Earlier this week it was revealed that a deadly fire at Trump Tower in Manhattan in early April was an accident and the cause of the fire was declared to be “multiple overloaded power strips”. Reports also found that there were no working smoke alarms in the apartment where the fire began. Even a well-known landmark building can’t escape basic fire safety practices. There is also information circulating about sprinklers in the building, retrofitting, etc. but in this post I will focus on the cause of the fire and its connection to the Fire Code.
A common code violation with regards to electrical safety provisions in NFPA 1, Fire Code, relates to power strips (referred to as power taps in the Code.) Section 11.1 of NFPA 1 provides provisions for basic electrical safety. Topics addressed in this section include relocatable power taps, mutiplug adapters, extension cords, temporary installations and building disconnect. The approval of new electrical installations or approval of modifications to an existing electrical system is a function typically performed by an electrical inspector or other building code enforcement official using the requirements of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®.
In many cases, prior to a building or other facility being constructed or occupied, fire marshals or fire inspectors perform periodic inspections to ensure that the safety systems and features of the premises are in place, are in proper working order, and have not been compromised or adversely modified. However, like other provisions applicable in residences (for example: prohibition to store grills on a balcony) basic electrical safety requirements can be difficult to enforce. Education and awareness is important for consumers to understand the impact of their actions. NFPA 1 can provide basic guidance to fire inspectors to assist with identifying proper and safe electrical installations.
With regards to relocatable power taps (power strips), Section 11.1.4 of NFPA 1 states the following:
- Relocatable power taps shall be listed to UL 1363, Standard for Relocatable Power Taps, or UL 1363A, Outline of Investigation for Special Purpose Relocatable Power Taps, where applicable. (184.108.40.206). **New to 2018, UL 1363 and UL 1363A were added as specific listing standards for relocatable power taps.**
- The relocatable power taps shall be directly connected to a permanently installed receptacle. (220.127.116.11)
- Relocatable power tap cords shall not extend through walls, ceilings, or floors; under doors or floor coverings; or be subject to environmental or physical damage. (18.104.22.168)
Power strips are commonly used for computers, printers, and other electronics at workstations, offices, and dormitories, residences, where additional electrical power receptacles are needed. During inspections, power taps that are plugged into other power taps (daisy-chained) should be removed, because such arrangement is prohibited. Relocatable power taps are for temporary use and should not take the place of permanently installed receptacles. In addition, power strips should not be connected to extension cords to extend their reach. Ideally, where extension cords are used for other than temporary purposes, additional permanent receptacles should be installed to accommodate the power strips.
Understanding basic electrical safety practices can be instrumental in preventing fires in residences, hotels, dormitories and offices, among other locations. For additional information, check out NFPA's resources on electrical safety.
Thanks for reading, stay safe!
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