 by the Council:


  • NFPA 13, TIA 16-8, referencing 21.3.2 and 21.3.3
  • NFPA 52, TIA 16-5, referencing, and
  • NFPA 70, TIA 17-2, referencing 625.44(A), 625.54(New) and 625.56(New)
  • NFPA 99, TIA 12-7, referencing 2.3.2
  • NFPA 99, TIA 15-3, referencing
  • NFPA 1616, TIA 17-1, referencing 5.6.4(3), A.5.6.4(3)(New), 5.6.5*(New) and A.5.6.5(New) 
  • NFPA 1982, TIA 13-2, referencing various sections


Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs) are amendments to an NFPA Standard processed in accordance with Section 5 of the Regulations Governing the Development of NFPA Standards. They have not gone through the entire standards development process of being published in a First Draft Report and Second Draft Report for review and comment. TIAs are effective only between editions of the Standard. A TIA automatically becomes a public input for the next edition of the Standard, as such is then subject to all of the procedures of the standards development process.  TIAs are published in NFPA News, NFCSS, and any further distribution of the Standard after being issued by the Standards Council.

The recent death of a worker in a water tank in Braintree, Massachusetts this past week provides a grim reminder of the importance of following safe entry procedures for all confined spaces.

Water tanks are confined spaces because they are not normally occupied and their design and configuration offer limited means for entry and exit. When they are entered for the purpose of periodic inspection and maintenance it is essential for workers to be familiar with the characteristic hazards of such spaces and to have a plan for safe entry, work, and exit. Typically these tanks are entered through a hatch in the top of the tank, requiring workers to climb to the top of the tank, where there might not be guardrails around the top to prevent falls and often there are no appropriate anchorage points for the connection of fall protection devices.   Atmospheres inside the tank can be unsafe due to rusting or decomposition of residual debris which can lead to unsafe levels of oxygen or other atmospheric hazards.   Water tanks may also be covered with snow or ice, leading to slip hazards. Rescue from these spaces is also a challenge because of the elevation and the possibility for the rescuers falling.  

In this recent incident, reports indicate there were two workers on the top of the tank. The tank did not appear to have guardrails on top and it is unclear if there were anchorage points in the vicinity of the hatch. The victim (the entrant) was inside the water tank wearing diving equipment to inspect the tank while a “spotter” was outside the tank. The spotter in this case acted like the “attendant” in a confined space entry. When it became apparent that the diver’s equipment was compromised, the spotter “heroically” jumped into the space in an attempt to rescue his coworker. Ultimately, the spotter had to be rescued by fire department and technical rescue personnel.

There are on average 100 deaths per year caused by confined spaces. It is estimated that 60% of fatalities that occur in confined spaces involve the “would be” rescuers. The spotter who dove into the tank was rescued but could have become the second victim in this incident for a myriad of reasons including a hazardous atmosphere above the water level due to oxygen deficiency, a condition that frequently occurs when a metal tank rusts and uses up oxygen. Entering a space without testing is risky, which is why NFPA 350, Guide for Safe Confined Space Entry and Work, recommends atmospheric testing all confined spaces prior to entry to ensure there is no hazardous atmosphere.

Safe confined space entry procedures that include identification, evaluation and control of hazards in and adjacent to confined spaces are addressed in the guide.   The document provides guidance beyond OSHA regulations and explains “How To” comply with requirements in OSHA regulations, including best practices for entering into and providing rescue from confined spaces.   Prevention through Design (PtD) information is also addressed and covers safe design practices such as designing guardrails, anchorage points or other means of fall protection in or adjacent to confined spaces.

You can view NFPA 350 free of charge on line at the document information page found at   If you are unsure whether you have a confined space in your workplace check out this a free 5 minute video available.

An online training program is also available and site specific training is also available on request. Click on the training tab for further information. Additional questions on confined spaces and the new NFPA 350 Guide for Safe Confined Space Entry or work can be directed to me at  

NFPA 72 2016 edition

Last week I spent Monday through Wednesday attending NFPA's 3 day classroom training on NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code in Orlando, FL (followed by a few days of vacation with my family...when in Orlando, right?)  Attending this training has provided me with a stronger foundation and connection with other documents that I work with such as NFPA 1, NFPA 80, NFPA 101, and some additional training initiatives that I will be involved with next year as NFPA rolls out some newer offerings!


NFPA 72 is referenced throughout NFPA 1, Fire Code.  Section 13.7 of the Code is the main section for detection, alarm, and communication systems.  It mandates that where building fire alarm systems or automatic fire detectors are required by other sections of NFPA 1 that they be provided and installed in accordance with NFPA 70, National Electrical Code, 72 and Section 13.7.  Codes such as NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 will tell the user whether or not a fire alarm system is required; how it must be initiated, and whether or not occupant and emergency responder notification is required; that is not the role of NFPA 72.  NFPA 72, however, provides the installation, inspection, testing, and maintenance criteria for the required system. 


Section 13.7 provides comprehensive provisions, extracted from both NFPA 72 as well as NFPA 101.  The NFPA 101 provisions cover the basic functions of a complete fire alarm system, including fire detection, alarm, and communications. The provisions extracted from NFPA 101 are also occupancy based (see Section 13.7.2.)  Certain occupancies might not be required to have a fire alarm system at all. In industrial and storage occupancies, for example, the number of occupants in the facility or the hazard classification of the building’s contents determines whether an alarm system is required. In small mercantile and business occupancies, there are usually enough people present (at least during a part of the day) to discover an incipient fire. For these occupancies, the Code imposes less rigid requirements for fire alarm systems than it does for certain other occupancies. Conversely, for health care occupancies, the provisions for fire alarm systems are quite detailed with respect to notification and emergency functions, such as the automatic closure of smoke barrier doors.


The NFPA 72 provisions extracted into NFPA 1, found primarily in Section 13.7.3, address the following technical provisions:

  • Nonrequired coverage (instances where a facility installs a detection system to meet certain performance goals or to address a particular hazard or need.)
  • Smoke alarm and smoke detector installation location
  • Alarm annunciation, annunciation access and location, and annunciation zoning
  • Supervisory and trouble annunciation
  • Fire alarm system equipment
  • Documentation
  • Manually actuated alarm-initiating devices
  • Installation of automatic fire detectors (including smoke,heat, and duct detectors) which addresses protection of equipment, location, specific installation criteria by detector type, protection during construction


NFPA 72 is a fundamental fire protection document.  Even though much of Section 13.7 is extracted from NFPA 72, users should always consult the source document for the full details.  Remembering the scope of NFPA 1, the provisions included in the document help aid the enforcer/inspector with fire alarm provisions they may need to know while enforcing the Code.  It is the basics (when a system is required, installation criteria, equipment provisions, etc.)  NFPA 72 should also be consulted for full details regarding inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems.  Chapter 14 of NFPA 72 will provide the detailed requirements for ITM.


Getting codes adopted and enforced by AHJs can be a long, uphill battle that leads to many mutual benefits. We often get a better understanding of the practical and actionable information needed by the enforcer community in the process. And yet as eye-opening as it may seem on the domestic front, there are even greater challenges and rewards that come with getting codes adopted internationally.


NFPA has been working for many years to support Latin American stakeholders as they champion fire safety and code adoption. This week in Mexico City the level of engagement was elevated during NFPA's first Electrical Workshop for Latin America. NFPA's Antonio Macias, Rafael Yañez, Olga Caledonia and Diana Jones met with representatives from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Chile and Paraguay to share NFPA 70: National Electrical Code® (NEC) insight and learn about the adoption challenges in their countries.


Workshop attendees discussed their adoption differences and the enforcement concerns that they share. Professionals - contractors, engineers and vocational school contacts - explained how they use the NEC. Officials from Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama talked about working hand-in-hand with NFPA to engage government officials, business leaders and contractors to initiate code adoption in their territories. Case studies were shared, technical aspects of the NEC were discussed, legal framework was considered, a current edition of the code translated into Spanish was requested, and participants provided insight on the role of the government. For instance, the fire department is always viewed by communities in Latin America as the authority, even if the regulatory agency is a federal or municipal entity. The greatest obstacles for many in the room, however, center around enforcement, the role of the AHJ, and overcoming the argument about safe electrical installations costing more money.


The Electrical Workshop in Latin America was a great success. There was tremendous value in hearing different points of view and learning from non-traditional players during the two-day forum. NFPA staff and stakeholders emerged with a greater understanding of local issues, global adoption strategy, and relevant tips for improving international enforcement processes. The code trials, tribulations and successes resonated with all attendees, especially the government representatives from El Salvador, Peru, Chile and Guatemala who are currently looking to formalize adoptions or consider NFPA's wealth of electrical information for safer installation practices in their countries.

The article "Proving Risk Reduction Works: The Case in Point" by Mark Chubb of the IAFC describes the challenge facing fire and emergency services to prove the effectiveness of community risk reduction efforts. Chubb illustrates a case study that is a successful blend of anecdote, supporting data, and petition. Be sure to check out his full article here.


When proving program effectiveness we know that the data is out there among our communities, but it is not always clear the best way to collect, analyze, and communicate that data in order to achieve our objectives. NFPA aims to provide fire and emergency services in any size community with tools to aid in these endeavors, and NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development, is that toolbox. Released to the public as a draft document in August 2016, NFPA 1300 is currently open for public input until June 28, 2017. On behalf of the Technical Committee on Fire Prevention Organization and Deployment I encourage you to read the draft and submit your ideas to the committee for review at We look forward to hearing from you!



community risk reduction crr community risk assessment iafc nfpa 1300 nfpa 1730 smart enforcement

E-cigarettes have become increasingly common. In Richard Campbell’s April 2016 NFPA report, Electronic Cigarette Explosions and Fires: The 2015 Experience, he referenced a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “12.6% of adults reported ever trying an e-cigarette in 2014.”Image of hand holding e-cigarette


That’s a tremendous number of users for a product that did not exist 10 years ago.

While many have been concerned about health issues and the possibility that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to other tobacco usage, reports about fires, explosions and burns caused by the batteries in these devices have raised alarm in the safety and burn communities.  At the time Campbell wrote his report, no government agency had regulatory authority over e-cigarettes, although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had something in the works. 


On August 8, 2016, the FDA’s new tobacco rule took effect. The FDA now regulates e-cigarettes and their components. Anyone who has a product safety concern with e-cigarettes or other products regulated by the FDA can file a report at the FDA Safety Reporting Portal.


E-cigarettes are one of many products that have had problems with lithium ion batteries. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued numerous recalls of consumer electronics, including computers, cell phones and hover boards. NFPA recently published a tip sheet on lithium ion battery safety for consumers.


Safety issues with consumer products can be reported at the CPSC's  To report vehicle safety problems, go to  Both sites also provide information on recalls and complaints already filed.

Chances are there is someone on your holiday shopping list that has requested a device, toy, tool or new technology that contains lithium ion batteries. To help the public take care when using smart phones, laptops, scooters, remote control gadgets, wearable technology, and a host of other products on the market right now, the NFPA has developed a lithium ion battery safety tip sheet for consumersThe timely resource highlights the problem with these batteries, offers ways to identify issues, shares safety advice, and addresses battery disposal. 


Lithium ion batteries are ideally suited for today’s streamlined, lightweight, high-tech consumer products but convenience comes with concern. The compact batteries store a large amount of energy; and if not used properly, can overheat and cause a fire or explosion. Fire issues related to lithium ion batteries dominated the news this year leading to a CPSC recall of more than a half-million hoverboards and the FAA banning Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices from all flights.


For safety sake this holiday season, spread the word about lithium ion battery safety. NFPA's new tip sheet for consumers is perfect for sharing with audiences online, via social media (JPEG) or as a printable resource (PDF).

We've just released the latest edition of our “U.S. Firefighter Injuries” report, which highlights data on injuries sustained by firefighters on duty in 2015. 

There were 68,085 U.S. firefighter injuries in 2015. While this number reflects a 7.5 percent increase over 2014, it represents the third lowest injury rate since 1981, when the association began analyzing firefighter injury data.

Of those injuries, 29,130 (42.8 percent) occurred during fireground operations, with the leading causes reported as falls, slips and jumps (27.2 percent) and overexertion and strain (27.2 percent).


To find out more about the types of injuries, please review our full press release, and download the report

Oakland Warehouse Fire - NY Times

Image: Jim Wilson/The New York Times


When tragedy strikes, many feel compelled to help. We are human. We hear about tragic events like the recent fires in Oakland, Boston and Tennessee and we feel pain. So we look for ways to help others through a horrific disaster and help ourselves get through it too. Since the disaster in Oakland, I’ve seen a lot articles about the recent deadly fires and a common observation is that people are stepping up to help people. 


Given my work with architects, designers and contractors, it’s been interesting to follow the coverage of the Oakland disaster. One particular article that struck me was in and focused on fire safety and emergency response for makerspaces, co-ops and DIY live/work warehouse settings. The piece offered basic information for the design community and artists drawn to creative spaces, and offered important insight on ignition sources, fire extinguisher types and emergency exit signs. Jurisdictions like NYC also distributed educational flyers to residents outlining the dangers of illegally-converted spaces.


The New York Times reported on a crackdown on illegal warehouse workspaces and referenced a website called that was created to address the dangers that often come with living in underground creative spaces. Geared toward professionals and innovators interested in honing their craft just steps away from their bed, the site is attracting traffic from engineers, safety professionals and lawyers who want to share their expertise with tenants, artists and building owners. The Times also created a 3D model so that readers could visualize and learn about the dangers that lurked inside the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland.


The authors of these stories are doing their part to share potential hazards, best practices and building code information with audiences just as NFPA has done for more than a century with codes like NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code® and research reports on nightclub and other assembly occupancies and warehouse fires. The recent large scale fire incidents of late created loss that I wish  never happened, but these tragedies have also nurtured kindness, mindfulness and outreach in society so that we can ease the pain and avoid similar tragedies in the future.

As the world continues its shift towards renewable energy generation, Energy Storage Systems (ESS) are rapidly becoming a reality across the globe. ESS capture energy for use at a later time and convert the energy for more convenient or economical storage forms; they are found in business facilities, high rises, and single-family and multi-unit residences across the country.


We are now offering an array of resources and training to help the U.S. fire service prepare for the new hazards that this emerging technology poses. Our Energy Storage System Safety Training program includes self-paced online training, an instructor-led classroom course, an educational video series, and a quick reference guide designed to better prepare the fire service for ESS fire incidents.


In addition to developing ESS resources for the fire service, NFPA approved NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems earlier this year to address the design, construction, installation, and commissioning of ESS. 



For more information on this initiative, please read the full press release

NEC Training for AHJs in Palo Alto CA


Last week NFPA Regional Electrical Code Specialist Jeff Sargent and I completed our two-week tour of California to provide a one-day program for AHJs (Authorities Having Jurisdiction) across several cities in northern California on the significant changes in the 2016 edition of the CA Electrical Code (based on NFPA 70: National Electrical Code 2014 edition). Every three years the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) updates the California Electrical Code, which consists of the NEC plus the amendments promulgated by the five state agencies involved in the code update process. The 2016 CEC becomes effective on January 1, 2017.


Presenting in Watsonville, Palo Alto, San Rafael, Manteca and Roseville, Jeff and I helped over 500 code enforcers understand how these changes impact their inspection activities in residential, commercial, institutional and industrial occupancies. Attendees also received a free 2016 edition of the CA Electrical Code.
NFPA received great logistical support from local members of the IAEI, UL, QPS Evaluation Services and NEMA, and Jeff and I are really happy to report the 2-week “CA Effective Enforcement Tour (EET)” was a huge success.
California is to be applauded for moving forward with the adoption of the 2016 California Electrical Code and its commitment to public safety by providing quality code enforcement. The effort to train the code enforcers on the newly adopted California Electrical Code helps ensure Californians are provided with safe electrical installations in every aspect of their lives.
NFPA supports statewide adoption of the NEC by providing free training for the AHJs, as this training furthers NFPA’s fire and electrical safety mission. If your state is interested in this type of training, feel free to contact Jeff or me for additional information at

Great Fire of 1835


"Burning of the Merchants Exchange, New York City. The Great Fire of December, 1835."

Courtesy of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection;

New York Public Library


From Fire in America!. Lyons, Paul. 1976 :

"The fire started at 9 p.m., swept through the close combustible buildings with their extreme fire load of mercantile products, and defied most control efforts of the New York City Fire Department... Kegs of gunpowder were used to destroy buildings, thus creating a fire break to interrupt progress of flames from one combustible section to the next... By December 19, the fire diminished and was near to extinguishment, but it had destroyed buildings within a quarter-mile square in a very valuable district of the city."

2017 NFPA 58 handbookThe 2017 edition of NFPA 58 was published a few months back, and now, the 2017 NFPA 58 Handbook is also available. A big thanks goes to staff liaison Eric Nette for modeling the brand new edition!


The industry benchmark for safe LP-Gas storage, handling, transportation, and use, NFPA 58 mitigates risks and ensures safe installations, to prevent failures, leaks, and tampering that could lead to fires and explosions. Compliance with NFPA 58 is the most powerful way to help protect people and installations from a host of LP-Gas hazards. To help you stay on top of the changes in the 2017 edition and make sense of the full code, the new Handbook is loaded with information, advice, and new visuals that support your work, so you can help prevent system failures, leaks, tampering, fires, and explosions.


Visit the NFPA 58 doc info page for more information.

NEC Processing Schedule

Process Step


Public Input Closing Date

September 7, 2017

Dates of first draft meeting

January 8-20, 2018

Posting of first draft and panel ballot

March 9, 2018

Final date for receipt of first draft ballots

March 23, 2018

Final date for receipt of recirculation

March 30, 2018

Posting of first draft for correlating committee

April 6, 2018

Correlating committee meeting

May 8-11

Posting of first draft and correlating committee ballot

June 15, 2018

Final date for receipt of correlating committee first draft ballot

June 22

Final date for receipt of correlating committee recirculation

June 29

Post final first draft report

July 6, 2018

Public comment closing date

August 30, 2018

Second draft meeting

October 22-November 3, 2018

Posting of second draft and panel ballot

December 21, 2018

Final date for receipt of second draft ballots

January 11, 2019

Final date for receipt of recirculation

January 18, 2019

Posting of second draft for Correlating Committee

February 1, 2019

Correlating Committee meeting

February 19-22, 2019

Posting of Second draft for correlating committee ballot

March 15, 2019

Final date for receipt of correlating committee second draft ballot

March 22, 2019

Final date for receipt of correlating committee recirculation

March 29, 2019

Post final draft for NITMAM review

April 5, 2019

Notice of intent to make a motion closing date

April 26, 2019

Posting of certified amending motions

May 17, 2019

Association meeting for documents with certified amending motions

June 17-20, 2019

Appeals closing date for documents with CAMs


Appeals closing date for NEC CAMs


Standards Council issuance


Welding torches were involved in 37% of non-home hot work fires but only 29% of such home fires. Hot work is an important part of manufacturing, repair, renovation, construction and demolition activities. Professional contractors and do-it-yourselfers can get in trouble when they don’t follow the basic safety precautions. 

NFPA’s new report, Structure Fires Started by Hot Work, shows that in 2010-2014, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 4,440 structure fires involving hot work per year. These fires caused an average of 12 civilian deaths, 208 civilian injuries and $287 million in direct property damage per year.

I suspect that those who regularly conduct hot work or oversee contractors who do so will not be surprised by the statistics from the report.

Forty-two percent of hot work fires occurred in or on homes.

Welding torches were involved in one-third (34%) of total hot work structure fires. Cutting torches were involved in one-quarter (24%), soldering equipment in 18%, burners in 11%, and heat treating equipment in another 11%. The leading types of hot work equipment involved in fires are different in homes than in non-home properties.  As the graph shows, soldering equipment was the most common type of hot work involved in home fires while welding torches were the most common in non-home fires. 

Home fires involving hot work were most likely to start in either wall assemblies or concealed spaces (15%), and bathrooms or lavatories (14%). For non-homes, the peak areas of origin were exterior roof surfaces (12%) and process or manufacturing areas (9%).  The majority of hot work fires started when the work was done too close to something that could catch fire.

One-quarter (25%) of home hot work fires began with the ignition of structural members or framing; 22% started when insulation ignited. Fifteen percent of non-home hot work fires occurred when flammable or combustible liquids or gases caught fire; 10% started with exterior roof coverings or framing; another 10% began with structural members or framing; and 9% started with insulation.

The report also contains descriptions of hot work fires from NFPA Journal and OSHA's accident investigation summaries to provide more information about how these events can occur.

NFPA 51B, Standard for Fire Prevention during Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work provides guidelines to prevent these incidents.

Michele Steinberg and Lucian Deaton from NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations team were recently invited to attend the CONAF (Consiglio nazionale dei Dottori Agronomi e Dottori Forestali) Conference in Chile to take part in a global discussion regarding climate change and its impact on the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI).  Representatives from CONAF, CALFire, California government agencies, the U.S. Embassy, other global wildfire partners and NFPA were in attendance. California and Chile share many similarities in climate and topography, and are collaborating to share resources.


NFPA briefed attendees at the bi-national Chile-California seminar on Firewise, the community empowerment program that emphasizes neighborhood mitigation efforts in wildfire-risk landscapes. Firewise teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages residents to work together and take action to prevent losses. There are more than 1350 recognized Firewise communities in the United States.


A small contingent from the conference then ventured out in the community to learn more about the impact of climate change and the threat of wildfire in Chile. Delegates learned about drought and the tremendous impact it has had in Chile. The effect of global warming goes beyond forest fires there; oftentimes Chileans subsist on what they raise and if it doesn’t rain, crops don’t grow, and people and livestock don’t eat.


During their travels, the group met with an indigenous Mapuche community, a large minority population in Chile and Argentina that pre-dated Spanish colonialism. The Mapuche have a different culture and independence – highlighted by the fact that they enjoy isolated living on an island called Isla Huapi in the middle of Lago Ranco, a giant lake. They are not, however, independent – they are interdependent on modern society, other Chileans and the global economy to survive.


Meeting with international climate change leaders and WUI innovators, and touring tribal communities in Chile will not solve wildfire problems, drought and the pollution issues that are causing concern in that country. Sharing success stories, introducing effective resources and establishing cultural insight, however, did have an impact. Just as the Firewise program in the U.S. has provided validation of wildfire challenges and recognition of positive, proactive prevention efforts – NFPA’s recent visit to Chile was extremely valuable to the Chilean people and to the organization’s ongoing efforts to effect positive change in the WUI.

The 2017 Suppression, Detection, and Signaling Research and Applications Conference (SUPDET 2017) will be a joint conference with the 16th International Conference on Automatic Fire Detection (AUBE ’17). The joint conference will be held September 12-14, 2017 at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, Hyattsville, MD.  


Papers are sought on new developments with focus on topics listed in the Call for Papers. Interested presenters should submit an extended abstract (2-3 pages) by email not later than 31 December 2016 to  Abstracts will be reviewed by the program committee and authors will be notified of acceptance by 15 February 2017.


Submitted abstracts should include the full title and name(s), affiliation(s), address(es), telephone number(s), and email address(es) of the author(s), with the presenter identified (underlined).


Abstracts must be original work and will be accepted on the basis of their quality and originality in the field of automatic fire detection and signaling, security systems, automatic suppression, and their applications.  Abstracts should be absent of commercial overtones, be based on good science, present objective and credible results, and be without inherent bias.  Abstracts that do not meet these criteria will not be accepted.  



The following proposed Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA) for NFPA 70, National Electrical Code®, is being published for public review and comment:

Anyone may submit a comment on this proposed TIA by the February 16, 2017 closing date. Along with your comment, please identify the log number of the TIA and forward to the Secretary, Standards Council by the closing date.

Effective December 1, Massachusetts requires one- and two-family homes built before 1975 to have working, up-to-date smoke alarms. Fire inspectors, checking alarms during the home sale process, will be looking to ensure that smoke alarms are up-to-date and in working order.
State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey explained that new regulations were established because the sensing technology inside alarms deteriorates after 10 years. The new regulations require alarms to be the photoelectric type or a combination of photoelectric and ionization technology.


NFPA statistics show that three out of five U.S. home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or no working alarms. To learn more about smoke alarm awareness, NFPA commissioned a survey earlier this year and determined:

• half of Americans (50 percent) have three or more smoke alarms in their current home
• almost one in five Americans who have smoke alarms (19 percent) say the oldest smoke alarm they currently have in their home is 10+ years old
• nearly one in five Americans who have smoke alarms (18 percent) are not at all sure how old the oldest smoke alarm they currently have in their home is
• when asked how often they should replace smoke alarms, nine in 10 Americans (90 percent) did not select the correct answer

Checking the date and replacing smoke alarms older than 10 years was the theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week theme. For additional information on smoke alarm safety read the NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code® or check out NFPA’s public education resources related to smoke alarms.

The December 2016 issue of NFPA News, our free monthly codes and standards newsletter, is now available.


NFPA_news.jpgIn this issue:

  • Safety begins with you - public participation in the standards development process
  • Tentative Interim Amendment issued on NFPA 36
  • Errata issued on NFPA 58 and NFPA 501
  • News in Brief
  • Committees soliciting public input
  • Committees seeking members
  • Committee meetings calendar


Subscribe today! NFPA News is a free newsletter, and includes special announcements, notification of public input and comment closing dates, requests for comments, notices on the availability of Standards Council minutes, and other important news about NFPA’s standards development process.

By now, we are all aware of the horrible tragedy that occurred in Oakland, CA, where 36 people lost their lives in a horrific fire event at the Ghost Ship warehouse (the Ghost Ship housed assembly uses, residential uses, business use and others), which was hosting a electronic dance music concert at the time of the fire on the evening of December 2.  On Saturday afternoon of December 3, a 10 alarm, wind-driven fire tore through 15 buildings and multiple vehicles in Cambridge, MA.  All of this on the heels of the devastating wildfire in the beautiful Smoky Mountains National Park.


Fortunately, these large loss fires are not common, but they still exist.  And as long as they still exist, our jobs as fire safety professionals are not done, not even close.  I have read articles and responses and opinions about the fires, but I have been most impacted by NFPA's President, Jim Pauley's, reaction on the current state of fire safety as a result of this terrible event.  In his words:


   "They remind us that our work is not done and we should make every effort to see the learnings from all of them    are used in our codes and standards, enforcement and public education work just as we have throughout history.    This is how we can ensure that we continue to reduce loss and avoid complacency." 


Complacency.  I never really thought of fire in that way.  Maybe because I have work for NFPA and I spend every day, at work and at home, thinking about fire safety.  I still see fire as a problem and a risk.  I am that person who looks for sprinklers in restaurants, and exits in shopping malls, and blocked fire doors. I worry that I don't have enough smoke alarms in my home and worry there may be too much lint in the dryer or faulty electrical work.  But that is not for everyone.  Fire risk, for most, is not at the top of the priority list.  But it needs to stay a priority.  In this crazy world of terrorist threats, cyber-security, global warming and climate change, homegrown acts of violence, all which plaster our news on a daily basis, how can we have time to focus on the fire risk, too?  .


I read an article just the other day that I thought related to this issue so well.  (Yes, it was from a parenting website, about parenting issues, and not a fire safety website, but the concepts were the same, and so timely.)  The article read:


   "We focus on the extraordinary risk, rather than the common one. No TV news runs spots on the alarming rate of    child drowning. They don’t run bloody footage of the high number of children killed in car crashes. Instead, we pay    attention to the extraordinary: the shark attacks, the mass shootings, the risk of terrorism..."


With this focus on extraordinary risk, we can so easily become complacent with the day to day risk.  I am fairly confident that those 36 innocent people that lost their lives last weekend didn't think that they would lose their lives to fire.  Who does? It is the "it won't happen to me" attitude that can be dangerous, but it is so easy to believe.


Whether they realize it or not, the public relies on codes and standards to protect them.  Smoke alarms in our homes, the number of exist in an office building, the storage of hazardous materials in a warehouse, electrical wiring methods and materials, are all regulated by codes and standards.  In addition to a building code, a fire code may be one of the first codes and standards that a jurisdiction works with.  Every jurisdiction needs and has a fire code. 


NFPA 1, Fire Code, is provides jurisdictions and enforcers with a comprehensive resource for fire safety issues addressing occupant life safety, property protection, storage, use and handling of hazardous materials, fire department access and water supply, interior finish and furnishings, conditions in new and existing occupancies, building rehabilitation work, and hazards from outside fires.  It is a fire safety 'bible' of sorts.  When a fire inspector/code enforcer/AHJ inspects a building, they use a fire code as their resource to check the presence of fire protection systems, to know when inspection, testing and maintenance is required, to verify proper storage of hazardous materials, to ensure egress systems are unobstructed, available, and that the required access to the building is provided should the fire department be on site, among many many many other building issues.


Valuable and proven codes and standards exist, and they will continue to evolve.  Let's work together, not in opposition, to make use of these codes and standards (especially the Fire Code!) and to remain vigilant to the risks of fire. Our job isn't done yet.


(Let's not forget holiday safety!  Check out last week's post about NFPA 1 provisions for natural cut and artificial Christmas trees.)

As we seek to provide greater resources to those who rely on us for critical information and knowledge to eliminate loss from fire and other hazards, we are working to further harness the power of data for our stakeholders, including the U.S. fire service.


In August of 2016, NFPA, with support from IAFF, IAFC, CPSE, NASFM, NVFC, and the Metro Chiefs, received funding from the AFG Fire Prevention and Safety Grants Program to develop a national fire data system (NFDS) that meets the priority needs of the U.S. fire service for quality local and national data for both operations and community risk reduction. It will be designed to be a data resource to support a broad range of fire department decision-making.


The NFDS plan was presented to front-line fire service innovators from thirteen national organizations at NFPA’s Responder Forum last month. Video footage of the NFDS presentation at that event can be accessed here.


An important first step in the NFDS plan is a survey of fire department leaders and other fire personnel to learn how they are using data, what tools and software they are employing for collection, and which resources would enhance operations, first responder safety and community risk reduction.


If you manage fire data efforts for your organization, please take the NFDS survey.

research foundation report - lithium ion battery storage

The Fire Protection Research Foundation has completed a major three phase study on the hazards and associated protection needs for small format lithium ion batteries in cartons in storage configurations.  The latest report presents the results of full scale testing to evaluate sprinkler protection strategies.  This research will inform future sprinkler protection requirements in NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Automatic Sprinklers. 

cultural heritage materialsA variety of different fire extinguishing agents are utilized in portable extinguishers that are used in museums, galleries, cultural centers, historic houses and libraries. The agents themselves have been well-researched and their ability to suppress a fire is well-quantified. What is less well understood is what effect these agents might have on the cultural heritage materials that are exposed to them.


A newly published Fire Protection Research Foundation report is a compilation of two sub-reports addressing this topic, included herein:

  • QUANTIFICATION: “Quantifying the Impact of Portable Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials Agent and Fire Exposure Test Report”
  • ASSESSMENT: “Assessing the Impact of Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials”


The primary goals of these projects were to establish a reproducible test protocol that could be used for future testing and that would permit the reporting and assessment of comparable test results by disparate testing entities, and gather information about the responses of a range of selected materials when exposed to the most commonly used portable fire extinguisher agents over both the short and long-terms.


Download the full report, “Impact of Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials” for all of the details. 

The 2017 edition of the National Electrical Code® Handbook is now available! Take a look at this brief walk-through, which highlights the new features of this edition.

Canopy of Hotel Winecoff, after the fire (Photograph by: Marion Johnson 12/9/1946)

1946 was a devastating and difficult year for hotel fires in the United States. Pictured here is the canopy that covered the marquee at the Hotel Winecoff in Atlanta, Georgia.


From NFPA Journal v.110, no.3, 2016

Of the 304 guests in the hotel that night, 119 died—many by jumping from the upper floors of the 15-story building—and 65 were injured. In its aftermath, advocates called for a new push to strengthen safety standards. “If real results are to be accomplished . . . steps must be taken to prevent fire and panic in all places where numbers of people live or congregate,” read an NFPA statement. “The measures to protect all such places should be taken before the disaster and not after.”


For more information regarding these or other historic fires, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Library. The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. Library staff are available to answer reference questions from members and the general public.

This is a brief summary of the third in the ten part series on personal disaster planning available in the December 2016 issue of e-ACCESS.Graphic of evacuation route sign


There are two definitions of evacuate that really fit what we’re talking about, the second being much more descriptive,


: to leave (a dangerous place)

: to withdraw from a place in an organized way especially for protection


NFPA’s Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities deals with the events, notification and your personal evacuation plan to get out of the building that you’re in.


The distance you need to go to be safe will vary greatly depending on the incident. A waste basket fire may mean that you only have to leave the room, but a hurricane like Katrina or Sandy may mean that you’ll need to travel tens or even hundreds of miles to get to a safe place.


Once you’re out, you may need to get to some temporary shelter. It might be close like with neighbors, friends, family or a rented place like a hotel or other facility, but it could be much further. NFPA’s Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities only covers the first three rings of the “Incident Area Model”. What about the other five rings?


Incident Area Model


If the incident necessitates that you move further out into rings 3 through 7, your plan will need to get more robust as the incident involves a larger and larger area. Planning ahead of time is crucial.


Let’s think about a wildland fire for a moment. There have been some very large wildland fires in the western United States over the past few years. Not only have they burned large areas, but they have been unpredictable in the paths they’ve taken and have changed direction often. So you not only need to how far you have to go, but also in what direction do you need to go “to leave a dangerous place for your protection?”


What about a flood? Again, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy not only caused damage from strong winds, but are examples of the impact that subsequent flooding can have over very large areas that are relatively flat.


Even in areas that are far from the ocean or those at high elevations flooding can be dangerous. Vermont has had numerous flash floods from torrential rains that have caused flooding and major damage in narrow river valleys destroying homes and bridges. In some cases the only viable evacuation route was to go up to higher elevations and also limiting the number potential shelters.


So how far would you personally have to go for each of the incidents that you might be affected by?


Each incident will likely require a different plan. It’s never too early to start building your plan! Some plans, by necessity, will be much more complex than others. You don’t want to wait to evacuate!!


In the next issue I’ll talk about planning for where you’ll stay once you get a safe distance from the incident. Equally important is how long you’ll need to stay there before you can get back into your home. We’ll discuss that in the next issue.


You can subscribe to e-ACCESS for free and see all the archived issues, just click here.

There are two open Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for Foundation projects. The projects are "Marina Risk Reduction" and "Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control".  Both RFPs are accessible from the Foundation website.


Both proposals are due by noon EST on 12 December.  Please email with any questions. 

Welcome to premier edition of #101Wednesdays (with apologies and all credit to my colleague, Kristin Bigda, who inspired me with her weekly posts on NFPA 1 in #FireCodeFridays (be sure to follow her @KristinB_NFPA). Each week I’ll explore an issue related to NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and hopefully generate some discussion. My goals are to share some of what I’ve learned working with the Code over the last 20 years, and also to learn from you, the usersin the real world. This is a two-way street. I’m looking forward to getting the conversation started.


In this edition, in the wake of last week’s tragic Oakland warehouse dance party fire that claimed 36 lives, I’ll review some of the basic NFPA 101 requirements for assembly occupancies. The first thing that is important to understand is, “What exactly is an assembly occupancy?” The Code defines an assembly occupancy as an occupancy (1) used for a gathering of 50 or more persons for deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation, or similar uses; or (2) used as a special amusement building, regardless of occupant load ( – references are to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101). For this discussion, I’ll focus on Item (1) in the definition, which is a “typical” assembly occupancy. Item (2) refers to things like haunted house attractions, and the like. Based on the definition, two criteria must be met for an occupancy to be classified as assembly: there must be 50 or more people, AND they must be collocated in the occupancy for one of the specified purposes (deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation, or similar uses). If 50 or more people are working in a densely occupied call center, it’s most likely a business occupancy based on its use. If there are 50 or more people in a large conference room, that is an assembly occupancy. The 50-person threshold is determined based on the calculated occupant or the actual expected number of occupants, whichever is GREATER ( With the occupancy classification established, let’s look at some of the basic life safety requirements.




The importance of providing adequate means of egress from assembly occupancies can’t be overstated. For new assembly occupancies, the general rule is at least two means of egress are needed for not more than 500 occupants; three are needed for 501 to 1,000 occupants; and four are needed for more than 1,000 (7.4 and For existing assembly occupancies, two means of egress are good for up to 600 occupants; the other thresholds are the same as for new assembly occupancies (13.2.4). Early reports indicate the second floor performance space in the Oakland warehouse was accessed by a single, makeshift stair. NFPA 101 would have required, in all likelihood, at least two stairs because of the strict 20 ft common path of travel limit for egress paths in assembly occupancies serving more than 50 people ( and


In addition to adequate numbers of means of egress, sufficient egress capacity (width) is needed. As a Boston area native, I make an analogy to the old Central Artery, which was an elevated highway that snaked its way through Downtown Boston. Before the infamous “Big Dig,” I-93 was a relatively wide, three- and four-lane highway north and south of Boston. Where the highway hit the city, however, it narrowed down to two lanes in each direction. This narrowing resulted in traffic jams, day in and day out. The same phenomenon exists where occupants attempt to egress through a relatively narrow doorway or via a stair. The reduction in egress width results in queuing; the wider the opening, the shorter the wait time to move through the opening. Section 7.3, 12.2.3, and 13.2.3 provide all the details on means of egress capacity. If insufficient capacity is provided, the occupant load must be carefully controlled to prevent overcrowding and exceeding the available egress capacity, or additional egress capacity must be provided.


An additional egress consideration is the main entrance/exit. People will have a natural tendency to try to go out the way they came in. In an emergency, if everyone makes their way to the main entrance/exit, the evacuation can be significantly delayed. For this reason, the Code requires the main entrance/exit to be sized to accommodate at least half of the occupant load. For certain new assembly occupancies, such as nightclubs, the main entrance/exit needs to accommodate at least two-thirds of the occupant load ( & (The two-thirds criterion was added to the Code following the 2003 fire that killed 100 concertgoers at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island.)




New assembly occupancies are required to be protected by automatic sprinklers where the occupant load exceeds 300. In addition, any new nightclub-like assembly occupancy must be provided with sprinklers if the occupant load is 50 or greater. For existing nightclub-like assembly occupancies, sprinklers are required if the occupant load is greater than 100. Otherwise, sprinklers are required for existing exhibition facilities that are more than 15,000 ft2 in area. Fire alarm systems are required in both new and existing assembly occupancies with an occupant load exceeding 300, and in theaters with more than one audience-viewing room. The alarm system is required to alert personnel at a constantly attended receiving station for the purpose of initiating an emergency response. Alternatively, the system is permitted to automatically provide voice notification to the occupants. There are some exceptions to and variations of the sprinkler and fire alarm requirements for assembly occupancies; see 12.3.4, 12.3.5, 13.3.4, and 13.3.5 for all the details.




ALL assembly occupancies must be provided with at least one trained crowd manager to facilitate an orderly response to an emergency (12.7.6 & 13.7.6). (There is an exception for assembly occupancies used for religious worship with an occupant load of not more than 500.) Additional crowd managers must be provided where the occupant load exceeds 250 at a ratio of one crowd manager for every 250 occupants. Guidance on the required crowd manager training is provided in Annex A of the Code (A. and A. Crowd managers are an integral component of the life safety package prescribed by the Code for an assembly occupancy and should not be overlooked. Organizations such as the International Association of Venue Managers offer online training for trained crowd managers and crowd manager supervisors; go to for details.




The life safety criteria for assembly occupancies prescribed by NFPA 101 that I’ve described here is only the tip of the iceberg. The Code has much more: interior finish regulations; vertical opening protection; emergency lighting; construction limits; seating arrangements; I could go on for days! (In fact, I frequently do when I instruct NFPA’s three-day Life Safety Code Essentials seminar.) But hopefully this brief review helps you gain an understanding of some of the basics. It’s still early in the Oakland fire investigation, but I won’t be surprised if some, if not all of the items described here were missing.


Let me know what challenges you encounter related to assembly occupancies. If we can keep the discussions going, and continue to raise awareness, maybe we can help to prevent future tragedies like the one we witnessed in Oakland last week. Check out my earlier blog post about the unsettling 13-year trend of large loss-of-life assembly occupancy fires. I hope you’ll return next week for another edition of #101Wednesdays. Until then, stay safe.


Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.”

NFPA NEC changes training for AHJs

Last week NFPA Regional Electrical Code Specialist Tim McClintock and I were in Southern California. We met with  AHJs (Authorities Having Jurisdiction) who received an early holiday gift in the form of free 2016 editions of the CA Electrical Code (based on NFPA 70: National Electrical Code 2014 edition), and training on the significant changes between the 2011 and 2014 NEC editions. Playing to full houses in San Diego, Costa Mesa, Rancho Cucamonga, Los Angeles County and Ventura, Tim and I helped over 900 code enforcers understand how these changes impact their inspection activities in residential, commercial, institutional and industrial occupancies.


With the tireless logistical support provided by local members of the IAEI, we are happy to report the first week of this “CA Effective Enforcement Tour (EET)” went flawlessly.

In addition to covering the code changes, we briefed the attendees on NFPA’s strategic initiatives, and the work our organization is doing to reach out and connect with our stakeholders, and to enhance effective enforcement. Tim started out each day’s training by thanking the attendees who represented all sizes of inspection departments in southern California, from small communities to major jurisdictions like L.A. City and L.A. County. “It is through your efforts that the NFPA mission is carried out in the field,” he said, “and we couldn’t do it without you.”


Many of the enforcers have received this training on prior editions of the NEC (dating back to 2005), and attendees told us how much they appreciate our continued efforts in supporting the code enforcement community in the state.


Over the weekend, our T&J team moved to northern CA and this week we’re doing another week of training for the enforcers in that part of the state.

Watching the videos and listening to the Cambridge Fire Alarm audio  of the 10 alarm fire that occurred in Cambridge, MA on December 3, all personnel at that scene did an awesome job! This was not a room and contents fire that extended to the floor of origin but a massive fireball that exploded from a wood framed, three story residential structure (a three decker), immediately exposing several other structures of similar construction. It also appears the wind played a force in the extension of this fire, accelerating the pace and distance the wall of fire and flaming debris spread.


The wind is something we take for granted, but it has been a contributing factor in many large and sometimes fatal fires.The wildfires that are devouring the Great Smokey Mountains and Gatlinburg,TN Smokey Mountain National Forest have been fed by excessive winds. Not far from the location of Saturday's fire, two Boston firefighters lost their lives while battling a fire in Bostons Back Bay .


Fire explodes from structure during Cambridge MA 10 alarm fire



In 2010, the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation as part of a National Institute for Standards and Technology/Department of Homeland security  funded project, studied  Fire Fighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions to guide the development of appropriate tactical options for use under wind driven conditions. Through laboratory experiments and data collection, the goal was to improve the safety of fire fighters and building occupants by enabling a better understanding of wind driven firefighting tactics, including structural ventilation and suppression. The technical information developed through this study increased the fire service's  understanding of the dynamics of fire phenomena and prediction of fire intensity and growth under wind driven conditions. This content of the Firefighter Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions report, updated 2013, provides a basis to identify methods and promulgate improved Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG) for the fire service to enhance firefighter safety, fire ground operations, and use of equipment.


The Cambridge incident destroyed several buildings, numerous vehicles, and displaced over 100 persons. Luckily, no lives were lost and  responders suffered only minor injuries. The lessons learned at this fire join the earlier Research Foundation report in guiding the fire service on strategies for dealing with such incidents. 

NFPA Public Assembly Safety Tip SheetNo one thinks something will be a problem, until it becomes a problem. Complacency is one of the greatest dangers when it comes to fire safety - particularly in public settings - and it may have been a factor in this weekend’s California warehouse fire. In what may be a small sliver of positivity after a large disaster like this one, people tend to stop and think a bit more about how fragile their lives are and, and at least for a short period of time, work to stay extra vigilant and careful.


We hope that everyone takes a few moments during this time to review safety tips that can help keep you stay safe the next time you are in a place of public assembly. By taking personal responsibility and keeping some basic precautions in mind, we can all be safer, and hopefully help reduce the loss of lives and number of injuries that result in this type of situation.


Before you enter

  • Take a good look. Does the building appear to be in a condition that makes you feel safe? Is the main entrance wide and does it open outward to allow easy exit? Is the outside area clear of materials stored against the building or blocking exits?
  • Have a communication plan
    Identify a relative or friend to contact in case of emergency and you are separated from family or friends.
  • Plan a meeting place
    Pick a meeting place outside to meet family or friends with whom you are attending the function. If there is an emergency, be sure to meet them there.

When you enter

  • Locate exits immediately
    When you enter a building, make sure to identify all available exits. Some exits may be in front and some in back of you. Be prepared to use your closest exit. You may not be able to use the main exit.
  • Check for clear exit paths
    Make sure aisles are wide enough and not obstructed by chairs or furniture. Check to make sure your exit door is not blocked or chained. If there are not at least two exits or exit paths are blocked, report the violation to management and leave the building if it is not immediately addressed. Call the local fire marshal to register a complaint.
  • Do you feel safe?
    Does the building appear to be overcrowded? Are there fire sources such as candles burning, cigarettes or cigars burning, pyrotechnics, or other heat sources that may make you feel unsafe? Are there safety systems in place such as alternative exits, sprinklers, and smoke alarms? Ask the management for clarification on your concerns. If you do not feel safe in the building, leave immediately.

During an emergency

  • React immediately
    If an alarm sounds, you see smoke or fire, or other unusual disturbance, immediately exit the building in an orderly fashion.
  • Get out, stay out!
    Once you have escaped, stay out. Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. Let trained firefighters conduct rescue operations.


Download NFPA’s safety tip sheet for places of public assembly to share with your friends, family and community.

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out from NFPA to the families, communities and first responders who are impacted by the number of recent fire tragedies filling the headlines. For those of us who devote our careers to making the world safer from fire, these stories shake us to our core.


As I read of the horrendous fire in Oakland this weekend where at least 36 people lost their lives, and then saw coverage of a 10 alarm fire outside Boston that left more than 100 homeless; a fire in a hotel in Pakistan that killed 11; and continuing coverage of the Tennessee wildfires where the death toll has reached 14, I couldn’t help but think about what they all had in common. As different as the scenarios are, they are a painful reminder that we have not solved the fire problem and we must remain ever vigilant on the things that have helped us dramatically reduce the amount of loss in recent decades.


Codes and standards, a robust enforcement system and public education have all combined to bring the number of deaths, injuries and dollar loss down. But with that success has come a level of complacency that we see in so many of today’s scenarios. No one thinks it’s an issue until it’s an issue. I’m sure for folks in Oakland, fire safety was not top of mind when they attended an event there or folks in Tennessee may not have seen wildfire as a major issue to the extent many people in California do.


These fires remind us that the threats and challenges facing the public and first responders continue to change. In Oakland, the changing occupancy of that building may have only been known to those who lived or worked there, not to the fire service or other officials. This is likely a scenario happening in other places around the country. The ability to attract large numbers of people to an unknown venue is easy through newer ways of social media. Couple that with the rate of speed things can go from bad to worse when there are blocked or not enough exits and lots of combustibles.


They remind us that our work is not done and we should make every effort to see the learnings from all of them are used in our codes and standards, enforcement and public education work just as we have throughout history. This is how we can ensure that we continue to reduce loss and avoid complacency.


More information on these incidents and NFPA resources can be found under breaking news at

video courtesy of Associated Press


The New York Times reports that the blaze that broke out in a live-work warehouse space occupied by an arts collective in Oakland has taken at least 30 lives. More casualties are expected. There were 40-50 people in the building when fire erupted around 11:00 p.m. on Friday.


As of Sunday afternoon, fire officials had only made it through about 20-percent of the building that was described as a labyrinth of wires, beams and woods with pianos, campers, artwork, make-shift living spaces and furniture. The building's second floor collapsed and an ad hoc staircase made of wooden pallets also created access challenges. Authorities anticipate that the search may take up to 48 hours and involve excavators, bulldozers and cadaver dogs. 


Oakland Fire Chief, NFPA Board of Director Member and NFPA Emergency Responder Advisory Committee (ERAC) Member Teresa Deloach Reed told the East BayTimes that the building had no sprinklers and crews did not hear any smoke detectors going off when they arrived.


The Oakland blaze is one of the deadliest structure fires in the United States in the last ten years. Read NFPA's most recent report on catastrophic multiple fire death fires here.

Video courtesy of WCVB-TV


Miraculously, there were no fatalities or serious injuries reported as a result of a 10-alarm fire that quickly ripped through a series of residential buildings in Cambridge, Mass on Saturday afternoon. The fire broke out just before 3:00 p.m. as 20-30 mph winds gusted throughout the region. The fast-moving inferno, which engulfed 15 buildings, went to 9-alarms within 30-minutes.


Approximately 150 first responders from nearly 20 Boston-area communities battled the fire that started in a building under construction in a residential area near Kendall Square. The fire swept through the densely populated neighborhood, ultimately displacing between 60-90 residents. Witnesses say the scene was like a "ball of fire"  and conjured up images of "a war zone."


Most of the buildings consumed were three-family residences. An old church converted to apartments also went up in flames, as well as six cars parked along the area's notoriously narrow streets. One building crumbled during the fire, others partially fell, and today fire officials announced that more collapses are imminent, based on initial investigations.


Saturday's fire was the biggest blaze to occur in Cambridge since the 1980s. Six residents reported minor injuries; and fire officials and local residents were quick to point out that the mid-afternoon timing made the difference between life and death. 

This time of year, we look back at two significant events in fire history that influence codes and standards still today.


The Cocoanut Grove Fire, 1942

Cocoanut Grove, December 1942

On November 28, 1942, a fire broke out in Boston's popular Cocoanut Grove Nightclub. 492 people lives were lost due to the events that night. 200 people died within feet of the jammed revolving doors.


From Volunteer Firemen v. 10, no. 1 (January 1943)

"The radios and newspapers reported the facts apparently responsible for the loss of life: (1) inadequate and locked exits, (2) quick burning decorations...The tragedy started when fire broke out in the basement in a cocktail lounge. The blaze is said to have been first noticed in an imitation palm tree after a bus boy struck a match for a light while replacing an electric bulb near the ceiling. However, other testimony leads to the question whether defective wiring may have had something to do with the start of the fire, or whether there may have been some other unexplained factor."


Our Lady of Angels Fire, 1958


The Our Lady of Angels Fire on December 1, 1958 also struck a chord and is cited as one of the reasons many fire and life safety codes and standards are enforced in schools today.


From the NFPA Journal online, August 20 2008:

"On December 1, 1958, 95 people lost their lives in the Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic grade school in Chicago, Illinois. It was the deadliest school fire in U.S. history and the in decades that resulted in a large death toll. Not only did it remind Americans of some major uncorrected fire hazards in U.S. school, but it also shone a light on other hazards that had not been widely recognized before."


For more information regarding these or other historic fires, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Library. The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. Library staff are available to answer reference questions from members and the general public.

I've learned a lot about Christmas trees since working with NFPA 1, Fire Code.  How much can there be to learn about a Christmas tree?  Homes have them, businesses have them, place of worship have them, schools may have them, restaurants have them.  I hate to be a Grinch, but Christmas trees can be a pretty severe fire hazard when not properly attended to or when not fire tested appropriately.  There are provisions in place to make sure buildings and residences that wish to enjoy Christmas trees can do so while staying safe.


Check out this video.  In this case, a room with a dried out Christmas tree may achieve flashover conditions in under a minute.  This shows that Christmas trees have the potential to greatly contribute to the overall fuel load of a compartment.  When it comes to a family escaping their home, seconds can count.  One minute just isn't enough.


Natural Christmas trees, by their nature, are initially fire retardant. The problem arises when they have been cut and packaged without access to water for extended periods of time. The fire danger of Christmas trees and similar vegetation increases when the bottom end of the tree is not freshly cut and immediately placed in water when
purchased. Other concerns include the length of time Christmas trees are on display (retail stores often set up outdoor displays of trees before Thanksgiving.) 


The species of tree and the rate of moisture loss are important factors in determining the extent of moisture loss. Of the various types of evergreen trees available, the Noble fir retains its moisture longer than other species. The best preventive measures include using a freshly harvested tree, cutting the butt or bottom end immediately before placing it in water, and checking the water level frequently to ensure that the tree water container is filled. The person responsible for the display should check the tree periodically. When needles shed easily, the tree should be removed or replaced, since trees dry from the inside out.


These days, artificial Christmas trees come in all shapes and sizes.  They even come pre-lit (who wants to spend the time stringing the lights? Not me!)  UL has published a fantastic white paper about the reducing the fire risk of pre-lit trees.  This publication addresses the research that led to the development of performance testing criteria for pre-lit artificial trees.  It is a valuable resource for consumers and code officials when evaluating the safety of artificial trees.


NFPA 1 addresses Christmas trees in Section 10.13:

  • Artificial vegetation and artificial Christmas trees must be labeled or otherwise identified or certified by the manufacturer as being fire retardant.
  • Allowances for Christmas trees are specified by occupancy and found in Table
    • Note: Christmas trees are prohibited or limited in their placement in occupancies that pose special problems due to the capabilities of occupants, occupant or management control, or the number of occupants. Some exceptions permit live, balled trees, if maintained, and trees in locations where automatic sprinkler systems
      are installed.
  • Artificial vegetation and artificial Christmas trees must be labeled or otherwise identified or certified by the manufacturer as being fire retardant.
    • The fire retardance is demonstrated by each individual decorative vegetation item, including any decorative
      lighting, in an approved manner.
  • Christmas trees can not obstruct corridors, exit ways, or other means of egress.
  • Only listed electrical lights and wiring can be used on natural or artificial Christmas trees.
  • Do not locate open flames such as from candles, lanterns, and heaters on or near Christmas trees.
  • Where a natural cut tree is permitted, the bottom end of the trunk must be cut off with a straight fresh cut at least
    1⁄2 in. (13 mm) above the end prior to placing the tree in a stand to allow the tree to absorb water.
  • The tree is to be placed in a suitable stand with water and the water level must be maintained above the fresh cut and checked at least once daily.
  • The tree shall be removed from the building immediately upon evidence of dryness.


In addition to the Code requirements, NFPA also provides a resource page dedicated to Christmas tree and decoration fires.


Have you had any trouble enforcing provisions for Christmas trees? How does your facility ensure Christmas trees are maintained?


Stay safe, and happy holidays!

Auxiliary Squad A Springfield, Mass., Fire Department. Put into service September, 1906.

Auxiliary Squad A of the Springfield, MA Fire Department was put into service in September, 1906.


From the NFPA Quarterly v.3, no. 1, 1909

"40 H.P., air cooled, 4 cylinder, 4-cycle motor; 34x5" Fisk pneumatic tires.  Carries assistant chief and eight men.  Equipment, two 3-gallon extinguishers, play pipes, two fire department lanterns, two axes, door opener, claw bar, life belts, life gun, and rope.  Weight with men as driven to fires, 5,050 pounds."


We want to hear from you! It's easy to comment on posts: just look for the login link above to login or register for your free account on Xchange. Xchange is more than a blog; it's an online community that connects you with peers worldwide and directly with NFPA staff. Get involved today!

NFPA knows how important it is for you to have the latest edition of NFPA 70: National Electrical Code. As your partner in electrical safety, we have been working on a series of videos to help explain the changes to the 2017 code edition that impacts our industry as a whole, as well as the work you do every day.

Please join me for our two newest videos in the series. In the first, I talk through the significant changes affecting residential installations. These include:


• Changes to clarifying GFCI protection rules for receptacles installed within six feet of a sink
• A new requirement for supplying garage receptacles
• Revisions to how peninsula countertop receptacles are located

… plus many more impactful changes from the 2017 edition that you absolutely need to know.


The following is a video preview:



You can watch the full 13-minute video for free if you are logged into Xchange.



In the second video, I talk through the broader changes that impact commercial, institutional and industrial installations. Included in this discussion are:


• Important changes that expand GFCI protection requirements
• New rules for AFCI protection in hotels and motels
• Revisions to load calculation requirements for bank and office buildings.

The following is a video preview:


You can watch the full 21-minute video for free if you are logged into Xchange.


Haven't registered for Xchange yet? It’s easy to do. Look for the login link above to login or register for your free account on Xchange. And Xchange is more than a blog? it's an online community that connects you with peers worldwide and directly with NFPA staff. Don’t miss out; get involved today!

70E BLOG.png


I am shocked at the number of questions received regarding a misuse of NFPA 70E®. The questions were not on a specific issue but it was the subsequent conversations that sent a shiver down my spine. The crux of the concern is that the tables provided in the standard are being used to falsely “justify” energized electrical work and that a label on equipment is an allowance to work energized. It seems that many believe that it is acceptable to ignore a majority of the standard by going right to the tables and that PPE provides adequate protection for their employee. If it is on the table isn’t that justification enough to perform energized work? If the employee is protected why is there a need to establish an electrically safe work condition?  There are so many things wrong with this thought process that I will not go into them here except for what should have been the obvious ones. What I will address is how the tables are meant to be applied when energized work has been justified.

First, let me point out the obvious flaws with that mind set. The primary method of providing electrically safety for the employee must be establishing an electrically safe work condition regardless of the energy level, the voltage level or the ability to wear protective gear. These people assumed that there is justification for the work to be performed while energized most likely without the benefit of a risk assessment. They determined that no other hierarchy of risk controls would be employed to provide additional protection for the worker. They determined that only the lowest level of control (arc-flash PPE) would be employed as the default for worker protection.  Although properly selected arc-flash PPE minimizes the severity of an injury it does not necessarily prevent an injury. Due to the explosive effect of some arcing events, physical trauma injuries could occur. The PPE requirements do not address protection against physical trauma other than exposure to the thermal effects of an arc flash. The use of PPE also does not prevent damage to the equipment. A proper label on equipment should be primarily used to establish an electrically safe work condition not as permission to perform energized work.

Now on to the use of the tables. The first thing is to determine that there is justification for the energized work to be performed. This does not mean that the equipment is included in the table. One of the justification criteria must be met. The next thing is to determine the likelihood of an arc flash occurring (This is included in the task table in 2015 which will become a new table in 2018). After exhausting the hierarchy of risk controls down to the PPE level, the appropriate PPE category table is used to determine the required PPE level.  This table is not only equipment specific but parameter specific. The PPE category method cannot be used if the equipment is not on the table or if even one parameter is exceeded.  Once the PPE category is assigned, the table defining what is required to make up this PPE category is consulted to specify the necessary gear.

There is no allowance for justifying energized work solely based on equipment labeling or simply by conducting a risk assessment that results in a hazard. The main requirement in both NFPA 70E and federal regulations is that equipment be placed into an electrically safe work condition. The entire standard must be used to protect the worker. When energized work is justified, using the table without complying with all the requirements disregards the steps designed to protect your worker. Doing so places your employees at an unnecessary and greater risk of injury. 

Next time: Why does a "qualified person" create such a problem?

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