Today’s post is from NFPA staff, Jennifer Sisco. Jen is a Fire Protection Engineer in the Building and Life Safety Department where she serves as Staff Liaison to multiple NFPA Technical Committees. Special thanks to Jen for her contribution!
For those of us who live in locations where the winter season means snow, ice, and cold; it can also mean seasonal fire and life safety hazards that can impact the responsibilities of building owners, facility managers, and fire inspectors.
NFPA 1 requires that the means of egress be maintained free of obstruction or impediments to ensure full instant use; and states that site administrators and staff are responsible for inspecting all egress areas to stairways, doors, and other exits to ensure that they are in proper condition. The annex further clarifies that this includes keeping the means of egress and all components clear of snow and ice. Drifting, plowed, or falling snow can make exterior doors difficult to open or make an exit impassible. Likewise, ice on exterior stairways and walkways can pose a significant life safety hazard.
In addition to blocking means of egress, snow can also impact fire department road access - reducing widths, blocking gates, or rendering roadways impenetrable. Fire department access roads, including gateways, need to remain unobstructed. NFPA 1 recognizes that this may be difficult in some areas with extreme snowfalls and that temporary alternative arrangements may need to be made, including temporary roadways as a result of snow accumulation. If it is anticipated that temporary alternate measures may be required, they should be coordinated in advance of snow events, whenever possible.
Winter conditions can prompt power outages which also correlate to increased carbon monoxide-related injuries and deaths. Carbon monoxide is responsible for tens of thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths annually in the United States, alone. Portable generators are a major contributor to carbon monoxide injuries and deaths, typically due to generators being operated in a garage, basement, or other indoor space. NFPA 1 states that generators never be operated inside a building, unless they are in a specifically designed generator room; and that they should be located at least 5 feet away from all building openings and air intakes with the exhaust directed away from the building.
Even in areas not prone to snow, cold temperatures have the ability to freeze piping for sprinkler systems or other water-based suppression systems. Frozen pipes are not only a concern for exterior piping, as piping within buildings in unconditioned spaces, near building openings, or in buildings with heating system impairments can also be subject to freezing. In accordance with NFPA 1, property owners are responsible for ensuring that all water-filled piping is maintained above 40˚F or provided with some other form of freeze protection. In areas that have the potential for freezing temperatures below the level that can be adequately protected by an allowable antifreeze solution, supplemental heat can be provided when temperatures fall below the level of the antifreeze solution. Other means of freeze protection for water-filled piping, including heated valve enclosures, heat tracing, insulation, or other methods are allowed by the applicable installation standards.
Snow, ice, and freezing temperatures can pose hazards to fire and life safety, but many of the hazards can be mitigated with a little preparation by building owners and facility managers; and enforced by those inspecting the property. Preparation and management of winter-related fire and life safety issues referenced in the Fire Code are critical to staying safe in the cold weather.
NFPA offers free resources on winter fire safety, as well as free infographics on a number of topics included winter fires and safe electrical practices. You can also find reports, data and statistics on winter related fire safety issues on www.nfpa.org.
Thanks for reading, stay safe!
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