NFPA 1: Fire Code considerations when managing the new trend of dockless, electric scooters in cities, #firecodefridays

Blog Post created by kristinbigda Employee on Nov 9, 2018

Earlier this week I was in San Antonio, Texas to present at the Center for Campus Fire Safety’s Campus Fire Safety Forum about NFPA’s new standard, NFPA 3000, and its impact on the college and university community.

During my brief stay in the city, I couldn’t help but notice that there were electric scooters everywhere, randomly scattered throughout the city blocks and the many residents and tourists using them. This was the first time I had seen them in action. A quick google search showed that companies have brought these scooters to cities large and small throughout the United States, even in Quincy, MA, the location of NFPA Headquarters.

I had so many questions: Where are they permitted? Do they drive on the street or the sidewalk? Do they provide information to riders to not block fire lanes, fire hydrants, and building’s exit discharge routes? How do they charge?

The main business model of the companies bringing these scooters to cities is all app-based. Users create a profile with the company’s app and have access to the location of the scooters around cities. The app and a barcode will unlock the scooter and provide access, and same for drop off. There are no specific pick up or drop off locations, riders can zip around and pick up scooters and drop them off pretty much anywhere. At the end of the day, those that have been contracted by the company are paid by the scooter to pick up scooters that need charging, charge them at their residence, and return them throughout the city the next morning. From a technology and business perspective, this model is captivating to me. From a fire safety perspective, there a few considerations to make sure all those involved stay safe:

  • Charging the scooters. People who have signed up to “juice” the scooters, as one company refers to it, purchase chargers for the scooters and then get paid to charge them overnight. As people try to maximize profit, it could result in unsafe electrical practices. NFPA 1, Section 11.1 addresses electrical safety.
    • Relocatable power taps might be used to add extra capacity to the receptacle, however, they must be connected directly to a permanently installed receptacle. “Daisy-chaining” the power taps is not permitted, and should not be done to plug in multiple scooters.
    • Extension cords must also be plugged directly into an approved receptacle, power tap or multiplug adapter and can only serve one portable appliance.
  • Fire Department Access. This past fall, Baltimore, MD made the news for construction of a new bike lane network which was argued by the fire department to make some streets too narrow for fire apparatus access. The City Council voted to repeal a portion of the city’s fire code and replaced it with more flexible guidelines for street clearances. My understanding is, in San Antonio, scooters can be used on the sidewalk or the street, whatever is deemed to be safest by the scooter rider. Like bicycles use, what additional considerations are needed in cities to accommodate scooters? Could their use impede fire department access?
    • NFPA 1, Section 18.2 addresses fire department access. It requires fire department access roads be provided for every facility, building, or portion of a building constructed or relocated. The required width and clearance of the access cannot be obstructed in any way, including the parking of vehicles. It would be a good practices for scooter riders to be aware of fire department access and not drop off scooters in fire lanes and other access areas.
  • Means of Egress. An occupant’s means of egress from a building includes exit access travel, the exit and then the exit discharge. Exit discharge takes occupants from their exit to the public way (usually outside the building.) Scooters may be piling up near building’s exterior doors or in a path of exit discharge unknown to the rider.
    • NFPA 1, Section 14.4.1 requires means of egress be continuously maintained free of all obstructions or impediments to full instant use in the case of fire or other emergency.
  • Batteries. Just a couple weeks ago, one scooter manufacturer announced they had to remove 2,000 scooters from their fleet in Los Angeles due to the threat of the batteries catching fire. Lithium-ion battery fires are something that many industries continue to address and the electric scooters are no different. Lithium-ion battery fires are unique and cannot and should not be extinguished by an untrained consumer. They can cause problems for fire fighters as well. Chapter 52 of NFPA 1 is constantly evolving to address larger type energy storage systems and the storage of batteries.

Is the risk of fires and impaired fire safety with electric scooters all that high? Not terribly, but there is a risk. Are their practices that must be considered in order to operate a safe business for riders, chargers, AHJs and city officials so that fire safety does not become even greater of a risk? Absolutely.

Does your city have dockless, electric scooters? How is your jurisdiction managing them? Have you seen any issues that have impacted fire safety such as fire department access?

Thank you for reading, stay safe!

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