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NFPA's Senior Fire Investigator and New England Regional Director, Bob Duval provides code and arson perspective in a new podcast, produced by Lohud, a news division serving Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties in the Lower Hudson Valley region of New York. The media platform is part of the USA Today Network and is owned by the Gannett Company, Inc.

 

Duval spoke with Lohud's Crime Scene host Jordan Fenster about fire codes, and the history of standards being established after traumatic loss in a podcast called, "The Tragic History of Fire Codes". He touches on the difficulty that investigators have piecing together clues from the rubble; and how large loss fires in schools, hotels and factories have influenced some of the most important building and life safety codes of today. Duval takes the listener on a historic fire journey that led to the adoption of codes related to sprinklers, smoke alarms, exits, and fire escapes.

 

During the quick and engaging exchange, Duval explains that arson makes up a small percentage of fires but typically attracts media attention because it involves a crime and is more compelling. One such case was the 1980 Stouffer's Inn Conference Center fire in Harrison, New York that killed 26. Listen and learn more about the twists and turns of this case that prompted the adoption of a statewide building and fire code in New York.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month; and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) is doing their part to spread the word about the behavioral issues associated with the post traumatic shock disorder (PTSD) that firefighters often experience.

 

Behavioral health is a hot topic in the fire service today, and rightly so. Firefighters are perceived as big, burly, fearless warriors; but lately we are learning more about the hopelessness, shame, guilt or destructive thoughts that haunt many first responders. Stress, depression, anxiety and exhaustion are some of the risk factors the NVFC wants fire personnel to pay attention to, and address.

 

NVFC's Share the Load™ program highlights suicide, job burnout and recurrent issues in an effort to raise awareness and reduce mental health issues among firefighters. Additionally, news stories like this one from Minnesota spotlight psychological issues within the fire service so that the general public is aware of first responder trauma. Training within the industry, the community and the healthcare realm will go a long way in supporting firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. NVFC’s Share the Load™ program provides access to a helpline, newsletters, ads, reports, online courses, and resources.

 

NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program calls for access to a behavioral health program that provides assessment, counseling and treatment for stress, anxiety, and depression. The goal of behavioral health programs is to change the culture of the fire service, help people to identify the warning signs, eliminate any stigma associated with mental health issues and asking for help, and provide assistance with retirement planning.

For many, the month of May signals the home stretch of the school year.  However, this shouldn't be a time to overlook required safety practices in the event an emergency should occur.  Just this past Wednesday, a fire destroyed the Appleseed Academy school in Mesquite, Texas.  A cause of the fire has not been determined but it is being reported that the building is a total loss.  Fortunately, the building's fire alarm system notified the occupants and everyone was able to evacuate the building with no injuries.  The school's director did confirm that students and staff participate in drills monthly, and are capable of evacuating the building in about two minutes.

Image result for fire drill

 

Emergency egress and relocation drills are required as mandated specifically by a particular occupancy in Chapter 20 of NFPA 1, Fire Code or in Chapters 11 through 42 of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, or as deemed necessary by the local AHJ.  Requirements for drills are extracted from NFPA 101 but are located in Chapter 10 in NFPA 1 under General Safety Requirements.  Fire inspectors play an important role in regulating and managing drills in facilities throughout their jurisdiction, especially in schools.  Drills should always be designed and conducted in cooperation with the local authorities as the procedure and details of drills will vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction.  Factors such as occupant demographics and location may all impact the details of the drill. 

 

The purpose of emergency egress and relocation drills is to educate the participants in the fire safety features of the building, the egress facilities available, and the procedures to be followed. Speed in emptying buildings or relocating occupants, while desirable, is not the only objective. Prior to an evaluation of the performance of an emergency egress and relocation drill, an opportunity for instruction and practice should be provided. This educational opportunity should be presented in a nonthreatening manner, with consideration given to the prior knowledge, age, and ability of audience.

 

Additionally, NFPA 1 also contains the following provisions for drills:

  • Frequency: Drills are to be held at sufficient frequency so as to familiarize occupants with the drill procedure and to establish conduct of the drill as a matter of routine.  Means should be provided so that all persons subject to the drill are able to participate.
  • Orderly and organized:  Emphasis should be placed on drills being orderly rather than focusing on the speed of the evacuation.  When occupants are not organized and not aware of their responsibilities during the evacuation, drills can become inefficient and cluttered.  This only leads to evacuation taking more time.  Focusing on orderly evacuation will benefit all occupants by allowing a faster and more efficient evacuation to occur.
  • Simulated conditions: Drills must be held at both expected and unexpected times and under varying conditions.  As fire is always unexpected, if the drill is always held in the same way at the same time, it will lose its value and effectiveness.
  • Relocation Area: Drill participants must relocated to a predetermined location and remain at the location until a recall or dismissal signal is given.
  • Documentation: A written record of each drill is to be completed by the person responsible for conducting the drill and maintained in an approved manner. Included in the documentation should be information such as date, time, participants, location and results of the drill.

 

Both new and existing educational occupancies, such as those facilities like the Appleseed Academy elementary school, mandate the conduct of emergency egress drills via Section 20.2.4.2 in the Code.  They are required to comply with the provisions noted above from Section 10.5 as well as additional details from Section 20.2.4.2.  Other occupancies may also supplement additional provisions for drills in their facilities in addition to whats required by 10.5. Drills in educational occupancies are required at the following frequency:

  • Not less than one drill every month the school is in session (there are exemptions recognizing climates where weather is severe)
  • One additional drill (other than schools open on a year round basis) is required within the first 30 days of operation

 

Fortunately, all students and staff at the Appleseed school were safe, in part thanks to the effective and diligent conduct of drills.  Provisions from NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 can help ensure occupants well prepared for drills are also well prepared for emergencies. 

 

Thanks for reading, Happy Friday!

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