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January 19, 2017 Previous day Next day

casey grant - nfpa smart firefighting

I-Women highlighted smart firefighting on their recent I-Women Talk Radio Show on Fire Engineering, and invited Casey Grant from the Fire Protection Research Foundation and me as NFPA’s Fire Services Segment Director and NFPA Responder Forum organizer to discuss the virtues of smart firefighting.


Smart firefighting and data were the main focus of the Responder Forum, which brings together forward-thinkers from 13 leading fire organizations. I-Women radio show host Susan Tamme, a district fire chief with Tampa Fire & Rescue, and five other members of I-Women from across the country were highly engaged participants at the Forum in November. They thought the subject would be a great topic for us to share with their blog talk radio listeners late last month; listen and see what you think.

The benefits of smart firefighting and the importance of capturing real time data from sensors and emerging technology is a topic that all national fire organizations, local fire departments, command staff leaders, and line firefighters should be interested in. Smart firefighting technologies enable the fire service to control situational awareness, self-rescue, hazard assessment, victim awareness, fire ground operations, strategic deployment, mitigation, investigation, and health and wellness. The data captured from smart firefighting technology benefits the fire service globally, centrally and locally.


To learn more about the Firefighter of the Future, watch Casey Grant’s full keynote presentation from this year's NFPA Responder Forum.

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We all know that the primary work procedure required by both NFPA 70E® and federal regulations is that electrical equipment be placed into an electrically safe work condition before work has begun. [Here in the northeast, if the facility or the specific equipment has no ability to be supplied by automatic secondary power, I might consider that the loss of power (or establishing an electrically safe work condition) is not a concern to the owner and that energized work would never be necessary. If a sudden, unexpected power loss is not a concern, how could a scheduled outage possibly be?] We also know that there are only three reasons for permitting energized work. These are increased hazard, increased risk and infeasibility. I don’t intend to address what these mean or whether the energized work is justified. For this discussion I am going to assume that these reasons have been used to justify the work.

Assume something along the line of a patient on life support or a process that has the potential to ignite a hazardous location. If the equipment is shut off, the patient will die. The building will blow up if the process is stopped. You surely don’t want either to occur. These are typical reasons someone uses to illustrate the need to justify energized electrical work. What is surprising that although both of these are used as examples, most often neither is the reason I am given as justification for energized electrical work.

If you claim justification of the energized work to keep the patient alive or the process operating, doesn’t that meet the requirement? Not really. Just making the claim does not make it true. It could be true if that single, critical piece of equipment can be repaired while staying in full operation. If it is not a single, critical piece of equipment, is the energized task justified? What happens if the equipment fails before the justified work even begins? What if the equipment cannot be repaired? Justified energized work does not guarantee uninterrupted equipment operation. What happens when the worker drops a screw into the equipment and the equipment is accidentally and suddenly shut-down? That patient’s life that you used to justify the energized work has ended. That explosion that you wanted to prevent has leveled the building. Something you tried to avoid has occurred. And if those results did not or will not occur due to equipment failure, was the energized work truly justified?

We have all seen photographs of things gone horribly wrong when work is conducted on energized equipment. Before the task began do you think they thought; today is the day I will get injured or will die. Did they think; I will make a mistake that will shut this equipment down. Or did they think; it will not happen to me. Either way they were injured when something did not go as expected. If the work was justified and they followed NFPA 70E, their injuries should have been recoverable. Good for the worker but what about the reason for the justification?

On the other hand, there is no way that those pieces of equipment were brought back online quickly enough to prevent this hypothetical death or explosion from happening. The down time in a majority of these cases was considerably longer than a scheduled shut down would have been. Should they have anticipated all the possible faults? Should they have had a “Plan B”? If they had a Plan B, shouldn’t they have had it in operation so that the work could be performed in an electrically safe work condition? Was moving the patient to another area or using other life support equipment possible? Should they have considered how long the equipment could be de-energized before the situation would turn bad? Maybe the process could be shut down for more than an hour before the hazard became an issue and a five minute de-energized repair is the way to go.

This does not mean that there is never a legitimate reason for justifying energized electrical work. What it means is that often it is still selected as the norm rather than the exception without truly justifying the task or considering other things. You should consider everything before putting your worker at risk by performing energized electrical work.

Next time: I am glad I don’t have to make the decisions some of you make.

(The blaze at the Plasco building. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA)


The Guardian and other international news outlets report that at least 30 and possibly up to 50 firefighters are trapped and assumed dead beneath the rubble after a high-rise building caught fire and collapsed in Tehran, Iran today.

The 17-storey Plasco building, the capital city’s oldest high-rise, housed 400 businesses including several clothing distributors, which likely contributed to the fire’s rapid spread. Located near the British embassy, the building caught fire about 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, engulfing the upper floors and quickly descending to the bottom levels.

“About 20 to 25 firefighters have been trapped beneath the rubble,” Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, mayor of Tehran said. A spokesperson for the rescue operation put the number of responders missing between 30 and 50, according to the state Irna news agency.

Eshagh Jahangiri, Iran’s first vice-president, visited the scene with other senior officials. “It was shocking and unbelievable,” Jahangiri said on state television. “A number of our people, especially our great firefighters, have been trapped. The government is assisting with help from other forces including the military.”

There have been safety concerns about the Plasco in the past. Eghbal Shkeri, a senior official from Tehran’s city council indicated that previous warnings regarding the building’s safety had been ignored, and said, “Repeated warnings had been given about the building, and its fire control system was very weak.”

According to a research report released by NFPA in April 2016, U.S. fire departments respond to an estimated yearly average of 14,500 reported structure fires in high-rise buildings. The two deadliest high-rise fires in U.S. history were caused by terrorism. The fires and building collapses that occurred when two planes flew into the World Trade Center twin towers in NYC on September 11, 2001 killed 2,666 people, not including the 157 passengers and crew on the two planes; and on April 19, 1995, a truck bomb outside a nine-story federal building in Oklahoma City killed 169 people. During the years 2006‐2015, there were five firefighter deaths in four high‐rise building fires.


Structural collapses are the third leading cause of firefighter fatal injuries in the U.S., with six in 2015 alone (not restricted to high-rise incidents).


To learn more about ensuring occupant and property protection during the time of a fire in a high-rise building, click here.

On a recent trip to Baltimore, I was fortunate enough to participate in the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation’s planning meeting as they develop a guide for behavioral wellness for fire departments.  It’s exciting to see that some of the source materials they are using come from the NFPA 1500 series of standards.  While at the meetings, we received a presentation from the Denver Fire Department about their “Total Wellness Program.”  This program looks at firefighting not as just any other profession, but rather as individuals who are high performance athletes and who need constant maintenance of their minds and bodies to be able to handle the stress and rigors of the job.     

              The Denver program has a variety of services available to department members.  They can choose to see one of dozens of therapists who have agreed to work with first responders and have taken the time to ride along in order to understand the toll of the job on one’s mind and body (a couple are even former first responders).  They can see wellness and performance coaches who help them with making healthy choices and give them tips on how to keep their minds engaged.  They use nutritionists to make sure they are eating right and their bodies are fueled appropriately.  Denver even hired two full time physical therapists to work with both injured and non-injured members to ensure they stay fit and healthy.  The coolest part is the medical care; they are using orthopedists that specialize in caring for professional athletes to provide care to injured members.  These specialists have greatly increased the speed in which injured members are imaged and receive procedures, thus they are back on the job faster. 

Another great feature is that the program isn’t just for department members; their significant others and families participate as well.  They are part of a message group, have separate meetings with clinicians, do group events such as fund raisers and exercise classes, and are a part of all department sponsored functions.   The idea to include families came a department funeral where the Chief asked the wives to sit with their husbands.  Instead of a sea of blue with the significant others excluded to the back of the church, they were together, this proved to be a huge success with many saying they felt a part of the family and wanting to be more involved.  The DFD estimates that for every dollar they have spent on the program, they have saved three dollars in what they would have lost on the various leave types for employees. They also have seen a 42% reduction in annual workman’s comp costs.

              Learning about this program made me think to my time working on the streets.  As we look at Part 2 of this series, please comment on your experiences in your careers and whether a program like the one described above would help you or your departments.  Let us know what steps you are taking to improve wellness and what needs to change.  Next week we will talk about some of the concepts you recommend and will present some of the recommendations from the NFFF meeting and workshops. 

Great Chinatown Conflagration - January 20, 1900

(Picture courtesy of the Hawaii State Archives)


Early 1900 was a tumultuous time in the Pacific. An outbreak of bubonic plague had begun to spread throughout the Chinese inhabitants on the island of Honolulu in Hawaii. In an effort to prevent further spread of the disease, the Board of Health established a quarantine station in Kaka'ako and set 41 controlled fires to clean and disinfect the areas affected by the plague.


On January 20, 1900, while one of these controlled burns was taking place at Bertania between Nu'uanu and the Kaumakapili Church, unexpected winds blew the fire onto the roof of the church. Firemen were quickly overwhelmed as the flames spread all the way to the waterfront. The conflagration lasted for 17 days. In the end, more than 4,000 homes and 38 acres of property were destroyed.


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.

National Fire Data System survey

Do you manage fire data efforts for your organization? We’d like to learn more about how you use data, the tools you use, and what resources you need. Please take a few minutes to complete this survey by Friday the 20th.


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 resource for data to support a broad range of fire department decision making.


The ultimate goal of NFDS is to create a flexible, scalable, and usable data exchange platform that captures fire department activities beyond simply documenting incidents to improve overall how data is collected and used in local communities.


The current grant funding is designed to establish the groundwork for the NFDS, and develop the underlying data system and application requirements. This survey is an important and valuable first step in understanding the current state of data collection among fire service members, and we hope you will take the time to provide your thoughts! 

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