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industrial hazards, chemical plant fire, texas, hurricane harvey

Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the coast of Texas on August 25, its devastating impact has been felt across dozens of towns, cities and nearby states in a number of ways, many of which have played out for the past several days on whatever device you use to obtain your news. The latest challenge being several fires that occurred at the Arkema chemical plant in the town of Crosby about 30 miles away from Houston.

 

Houston and the surrounding area is home to a vast array of chemical and petroleum plants and associated pipelines like Arkema, which means an impact of a different and challenging nature when the integrity of such facilities is compromised. As a result of the loss of power throughout the area, Arkema experienced fires involving stored chemicals used in their chemical process. These fires and related hazards (such as exposure to combustion byproducts released to the area) while serious, posed far less consequence overall because of the planning and preparedness steps that were in place well before such an emergency as the hurricane and attendant flooding and loss of power.

 

NFPA codes and standards contribute to that preparedness and planning and protect emergency responders during such challenges. For example, NFPA 400: Hazardous Materials Code provides safeguards to be followed when storing, handling and using hazardous chemicals including the organic peroxides at the Houston plant. Hazardous chemicals are often evaluated based on one of three hazardous conditions or characteristics – flammability, instability and health. These particular organic peroxides become unstable when their temperature is not managed through refrigerated storage. Because this facility conducted hazard assessments and implemented various safeguards called for by the codes, they have been better able to cope with this unique condition caused when they could no longer maintain the required refrigeration for the chemicals and fires that started due to the self-heating reaction. The emergency response system and the community effectively responded to the incident because of that prior planning and the information that was shared by the facility with the emergency responders and the community preparedness network. NFPA 400 calls for this type of planning and fire risk control.

 

Emergency response personnel are also prepared for active response to hazardous materials incidents through training and competency specifications contained in NFPA 472: Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents. With unstable materials the training and competencies ensure that there is a clear understanding of the hazards, which leads to proper decision making when a response is considered. In this case, through the information shared by the facility and the understanding that came with the specialized training of the emergency responders, coupled with the flooding that restricted fire department access, the decision was to order an evacuation of residents in advance of the fires and not attempt to fight these fires once they ignited.

 

In the aftermath of this horrible natural disaster, those involved with emergency planning and preparedness will be able to use this incident as a case study for many things going right in the face of challenging conditions. It should highlight the importance of these steps for the emergency response network – the responders, the facility owner/operators, and the public.

 

An event like the chemical plant fire in Crosby can raise questions for residents living near similar chemical or industrial plants in areas across the country. If you are or someone you know is looking for information, the local Emergency Planning Committee can provide information about the hazardous materials that may be stored at that location. During emergency events like Harvey, it’s important that residents monitor local media for updates, listen for evacuation orders and comply with them as quickly as possible.

 

For more information to help prepare you and your family for an emergency involving hazardous materials, visit NFPA’s “Get Ready! Preparing Your Community for a Disaster” webpage, which provides an informative Hazardous Materials Fact Sheet available in English and in Spanish. It’s free and easy to download and a great resource to share with friends, neighbors and family, and members of your community. The Get Ready! Toolkit also includes tools, tips and resources for first responders to help their communities prepare for other possible future disaster events.

 

NOTE: Ken Willette, NFPA’s segment director for first responders, contributed to this piece.

 

Photo: Reuters

This past Monday I returned to work after being on maternity leave for 3 months.  It was an exciting time at home with my family.  Preparing to come back to work this week brought back memories of being a kid and preparing to go back to school after a long summer vacation. Some students have already returned to school for a new year, others will start after the long holiday weekend.  Students may not think of the fire safety requirements that impact their return to school or how the Fire Code plays a critical role in helping ensure our students and schools stay fire safe throughout the year. Those requirements for operating features in schools which impact students on a daily basis, are as follows:

 

 

Emergency Action Plan

Emergency action plans are required for educational occupancies.  Emergency action plans must contain information such as procedures for reporting of emergencies, occupant and staff response to emergencies, evacuation, relocation and shelter-in-place procedures appropriate to the building, its occupancy, emergencies, and hazards, appropriateness of the use of elevators, design and conduct of fire drills. See 10.8 for additional information.

 

Emergency Egress Drills

Upon returning to school, students will participate in emergency egress drills.  The purpose of emergency egress and relocation drills is to educate the students in the fire safety features of the school, the egress facilities available, and the procedures to be followed. Section 10.5 of NFPA 1 requires drills be conducted as specified by the provisions of Chapter 20 of NFPA 1 or Chapter 11 through Chapter 42 of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.  Additional details applicable to all drills can be found in 10.5, if required.  For example, in educational occupancies, drills are required as follows:

   20.2.4.2.3 Emergency egress drills shall be conducted as follows:

   (1) Not less than one emergency egress drill shall be conducted every month the facility is in session, unless both of    the following criteria are met:

(a) In climates where the weather is severe, the monthly emergency egress drills shall be permitted to be deferred.

(b) The required number of emergency egress drills shall be conducted, and not less than four shall be conducted before the drills are deferred.

   (2) All occupants of the building shall participate in the drill.

   (3) One additional emergency egress drill, other than for educational occupancies that are open on a year-round basis,    shall be required within the first 30 days of operation. [101: 14.7.2.3; 101: 15.7.2.3]

 

The local AHJ may also require additional action and drills must always be designed in cooperation with the local authorities. In some cases, emergency egress training programs may be substituted for up to four of the required monthly drills (see Section 20.2.4.2.2).

 

Among the hustle and bustle of a new school year drills must not be overlooked.  While students might think they are familiar with their school, they must relearn the location of their new classroom and surroundings.  Local authorities play an important role in assisting and verifying educational facilities in their jurisdiction are aware and compliant with the regulations for conducting egress drills and the minimum provisions found in the Fire Code. More details about drills in schools can be found in this post.

 

Inspection of Exit Facilities

Principals, teachers, or staff have a required duty to inspect all exit facilities daily to ensure that all stairways, doors, and other exits are in proper condition, with extra surveillance in open plan buildings to ensure that exit paths are maintained clear of obstruction and are obvious.  While the provision permits staff to make such inspections, the inspection function is often better performed by maintenance personnel who have responsibility for, and intimate working knowledge of, the many building features and systems. Particular attention should be given to keeping all doors unlocked; keeping doors that serve to protect the safety of paths of egress closed and under no conditions blocked open, such as doors on stairway enclosures; keeping outside stairs and fire escape stairs free from all obstructions. (See 20.2.4.3)

 

More formally, door openings are required to be inspected in accordance with Section 7.2.1.15 of NFPA 101.  The requirements apply only to specific doors noted in 7.2.1.15, such as those with panic or fire exit hardware, be inspected and tested not less than annually.

 

Furnishings and Decorations

Educational occupancies regulate draperies and curtains, the storage of clothing and other personal items, and also artwork as follows:

  • Draperies, curtains, and other similar furnishings and decorations must meet the flame propagation performance criteria contained in Test Method 1 or Test Method 2, as appropriate, of NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. (See 20.2.4.4.1)
  • As clothing hung on hooks along corridor walls or on racks in school lobbies greatly increases the combustible load and will generally allow flame to spread quickly, it cannot be stored in corridors unless meeting one of the allowable conditions (control of fire by sprinklers, early warning of incipient-stage fire via smoke detection, or isolation of fuel packages by locating the clothing in metal lockers.)  (See 20.2.4.4.2)
  • Artwork and other teaching materials are permitted to be attached directly to the walls as long as it does not exceed 20 percent of the wall area in a nonsprinklered building and 50 perfect in a fully sprinklered building. Because the combustibility of the artwork cannot be effectively controlled, the quantity, in terms of the percentage of wall area covered, is regulated to avoid creating a continuous combustible surface that will spread flame across the room. (See 20.2.4.4.3)

 

Don't forget to check out NFPA's additional resources for school safety.  And for additional information on NFPA 1 you can view the Code free of charge.

 

Happy Friday, thanks for reading! Stay safe!

campus fire safety, fire safety abroad, student fire safety

September is Campus Fire Safety Month and this year NFPA and The Center for Campus Fire Safety (The Center) are teaming up to host their third national “Campus Fire Safety for Students” campaign. The campaign raises awareness about the dangers of fires among college-aged students who live in on- and off-campus college housing.

 

According to NFPA’s latest report, “Structure Fires in Dormitories, Fraternities, Sororities and Barracks,” between 2011 and 2015, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 4,100 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and other related properties. Approximately seven in 10 (72%) fires in these properties began in the kitchen or cooking area, accounting for 44% of civilian injuries and 14% of direct property damage. The report also states that fires are more common between the hours of 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. and on weekends; September and October are the peak months for fires in dormitories.

 

To help address this issue, the campaign provides a host of resources for students, parents and fire safety educators that focus on reducing fire risk in college housing, including video tips and checklists made by students for students. Each week on our Safety Source blog, we’ll share these resources plus a host of other tips and information you can share via social media, on college websites and in campus newspapers, for posting in dorms and on common area bulletin boards, and many other places.

 

Learn more about campaign at www.nfpa.org/campus and www.campusfiresafety.org.

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