It's been a busy week in fire news. Earlier this week an eight alarm fire, 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. This past Wednesday, March 22, about 20 minutes from NFPA, a seven alarm fire tore through an abandoned warehouse in Rockland, MA. The fire was contained to the warehouse but forced the evacuation of 20 nearby homes. Both fires highlight the importance of two requirements in NFPA 1, Fire Code; safeguards during construction and fires in vacant/abandoned buildings.
Another important issue and often a contributor to these fires, is smoking. According to NFPA's report. "The Smoking-Material Fire Problem" published in July 2013:
- There were an estimated 90,000 smoking-material fires in the United States in 2011. These fires caused 540 civilian deaths, 1,640 civilian injuries and $621 million in direct property damage.
- One out of four fatal victims of smoking-material fires is not the smoker whose cigarette started the fire.
- Most deaths result from fires that started in bedrooms (40%), or in living rooms, family rooms or dens (35%).
- Nearly half (46%) fatal home smoking-material fire victims were age 65 or older.
Home structure fires dominated all these measures of fire loss in 2011 except for fire incidents. In 2011, an estimated 17,600 smoking-material home structure fires caused 490 civilian deaths (19% of all home structure fire deaths), 1,370 civilian injuries and $516 million in direct property damage. The other 72,400 smoking-material fires in 2011 were mostly outdoor fires (60,200 fires in trash, vegetation and other outdoor combustibles).
It is clear that smoking materials are still a major part of the problem in the United States. For the purposes of NFPA 1, Fire Code, smoking is defined as carrying lighted pipes, cigars, cigarettes, tobacco, or any other lighted type of smoking substance through an area. People might mistakenly believe that they actually have to be smoking a tobacco product in order to violate the non-smoking designation. Certain areas are often designated as non-smoking areas because of the presence of combustible materials or the possible presence of flammable vapors or gas. Carrying lighted tobacco products through, or depositing them in, non-smoking areas can be as dangerous as actually using the products in proximity to such materials, vapors, or gases.
NFPA 1 addresses provisions for smoking in Section 10.9 of the Code. Both fire code officials as well as building owners/staff play an important role in making sure that smoking is controlled and regulated at a building site. Where smoking is considered a fire hazard, the AHJ is authorized to order the owner in writing to post "No Smoking" signs in conspicuous, desigated, locations where smoking is prohibited. The “No Smoking” sign should be large enough to be readily seen, and either the sign or the lettering on the sign should be of a color that contrasts with the background of the location where it is posted. The sign text also needs to be in languages appropriate for the building occupants. In areas where smoking is permitted, noncombustible ashtrays must be provided to reduce the likelihood of the careless disposal of smoking materials igniting combustible materials in the area.
Finally, the removal or destruction of any required "No Smoking" sign is prohibited. AHJs will be looking for appropriate signage when performing inspections. Building owners and/or staff should be aware of the signage location and make sure that signage is being maintained. Smoking or depositing any lighted or smoldering substance in a place where required "No Smoking" signs are posted is prohibited.
Are designated smoking areas hard to control in your building? How have you as the AHJ or building owner had to address code violations related to smoking? Have you had a fire occur from smoking materials?
Happy Friday! Stay safe!