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photo credit to Kctv5

 

Three major fires this year have cast a spotlight on fires in apartments under construction and a need for the safety measures defined in codes and standards like NFPA 241: Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations which is referenced in both NFPA 1: Fire Code and the International Fire Code.

 

In early February, fire ripped through an upscale apartment complex under construction in Maplewood, New Jersey. Over 120 firefighters fought the blaze that destroyed roughly two-thirds of the 235-unit complex. Last week, Raleigh, North Carolina experienced their biggest fire in the downtown area in nearly a century, when fire quickly consumed a five-story apartment building and damaged nine buildings in total. Then yesterday, an eight alarm inferno, fueled by high winds and dry conditions, devastated a neighborhood in Overland Park, Kansas. The fast-moving fire destroyed one four-story apartment building, damaged another and sparked additional fires at 17 single-family residences nearby.

 

The common thread for these fires? Each took place in wood-framed apartment complexes that were under construction. Without passive fire protection measures like sheetrock and other finishes installed yet, flames quickly spread to exposed lumber and plywood causing extensive damage to the apartment buildings and abutting structures.

In Raleigh, news outlets reported that the 240-unit Metropolitan apartment complex had been inspected nearly 50 times, with the most recent visit occurring just three days before Thursday’s fire. So what were inspectors using as a guidepost? The building plan? Or the building’s overall fire safety program, as required in NFPA 241?

 

Organizations like the American Wood Council have proactively emphasized the importance of building and life safety codes during construction, as wood-clad design and sustainable products grow in popularity. NFPA 241, in particular, ensures that fire safety standards are maintained throughout the building process. It requires building owners to create an overall construction fire safety program and designate a fire prevention manager to oversee all fire-prevention efforts during construction. Key considerations of NFPA 241 include:

  • The development of a program that includes on-site security, fire protection systems, organization and training of a fire brigade, and the establishment of a pre-fire plan with the local fire department.
  • The owner is required to appoint a person who is responsible for the fire prevention program and ensure that it is carried out to completion. This individual will have knowledge of the applicable fire protection standards, available fire protection systems, and fire inspection procedures. Where guard service is provided, the fire prevention program manager will be responsible for that guard service. The role entails many other responsibilities including weekly self-inspections and records management, adequate provision of fire protection devices and maintenance of such equipment, proper training in the use of fire protection equipment and the supervision of the permit system.

 

These recent incidents demonstrate that the threat of fire is real on construction sites and when jobs feature combustible construction. The current issue of NFPA Journal® looks at these two factors in the article, Burned Again about real estate developer Avalon Bay, owners of the New Jersey complex that burned earlier this year and two other communities that have experienced large fires since 2000.

 

An NFPA research report shows that U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 830 fires in multi-unit residential properties under construction. These fires caused an estimated average of 12 civilian injuries, 70 firefighter injuries, and $56 million in direct property damage per year.

Three members of NFPA’s executive leadership team, NFPA’s Middle East liaison and the Research Director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation (Foundation) are meeting in the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait this week to discuss global innovation, stakeholder needs and the ways that NFPA is collaborating with authorities and business representatives throughout the Persian Gulf.


NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley, vice president for Field Operations Don Bliss, vice president and chief engineer Chris Dubay, Amanda Kimball of the Foundation and Middle East representative Drew Azzara are meeting with members of a newly established Middle East Advisory Committee in Abu Dhabi this week. The Middle East Advisory Committee is made up of regionally-based AHJs, engineering firms, fire organizations, Civil Defence leaders, real estate holding companies, petrochemical organizations, NFPA instructors, and testing labs. The mission of the advisory group and the focus of discussion this week is addressing Middle East fire challenges, as well as potential life safety issues related to energy storage, performance-based design, and large-scale industrial facilities.


Prior to convening the advisory committee in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, NFPA representatives are meeting with Civil Defence leaders in Oman and Kuwait to discuss ways that NFPA can further support their fire safety initiatives. NFPA executives will also tour the UAE Civil Defence Academy. Much of the training at the UAE CD Academy is based on NFPA standards for building and life safety, as well as firefighter professional qualifications and operations.


Kimball is in Dubai this week to attend the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) Middle East Conference. A member of the SFPE Board, she will present a program at the conference on Research in Fire Protection Engineering and its impact on codes and standards. She will also co-host a Women in Fire Safety Meet and Greet Reception, sponsored by NFPA and Tyco. Both organizations are ardent supporters of STEM and women in engineering advocacy efforts.

 

NFPA has been working with government agencies, fire protection organizations and corporations in the Middle East for more than two decades to share code insight and best practices, with an emphasis on life safety and fire protection systems. Numerous NFPA codes and standards have been incorporated into building and fire codes throughout the Gulf region.

We're not even a fourth of the way through 2017, and the United States has already seen a series of devastating wildfires. The incidents stress the importance of wildfire preparedness, which among local fire departments is lacking, according to a recent NFPA report. I wrote about the report in "Not Ready for Prime Time," an article in the current issue of NFPA Journal

 

The report, "Wildland/Urban Interface: Fire Department Wildfire Preparedness and Readiness Capabilities," found deficiencies in firefighter safety, training, and equipment related to wildland firefighting. Forty-six senior fire officials from departments across the country were interviewed for the report, and some of their quotes are included in my article. "[Wildfire] training is sorely needed," said one fire official from Nevada. Another from Florida spoke of the need to improve respiratory protection for firefighters engaged in wildland firefighting.  

 

The full report, which was released in January, can be downloaded from NFPA's wildland fire reports and statistics page

 

Earlier this month, seven people died in wildfires that swept across Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, torching over a million acres of land, killing cattle, and crippling ranchers' livelihood. At the same time, brush fires challenged firefighters in Florida, and just this weekend, hundreds were evacuated from their homes as a wildfire spread through Colorado

NFPA's latest report on Home Structure Fires that Began with Upholstered Furniture states that upholstered furniture has long been the leading item first ignited in terms of home fire deaths. Upholstered furniture was the item first ignited in an average of 5,630 reported home structure fires each year and caused an estimated annual average of 440 civilian deaths, 700 civilian injuries, and $269 million in direct property damage. On average, one in 13 reported upholstered furniture fires resulted in death. Overall, fires beginning with upholstered furniture accounted for 18% of home fire deaths.

 

Did you know?

Candles, matches and lighters were involved in 20% of the fires and 12% of the deaths.

 

Click on the link above to download the report. You will find valuable information including:

  • Civilian fire death trends by year
  • Leading causes of these fires and civilian deaths
  • Extent of fire spread
  • What equipment was involved in ignition
  • And more!

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