This week I had a coworker ask me about whether or not they could have hay bales on display as part of a fall holiday event they were planning. Working at NFPA makes me very thankful that we have staff who are careful and aware enough to ask us these questions and want to make sure we hold events that ensure employee safety and are fire safe! The risk becomes when groups are unaware that their festive event has not been evaluated by a fire code official and they are unaware of the risks they have created for occupants. Fortunately, we have requirements in NFPA 1 to address their question.
This time of the year always brings up enforcement issues that face fire inspectors and they should be aware of how they are addressed in the Fire Code. Fall festivals, haunted houses, and holiday events often utilize large quantities of decorations, scenery or combustible materials and may alter occupants egress or their awareness of their surroundings with the additions of special effects and lighting. NFPA 1 contains requirements that address these seasonal events and aid fire inspectors in evaluating requests and performing their inspections.
Hay bales are a form of combustible vegetation. Combustible vegetation can include a variety of items, such as hay bales, corn stalks, limbs, leaves, Christmas trees and other decorative materials based on the particular season or holiday. These items, by their nature, are initially fire retardant. The problem arises when they have been cut and packaged without access to water for extended periods of time.
Section 10.13 of NFPA 1 addresses requirements for combustible vegetation, both natural and artificial. In any occupancy, limited quantities of combustible vegetation shall be permitted where the AHJ determines that adequate safeguards are provided based on the quantity and nature of the combustible vegetation. Adequate safeguards might include, but are not limited to, the presence of sprinkler protection and other fire protection systems , limited quantities, moisture content, and placement of the vegetation (hay bales in our case.) This requirement relies heavily on the judgement of the local AHJ. It is their role to evaluate each event individually taking into consideration the hazards present, the requested quantities of combustibles, their proposed location, use and most importantly the fire protective measures in place. Each AHJ will use their judgement to determine a safe arrangement and use of the materials. Other requirements addressed in this sections are as follows:
- The hay bales cannot obstruct corridors, exits or other parts of the means of egress.
- Open flames such as from candles, lanterns, kerosene heaters, and gas-fired heaters must not be located on or near the hay bales.
- Hay bales shall not be located near heating vents or other fixed or portable heating devices that could cause it to be ignited.
The requirements are not only applicable to the fall and holiday season but should be applied year round, indoors and outdoors, to ensure the safe use of combustible vegetation at all events and activities.
What types of issues have you seen arise with seasonal events?
Thanks for reading this week, stay safe!