The winter is upon us. A major seasonal fire safety issue that impacts those of us in cold weather environments is the use of heating appliances, both in residential and non-residential type applications. The cold winter weather means a more frequent use of portable electric heaters (space heaters) and other heating equipment. Fire inspectors need to be aware of installation requirements, referenced standards applicable to these appliances and safe practices to help ensure fires caused by heating devices are kept to a minimum and buildings and occupants are protected.
NFPA 1 addresses heating appliances in Section 11.5. It primarily addresses the installation of liquid fuel-burning appliances as well as the accessories and control systems and the liquid fuel storage and supply systems related to these appliances, which includes industrial, commercial and residential type steam, hot water or warm air heating appliances. Portable electric heaters (space heaters) are covered in Section 11.5.3. Heat producing appliances such as clothes dryers, kerosene burners and oil stoves are also addressed.
The installation of most stationary liquid fuel-burning appliances must comply with NFPA 1 as well as NFPA 31, Standard for the Installation of Oil-Burning Equipment. NFPA 31 is a standard for the safe, efficient design and installation of heating appliances that use a liquid fuel, typically No. 2 heating oil, but also lighter fuels, such as kerosene and diesel fuel, and heavier fuels, such as No. 4 fuel oil. NFPA 31 applies to the installation of these systems in residential, commercial, and industrial occupancies.
The installation of gas-fired heating appliances must comply with NFPA 1 and NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code. The use of unvented, fuel-fired heaters is prohibited by NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 in numerous occupancies, unless they are approved units that comply with NFPA 54. The remainder of this Code section is extracted directly from the source document, NFA 31, and addresses acceptable liquid fuels permitted for these types of fuel burning appliances.
Other miscellaneous type heat producing appliances are also addressed here so it’s important as a user of the Code to review in its entirely all of Section 11.5 to not miss out on critical safety requirements:
Clothes dryers (Section 184.108.40.206) shall be cleaned to maintain the lint trap and keep the mechanical and heating components free from excessive accumulations of lint. This is application to commercial type applications but is also good practice for residents in their individual dwelling units (not enforceable by NFPA 1).
Kerosene burners and oil stoves (Section 11.5.2). Kerosene heaters must be listed and provided with appropriate safeguards. Kerosene stoves are self-contained, self-supporting, kerosene-burning ranges, room heaters, or water heaters not connected to chimneys but equipped with integral fuel supply tanks with a maximum capacity of 2 gal (7.6 L). Because these heaters are not connected to chimneys, they can be moved rather easily, although they generally are not considered portable. Each year, many serious fires result from the improper use of these heaters. Because of their mobility, these stoves pose a hazard when placed near combustible materials or where they can block a means of egress.
Portable Electric Heaters (Section 11.5.3). These devices are used in many locations, including a common used under desks in offices. Although placing a heater under a desk or table lessens the chance of the heater being easily overturned, the heater also can easily be forgotten. A heater that is left on for an extended time can overheat combustible materials that might also be stored under the desk or table. Managers of facilities that allow the use of electric space heaters should be instructed to remind employees to shut them off at the end of the day and keep combustible material away from the heater. In addition, because of the amount of electric current drawn by space heaters, electric heaters should be used only where they can be plugged directly into appropriate receptacles or extension cords of adequate current capacity. (See 11.1.5 for requirements addressing extension cords.) The AHJ is permitted to prohibit the use of space heaters where an undue danger to life or property exists. The AHJ can use past inspection findings, such as portable heaters that were left turned on and unattended, fire incidents, and other reasons to prohibit the use of such heaters.
(And finally, we are merely days away from Christmas, and all of us, regardless of our role in the application of NFPA 1, should make sure that our chimneys are in good working condition for the arrival of the big guy. Section 11.5.4 requires all chimneys and similar devices be installed and maintained in accordance with NFPA 54 and NFPA 211. NFPA 211 contains many detailed requirements on the design, installation, and maintenance of chimneys, fireplaces, venting systems and solid fuel-burning appliances. But as a reminder, chimneys, fire places, and vents must be inspected at least once a year, and cleaned as necessary so as to not impair the structural or thermal performance. Compliance with NFPA 211 makes sure Santa stays safe, too.)
And, for additional information on heating safety, check out NFPA's Safety Tip Sheets.
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays to all!
Please visit www.nfpa.org/1 to view the free access version of NFPA 1 2018 edition and nfpa.org/doc## to view other standards referenced in this post. Follow along on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA. Looking for an older #FireCodefridays blog? You can view past posts here.
This challenge is difficult to the point of being unfair, when you consider the breadth of the topics we covered and the urgency that drove a lot of our coverage. There were big, pressing stories like Angelo Verzoni’s feature on the new NFPA 3000 ("Writing History,"May/June), or Jesse Roman’s big-picture consideration of development in the wildland/urban interface ("Build. Burn. Repeat?,"January/February). A personal favorite was one of our last features of the year—Jesse’s piece on the remaking of NFPA 150, the standard on animal housing facilities ("Critter Life Safety Code," November/December), with its plucky cow that graced our cover.But I think my favorite, for entirely subjective reasons, wasn’t a feature at all—it was Angelo’s March/April Dispatches lead story on the season-ending episode of "This Is Us," the NBC tear-jerker series that featured a home fire and prompted a national conversation on fire and life safety—and sparked a kerfuffle on slow cookers for good measure. NFPA and NFPA Journal are uniquely positioned to consider fire and life safety as depicted in popular culture, and Angelo’s piece was a great example of how we can probe the zeitgeist and help readers understand why it matters and what it all means.
In light of the terrible events that unfolded recently in California, in my opinion the most important article that ran in our pages this year is the feature "Build. Burn. Repeat?," the cover story in January/February.The main takeaway from the piece is that wildfires are a natural element of the landscape; as with hurricanes, tornados, and other natural disasters, they are not preventable, so best to prepare, plan ahead, and take steps to dull the impact. In reporting the piece, expert after expert told me that we have the knowledge and technology today to prevent almost all houses from igniting during a wildfire—what we lack is the will to mandate that residents build a certain way and in certain locations.Instead, the opposite is happening: building codes are being relaxed, and development is expanding further into the wilderness. Even in places like Santa Rosa, California, and El Paso County, Colorado, where huge wildfires have recently destroyed homes and taken lives, instead of taking steps to lessen the chance of another wildfire disaster, local governments choose to relax building codes. This is typically done out of a desire to help the victims get back on their feet by making it fast, easy, and more affordable to rebuild their homes in the same fire-prone areas; often, the rebuilt homes have even less fire protection than the ones that just burned. It’s an understandable reaction, but one that leads to predictable outcomes. Hence the headline, "Build. Burn. Repeat?"Upon rereading the piece recently, it’s almost eerie how true this is. Almost exactly a year ago as I was writing "Build. Burn. Repeat?" residents of Santa Rosa were still coming to grips with the Tubbs Fire, which had torn through neighborhoods destroying nearly 15,000 homes, and killing 44 people. A year later, it's the residents of Paradise who are picking up the pieces. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight, and it seems that the lessons in "Build. Burn. Repeat?" will be relevant long into the future.
It's not every day as a journalist that you get to sit down with the nation's most prominent public safety leaders, some of whom responded to the nation's deadliest, most horrific mass shootings: Newtown, Orlando, Las Vegas. The sources are what make this story shine, in my opinion, and there are plenty of them quoted in the piece. It was published in May to mark the release of NFPA 3000, NFPA's biggest, most-talked-about standards writing effort of the year, and does a nice job explaining how those efforts came together and ultimately played out. It wasn't an easy process; when NFPA brought cops and firefighters to the same table, for example, they didn't always see eye to eye—to put it mildly.One of the most powerful interviews I conducted for the story was with Dr. Richard Kamin, a trauma surgeon who responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. "I walked out of that school and I was really afraid that I was broken," he told me. That quote will always stick with me. After writing the story, I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Kamin again to interview him for a separate video project for NFPA.Unfortunately, the reality is that "Writing History" and NFPA 3000 are just as important and relevant today as they were several months ago, as mass shootings have continued to plague the country. My hope is that communities and leaders who haven't already will learn from the standard and from leaders like Kamin who have gone through hell and back to better prepare themselves should an incident like that occur on their turf, and reading "Writing History" might be a good place to start.