ABC News photo
When you work at NFPA, you are struck by fire trends that would escape the average person who works in pharmaceuticals, banking, business or a tech start-up. A recent news story reminded me of that, and made me wonder, “Why do we continue to see the same fire challenges over and over again?”
On Thursday morning, there was a devastating fire at a fireworks factory just outside of Jakarta, Indonesia. Sparks from a welding job ignited fireworks and a horrific blaze broke out. At least 47 were killed and dozens more were injured. Some experienced burns over 80% of their body. The death toll is expected to rise.
Workers were unable to escape, prompting residents and police to break down walls in an attempt to free trapped victims. The explosion is being regarded as one of Indonesia's worst industrial disasters on record.
This is not the first time I have read or written about firework factory fires in my two years at NFPA. Earlier this year, I reported on an explosion in a Northern Portugal fireworks factory that took the lives of six. My colleague, who manages international relationships for NFPA, also posted a blog about a blast in a densely populated fireworks marketplace in Tultepec, Mexico right before Christmas. At least 42 people were killed and dozens were injured in that explosion. There have been other catastrophic fires linked to firework factory explosions.
ABC News reports that the cause behind the recent fatal event at the Tangerang plant was welding. This is another persistent fire concern that has been on NFPA’s radar. NFPA 51B, the Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work offers provisions to prevent injury, loss of life, and loss of property during welding, heat treating, grinding, and similar applications producing or using sparks, flames, or heat.
NFPA has taken steps to inform audiences about hot work best practices and safety precautions, and has reported on several incidents recently. In August, welders working on a Virginia rooftop caused harm at a country club. NFPA has also been collaborating with Boston Fire and local labor leaders on a hot work safety program. This certificate program was created in the aftermath of a Back Bay fire that took the lives of two firefighters in March 2014. So far this year, more than 20,000 trade workers have taken this hot work training so that they can pull permits and work safely within Boston city limits.
NFPA 1124, the Code for the Manufacture, Transportation and Storage of Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles, establishes fire and life safety requirements for the manufacture, transportation, and storage of fireworks, pyrotechnic articles, and any components containing pyrotechnic or explosive compositions. It does not apply to the retail sales, associated storage or the use of consumer fireworks by the general public. NFPA 1123, Code for Fireworks Display addresses the professional use of fireworks including set up and outdoor fireworks operations.
According to the ABC news report, Jakarta police official Nico Afinta said Thursday’s fire in Indonesia could have been prevented if the factory owner had observed safety protocols. Sound familiar?