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Ninety years ago, 14 men lost their lives and 11 people were injured when a large fire and explosion occurred at an oil refinery located in Everett, Massachusetts.

 

 

From the NFPA Quarterly, v.21, no.4, 1928

 

At 3:03 P.M. on February 10, 1928, a vaporizer exploded, showering burning oil upon all employees in the vicinity. A portion of the vaporizer was thrown 120 ft., landing on two men. The shower of burning oil was responsible for the fourteen deaths and eleven serious injuries. Great heroism was shown by other employees in rescuing those enveloped in flaming oil. It is reported that men who wore heavy winter clothing suffered less seriously than those lightly clad…Public and private fire alarms were given, the private fire brigade assembled and soon foam streams from the foam fire pump and portable foam generators, as well as streams from private hydrants, were in service… Meanwhile the public fire department arrived and immediately a third alarm was sent in which summoned four pumpers with two others from Chelsea and two from Boston, although the latter were not used. This equipment used nine hose streams, principally for cooling purposes on exposed apparatus.

 

 

At the time of the fire, the property damage was estimated to be about $172,000.


 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.

 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.


Photo: Milo Ventimiglia via Twitter

 

In January, the hit NBC drama series "This Is Us" aired the first in a string of episodes that highlighted critical fire safety messages such as the importance of replacing smoke alarm batteries. The show, which is watched by upwards of 10 million people, managed to spark a nationwide conversation about fire safety. 

 

As a recognized leader in fire safety, NFPA found itself at the center of the discussion, posting about the show on NFPA Xchange and social media. Since it's not every day that NFPA has an opportunity to weigh in on the goings-on around Hollywood, NFPA Journal decided to feature an article about "This Is Us" and the fire safety conversation it created in the Dispatches section of its upcoming March/April issue. 

 

Cultural coverage has been an important part of NFPA Journal's effort to grow Dispatches—the front section of the magazine featuring short, news-centric articles—over the last year or so. Anytime I or other Journal staff members have come across a book or movie or TV show that intersects with the world of fire and life safety, we've made note of it as a potential Dispatches opportunity. We've run stories on a wildfire movie starring Josh Brolina book about arson fueled by a troubled romance, and even a documentary film about the Titanic.

 

Read the article on "This Is Us" here, and make sure to look for the latest issue of NFPA Journal, which will be available online and in print next month.

 

Last week NFPA introduced EFFECT™ (the Exterior Facade Fire Evaluation Comparison Tool) to help building owners and managers assess risk in their properties, and stem the tide of fires in high-rise structures with combustible cladding. Now, coming on the heels of that release, we see yet another harrowing example of a building with combustible exterior wall panels going up in flames in Malaysia.

 

At NFPA, we spend a lot of time peeling away layers so that we can better understand fires and the related hazards that often lead to loss of people and property. After 120 years, we know that when it comes to big fire events, it’s never just one thing that goes wrong. It’s often more than one factor so you have to look at fire and life safety more holistically – and you need a variety of stakeholders supporting and advocating for a solid safety infrastructure. We call this the fire protection and prevention ecosystem.

 

Epic blazes running up the sides of skyscrapers in cities from Dubai, to Shanghai, to Atlantic City, to Melbourne, were vivid examples of breakdowns in this ecosystem where the proper use and application of referenced codes were lacking. Then the world watched in horror as a similar fire ripped through the Grenfell Towers in West London, killing 71 last June.

 

In response to all of these, NFPA created a risk-based tool to help building owners, facility managers and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) evaluate their inventory of potential at-risk buildings from the convenience of their desktop.

 

Assessing risk is not easy work, but it is necessary. EFFECT™ helps time-crunched property managers and enforcers proactively assess the entire building – taking into account the facade, the building itself, fire protection systems and features, egress design, communications and notification systems, and any exterior ignition sources.

 

When the investigative commission in London releases their findings on Grenfell, the topic of fire safety will once again be thrust into the spotlight in a big way – and rightly so. In the meantime, governments have mandated risk assessment of buildings; communities have created cladding tasks groups; and building owners and registered design professionals are being held more accountable for the safety of exterior wall systems.

 

This is a great start, but we need more proactive measures to promote the full fire protection and prevention ecosystem. This means maintaining an effective policy and regulatory environment supporting fire and life safety; using the latest codes and standards; choosing safety over cost-cutting; applying the referenced standards within a code; promoting the development of skilled professionals who can apply the code; supporting effective code enforcement; educating the public and policymakers about the dangers posed by fire and other hazards; and providing effective response capabilities.

 

Without adherence to every piece of the system, we are destined to stall or reverse the reductions in fire loss that we have achieved by these very practices.

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