This week marked the third anniversary of the passing of two Boston firefighters in a fast-moving fire started by hot work in Boston's Back Bay. Lieutenant Edward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy died battling the blaze at a brownstone on Beacon Street; the cause of the fire was determined to have been started by welding in a nearby building.
The tragedy set into motion changes to Boston's Fire Code and prompted a requirement for trade workers to be trained in hot work safety in order to pull a work permit within city limits. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker also signed a bill in October 2016 establishing a special commission to study best practices for welding and hot work, and make recommendations for improvements statewide.
Not long after the March 2014 blaze, NFPA began working with the Boston Fire Department, City of Boston Inspectional Services and the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council on a plan to ensure that a tragedy like the Beacon Street fire never happens again. In June 2016, the Boston City Council passed an ordinance amending the Boston Fire Prevention Code stating that, effective January 1, 2017, all persons engaged in hot work operations must obtain a Hot Work Safety Certificate. To date, more than 13,000 workers in various construction industry jobs have already participated in the NFPA-designed hot work program.
U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 4,440 structure fires involving hot work per year. These fires cause an average of 12 civilian deaths, 208 civilian injuries and $287 million in direct property damage per year. In addition to causing two line of duty deaths and significant property loss in Boston, hot work triggered a neighborhood blaze in Kansas that consumed two apartment buildings and 17 abutting homes this month, and caused a bridge fire in Pittsburgh last fall that snarled traffic for months along a highly-traveled artery. Based on these events and other less-publicized incidents across the country, NFPA is planning an expansion of the hot work training program. NFPA also addresses hot work in NFPA 51B: Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work.
In the meantime in Boston, Hot Work Safety Certificate Program classes are being offered by local labor organizations. Members are encouraged to contact union administrators regarding training sessions. Unaffiliated construction industry professionals can register for a Hot Work Safety Certificate Program training class at NFPA's headquarters in Quincy.