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The challenges of medical surge related to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is the topic of a new NFPA Journal Podcast out now. Listen to the entire 45-minute, special-edition episode online now. Or download it wherever you get your podcast.

 

America's health care system is now experiencing a surge in patients with COVID-19, leading facilities and emergency responders to increase capacity and adapt in myriad ways. What will the health care surge mean for fire and life safety at existing health care facilities desperate to expand their patient capacity? What will it mean for responders on the front lines facing supply shortages? Learn how states are gearing up to address the crisis by erecting off-site field hospitals, creating makeshift floating hospitals, and repurposing other buildings to meet the medical demand.

 

The first segment of the podcast includes an interview I conducted with Jon Hart, an NFPA technical lead who is well-versed in codes applicable to health care facilities such as NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. In our 15-minute interview, Hart discusses the recent federal announcements to delay code enforcement activities in some health care facilities and what it means for fire and life safety at those locations. He doesn't pull any punches in saying the coronavirus pandemic could result in some less-than-ideal facility safety situations, but it's all about prioritizing in this unprecedented time. "Let's look for the big, obvious safety violations and things that are truly a hazard," Hart tells me, "but smaller things that may not be perfectly in compliance, they may just have to slip."

 

In the second segment of the podcast (at 17:40), my colleague Jesse Roman interviews John Montes, NFPA's emergency services specialist. Montes describes what could happen in the United States if the coronavirus-spawned health care surge becomes so severe that we have to provide care to patients in settings outside of traditional hospitals—places like repurposed hotels, docked cruise ships, and mobile field hospitals like those used in the military. Some locations are already planning for this process. "We have to think bigger, bigger scale [for this pandemic]," Montes says in the podcast. "We could potentially find ourselves in a situation where we are in more of a wartime footing where we are making exemptions and we are using outside resources to make this happen."

 

The NFPA Journal Podcast is a monthly series. Listen to past episodes here, including the March 13 episode on crisis standards of care and how emergency response agencies should be preparing for the unfolding crisis. Subscribe to NFPA Journal Podcast wherever you get your podcasts.


Hardie Davis, Jr., mayor of Augusta, Georgia, speaks during the First Annual Central Savannah River Area Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Training Symposium in downtown Augusta on January 16. 

As the sun rose in the city of Augusta, Georgia, this morning, over 250 people gathered inside the historic First Presbyterian Church downtown to attend the First Annual Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Training Symposium.

 

The January 16 symposium marked the start of a yearlong project for Augusta––a city of 200,000 situated on the eastern edge of Georgia, about 60 miles west of Columbia, South Carolina—to implement NFPA 3000 (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program. About eight months ago, Augusta became the first city in the world to approach NFPA and ask for its involvement in helping to implement the standard, which was released in May 2018.

 

"This is one of the most significant training opportunities our community has ever been a part of," Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr. said during his opening remarks at the symposium. "In Augusta, our emergency response agencies are already collaborating and working together, but to bring NFPA and all of these community partners and stakeholders together here today is incredible. Real events are taking place all across this nation, [and this project] will make Augusta a strong community for years to come."

 

The symposium, which lasted about eight hours, drew a crowd from multiple fields and areas of expertise, from the emergency medical and fire services to medicine, higher education, law enforcement, and city government—a testament to the need for unified command and integrated response during active shooter and other hostile events, which are concepts taught in NFPA 3000.

 

 Dr. Richard Kamin, a trauma surgeon who responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, speaks during the First Annual Central Savannah River Area Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Training Symposium in downtown Augusta on January 16. 

After attendees learned the basics of NFPA 3000 and heard stories from individuals who responded to some of the nation's deadliest, most well-known mass shootings, like Sandy Hook and Las Vegas, the day's afternoon events consisted of breakout sessions in which attendees separated into groups and discussed topics ranging from what civilians can do in the event of an active shooter or hostile event to how health care facilities can prepare for the flood of patients during these incidents. 

 

The project will culminate with a large-scale simulation next winter, and the hope is for not only Augusta to grow stronger from the experience, but also for the community to serve as a model for others hoping to become better prepared. 

 

"You are a model for the rest of the country," John Montes, the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 3000, said during the symposium, speaking to the many locals in the audience. "We can't wait to show other communities how strong Augusta is and how Augusta became even stronger."

 

NFPA Journal will be providing periodic coverage of the Augusta project, in videos and magazine articles, throughout the year. Our last issue included a short piece previewing the project, and our March/April issue is slated to include a more extensive article on the project. 

As 2019 comes to a close, the NFPA Journal editorial staff has each chosen his favorite articles from the past year. From a moving piece on violence against EMS workers that warranted an angry blue fist trying to punch its way out of the magazine cover to a story about a booming new gaming industry, here are our picks—as well as the ones that were most popular based on website page views.  
Executive Editor Scott Sutherland's top picks: "After Effect," November/December; "Big Assist," July/August; "135 Minutes," January/February  
This the second year that Journal staff has forced itself to pick its favorite stories of the year. As I observed the first time around, it's a very difficult task, and having done it once doesn't make it any easier. I still think the task is somehow fundamentally unfair.

But I've squared my shoulders, taken a deep breath, and picked three of my favorites for 2019—in part because each of them came from sources outside the immediate Journal staff and contributors. My mantra is that it takes a village to construct a magazine like NFPA Journal every eight weeks, and the stories described here illustrate the breadth and depth of the topics that outside contributors can provide.

In no particular order:

"After Effect," by Matthew Foley, November/December. This was our cover story marking the 20th anniversary of the Worcester Cold Storage fire, a blaze that killed six firefighters and generated long-lasting repercussions through the fire service and the fire research community. It also had a lasting impact of sorts on Matt, who was 6 years old when he observed the fire from his family's car, en route to a birthday dinner for his mother. The fire would shape both his education and his career, and Matt—now a research associate at NFPA—brought a first-person aspect to the story that was both meaningful and engaging. The story is among the year's most-read on nfpa.org/journal.

"Big Assist," by Robert Duval, July/August. Another cover story, this one took an up-close look at the importance of incident command and regional mutual aid in dealing with a large-scale disaster. The disaster in question was a series of natural gas fires and explosions that rocked three communities in Massachusetts in 2018, and the scale of the response, coupled with the chaos of the event, produced a highly complex and challenging theater of operations. Bob's account for Journal, which included insight from the three chiefs directly involved, managed to be both instructional and engaging—a mutual-aid how-to that kept readers on the edges of their seats.

"135 Minutes," by Ryan Ashlock, January/February. Ashlock went to work on November 8, 2018, like any other day. Except that his place of work was Feather River Hospital, in Paradise, California, and the just-ignited Camp Fire was exploding out of a ravine on the edge of town as he was pulling into the hospital's parking lot. Ashlock, the hospital's chief financial officer, was "administrator on call" that morning, and as a result assumed a key role in keeping patients and staff safe. "135 Minutes" is his gripping, minute-by-minute Perspectives account of evacuating the hospital's campus with virtually no notice. Ashlock's story is among the most compelling Camp Fire accounts I've read, and I'm grateful that he was willing to share it with us.
Associate Editor Jesse Roman's top picks: "Front & Center," May/June; "The Toll of Violence," January/February
Looking back at the stories I wrote and reported on in 2019, it feels impossible to pick a favorite between two profoundly different pieces: "Front & Center," a profile of Fire Chief Charles Hood of the San Antonio Fire Department, and "The Toll of Violence," an expose on the shocking levels of violence committed against EMTs and paramedics. The former is an uplifting tale about selfless leadership and an unwavering commitment to excellence, and the latter a heartbreaking example of everything wrong with this world.

Following around Hood, as I did for two days last March, the thing that quickly became clear is that he is a leader of uncommon energy and devotion to his troops. Like a magic trick, he seems to know the names of every one of the thousands of firefighters under his watch—and often their spouses' and children's names, too—and treats his obligations to them as the most important thing you can imagine.

After riding with Hood for two straight days, I was admittedly exhausted—not by the hours he keeps, but by the constant swirl of activity. He is always on, always smiling, and engaging each person in his orbit with his utmost attention. It was like watching a figure skater perform an Olympic level routine; I saw it happening, but couldn't imagine how someone could do it. And so, on the last day I asked him an objectively stupid question, but one I can't help: Does he ever get tired?

I remember him grinning and he confirmed that yes, he's human, but then said something I didn't expect. This isn't an optional part of his job—it is the job.

"It takes energy to be a leader, you can't sit around and be invisible. I have to talk with and engage every single person I see," he said, looking me square in the eye. "I may not like all of my firefighters or all of my civilians, in most cases I do, but as a leader of this organization I have to love them. Love is consistent. Love is fair. Love understands the dignity of a human being. If I walked around here all pissed off, not talking to people, treating them like shit, I still may have this job, but you would not be sitting here talking to me, or wanting to talk about our programs or efficiencies. You wouldn't be here, because unless you are investing in the people, nothing gets done. You invest in the people and the people invest in the fire department. I value the people I work with and I think it shows, and I think they know that I care about them, that I'm not just in it for me. I'd have it no other way. I only know one way to be."

As inspiring as being around Hood was, the inverse was true as I did my reporting for "The Toll of Violence." Listening to EMTs tell me about the violent indignities they suffer at the hands of those they are selflessly trying to help, made me feel hopeless. "I have been kicked, punched, bitten, spit on, verbally abused. You name it, I’ve had it all," one EMT said in a survey.

The thing that struck me was how open and willing these EMTs were to discuss their abuse. It was like they had been just waiting for someone to ask. This is a huge and underreported problem. These public servants mostly suffer in silence. I hope that the story was able in some small way to shed a light on this problem so that more can be done to protect them
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Staff Writer Angelo Verzoni's top picks: "Safe Escape," July/August; "Ready for 'Action!'?" May/June
 Some of my favorite stories to report on come together when the world of fire and life safety collides with the world of pop culture and social trends. I've written articles about Uber, Airbnb, NBC's hit TV show "This Is Us," and other topics you might not think fit into the mold of what NFPA is all about—but there are always connections to be made. Both of my picks for 2019, "Safe Escape" and "Ready for 'Action!'?" are further examples of this. 

The first, "Safe Escape," chronicled the rise of a booming new gaming industry, escape rooms, and the concerns over escape room occupant safety, which were thrust into the international spotlight when in January 2019 five teenage girls died in a fire in an escape room in Poland. I had never done an escape room before reporting on this piece, so on a gray, drizzly afternoon in May, my girlfriend, her sister and brother-in-law, and I all packed inside an Uber to head to downtown Boston to see what all the buzz was about. We tried our luck inside the steampunk-decorated Clock Tower room at Escape the Room Boston. I, of course, was there to take notes—see if the exits were clearly marked, if there were sprinklers, if the doors were actually locked or if being locked in was simply an illusion. But I also had a genuinely fun time. In fact, my girlfriend and I are planning to do our third escape room in the next couple of weeks, when we head down to her family's house in North Carolina for Christmas.

While I left the Boston escape room thinking, "That definitely seemed safe," I was later surprised to hear from my more technically minded colleagues at NFPA that the setup I encountered—a button that you need to press before the door of the escape room will unlock—is actually not compliant with NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. Turns out, the vast majority of escape rooms operating across the country are likely not in compliance with the code, and I was able to report on that somewhat troubling information in my piece. 

My second-favorite piece from 2019 was the Dispatches lead item in the May/June issue, "Ready for 'Action!'?" Born out of a tragic incident in which a firefighter died responding to a blaze on a movie set in New York City in March 2018, the story dove deep into the world of fire safety on movie and TV sets—something I knew nothing about before writing it. An employee of NFPA for over two years at the time, I wasn't even aware that we have a standard on set safety, NFPA 140, Standard on Motion Picture and Television Production Studio Soundstages, Approved Production Facilities, and Production Locations!

I walked away from my reporting with an entirely new understanding and appreciation for film and television set safety. "These aren't just movie or TV sets," a veteran of the set safety industry told me. "This is an industrial process and that requires all the necessary safety steps to be taken."
What did readers think? Based on nfpa.org/journal page views, the top 10 most popular Journal articles in 2019 were as follows: 
9. "Front & Center," May/June 
8. "Mind the Gap," January/February 
7. "Safe Escape," July/August 
5. "Big Assist," July/August 
4. "Ramp Risk," March/April 
3. "Juice Box," May/June 
2. "After Effect," November/December 
1. "Power Aid," May/June 
NFPA Journal will be back in 2020 with a brand-new issue featuring stories on electric vehicle fire safety, fires in international hospitals, the community health care model and NFPA 451, and more. In the meantime, check out our picks from last year.

A view from inside a waiting room at University Hospital in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where Tuesday morning a gunman killed six people in the country's deadliest mass shooting since 2015. Image Capture: Aug 2017, Copyright 2017 Google    

 

 

A shooting in a hospital waiting room in the city of Ostrava, Czech Republic, left six people dead this morning, the New York Times reported.

 

The shooter, a 42-year-old man, killed himself as officers closed in. It was the deadliest shooting in the country since 2015, when a gunman killed eight at a restaurant.

 

The incident highlights the risk of active shooter or other hostile events occurring in hospitals—something emergency management officials have been concerned over for some time.

 

"We're wide open. We don't run you through a metal detector on the way in," Michael Marturano, safety officer for a health care system in Duluth, Minnesota, said of hospitals during a November 2017 interview with NFPA Journal. "Surgery's locked down, the birthing center is locked down, but the other 80 percent of the building is pretty open. You've got sales people coming in, family members coming in, you've got meetings with a lot of community folks, and they need to get in."

 

My interview with Marturano served as the Perspectives article for the January/February issue of NFPA Journal. Our conversation covered the importance of preparing health care facilities for situations involving active shooters, some of the challenges involved with the training, and measures health care workers can take to stay safe in active shooter events.

 

In the nearly three years since our interview, advancements in preparing for active shooter and other hostile events have been made—most notably, NFPA 3000 (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, was released in May 2018.

 

But the risk of such an event occurring in a hospital has pretty much stayed in the same. In June 2017, a disgruntled doctor opened fire with an AR-15 at a hospital in New York City, killing one doctor and wounding six others. In November 2018, three people were killed in a mass shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Next month, the city of Augusta, Georgia, will embark on a yearlong journey to implement NFPA 3000 throughout its community, and the risk of a shooting occurring in one of the area's three hospitals will be a major consideration for project leaders. You'll be able to read more about this project when the January/February issue of NFPA Journal is published in the coming weeks.

 

While active shooter events in hospitals aren't that common in the US—only seven occurred from 2000 to 2015, according to data from Texas State University's Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center—they can be a huge headache for hospital emergency planners, said John Montes, the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 3000.

 

"They have to worry about having an incident on their site, but they are also part of any incident that occurs in the area because they receive the victims," he said. "They are part of that recovery process and response process. It can be very complicated for them to plan."

Over the weekend, an explosion and fire aboard the Stolt Groenland, a 25,000-tonne, Cayman Island–flagged oil tanker, left 10 people injured, one of them critically, Reuters recently reported. The blast and subsequent blaze occurred while the ship was docked at the Port of Ulsan in South Korea.

 

The incident is exactly the type of scenario safety officials in the United States worry about. It also serves as a perfect illustration of the danger fires or explosions on large marine vessels pose, especially when those incidents occur when the ship is at or close to port. I explored this topic in detail for the cover story of the September/October 2019 issue of NFPA Journal, "Close Quarters." 

 

"People have this misconception that if a fire or explosion happens on a boat, even in a port, it'll be contained," a Navy fire chief told me for the article. "But that's not necessarily true." The chief's words rang true during the incident in South Korea. The fire on the Stolt Groenland was so large that it spread to another, nearby ship, the 9,000-tonne, South Korean–flagged Bow Dalian. And most of the people who were injured were not even on board either of the ships when the fire broke out—they were workers at the terminal. 

 

While the US has been fortunate to not have experienced a large ship fire or explosion at a port, officials I interviewed for the story pretty much unanimously agreed that if one did occur, many cities' local fire service wouldn't be prepared. "We've started to see ships that are a lot bigger than anything we're used to," a veteran marine firefighter told me. "These vessels are huge, and I don't think any major city, much less a smaller one, is truly prepared."

 

The Agence France-Presse reported that South Korean firefighters "struggled to contain [Saturday's] blaze and prevent it from spreading." Still, all of the 25 people aboard the Stolt Groenland and the 21 aboard the Bow Dalian were rescued—and that represents one of the most difficult aspects of incidents like this, given ships' narrow passageways and limited access points. The cause of the explosion is under investigation, AFP said.


On September 2, a fire aboard the Conception diving boat killed over 30 people off the coast of California. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office

 

 

The early-morning fire that rapidly consumed the Conception diving boat, killing 34 of the boat's 39 passengers, off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, Monday is a prime example of the danger of boat fires. Boats, with their often-cramped, confined spaces, can easily become death traps in the event of a fire. 

 

While the cause of Monday's blaze remains unknown, the passengers' inability to use either of the vessel's two exits to escape the smoke and flames has been well-documented in media reports. "[The deceased passengers] may not have had any means of escape because the staircases leading up from the sleeping quarters below decks ended in the same enclosed space, not an open deck, investigators believe," the Guardian reported. The only passengers to survive the incident, the boat's captain and crewmembers, were located on the top deck when the fire was discovered. 

 

Coincidentally, the cover story for the September/October issue of NFPA Journal discusses the threat of fires on marine vessels and the challenges firefighters face in battling these blazes. While the story, "Close Quarters," focuses on vessels much larger than the 75-foot Conception—vessels like cargo and military ships—and the challenges firefighters face in fighting ship fires versus the challenges passengers may face in escaping them, many of the same concepts apply in both scenarios. The way most ships are laid out, for example, could make it as challenging for passengers to escape it as it could for first responders to gain access to it. 

 

"The way ships are constructed present huge challenges, the way it traps heat and affects fire growth," Forest Herndon, a 36-year veteran of the marine firefighting industry, says in the article. "Firefighters could be ascending steep, slippery ladders or trying to walk on decks that heat up to the point where their feet are burning. Shipboard fires burn a lot hotter than fires in land-based structures, and you don’t have the ability to ventilate these fires, so your methods of addressing them have to change."

 

Similar quotes have been published describing the layout of the Conception and boats like it in the wake of Monday's incident. After Jennifer Homendy, a National Transportation and Safety Board member who is leading the investigation into the fatal fire, toured the Vision, a vessel similar to the Conception, she told reporters she was "taken aback" by how difficult it would be to escape from the ship's hull. "You have to climb up a ladder and across the top bunk and then push a wooden door up," she told the LA Times. "It was a tight space."

 

Openings leading into and out of boats can be so tight, in fact, that firefighters need to remove their turnout gear before using them. Read the full NFPA Journal article here

 

The natural gas fires and explosions that swept through three communities in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts in September 2018 struck quickly and without warning, inflicting an estimated $1 billion in damage and causing the death of one young man, after a brick chimney collapsed onto the vehicle he was in. 

 

Still, from an incident management standpoint, the Merrimack Valley gas fires represent a success story. 

 

Robust mutual aid and incident command systems lessened the blow of what would have otherwise been a far more "catastrophic" incident, NFPA's Bob Duval says in a new video about the fires. Without such systems, he says, first responders from the three communities "wouldn't have been able to manage assets, moving them, relocating them, bringing them in to where they were needed." 

 

Duval, fire investigator and northeast regional director for NFPA, also penned a feature article on the incident and how it represents a success from an incident management standpoint titled, "Big Assist," the cover story of the July/August 2019 issue of NFPA Journal

 

The article includes the jaw-dropping statistics related to how many departments responded to the incident, where they came from, and what assets they provided. "From September 13–16, mutual aid fire resources were drawn from Massachusetts (246 assets from 199 communities); New Hampshire (92 assets); and Maine (one asset)," the article reads. "More than 200 communities and law enforcement agencies would eventually commit resources to the area. Assets included 180 engines, 68 ladders, and 50 command vehicles. Hundreds of fire, emergency, law enforcement, and gas utility personnel responded to hundreds of calls in the affected communities."

 

Read more at nfpa.org/big_assist.


Last week, a massive fire tore through a Jim Beam warehouse in Kentucky, destroying 45,000 barrels of the company's whiskey. The blaze continued for days as barrels of the flammable liquid were purposefully allowed to burn to avoid further contaminating a nearby river by adding more water to the fire that could then run into the river, according to CNN. Officials say a lightning strike was likely the cause. 

 

Similar scenarios have played out over the years in Kentucky.

 

In 2003, a lightning strike at a Jim Beam warehouse in Bardstown, Kentucky, set the wood-frame structure ablaze and sent 800,000 gallons of flaming bourbon into a nearby retention pond. Seven years prior, a fire broke out at Heaven Hill Distillery, also located in Bardstown, and burning whiskey created what one employee described to the Kentucky Standard newspaper as "a river of fire." And in 2000, a fire at a Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, destroyed nearly 1 million gallons of bourbon.

 

I wrote about distillery fires and the resources that exist to protect these facilities from fire for the March/April 2018 edition of NFPA Journal

 

While the piece—"Small Scale, High Proof"—largely focuses on the boom the United States has seen in recent years in small, craft distilling operations, the fire safety threats and fire protection concepts detailed in the story apply to any distillery, no matter how large or old. The article, for example, shows that hard liquor, usually 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) or higher, can give off enough vapor to ignite in air, at relatively low temperatures. It typically has a flashpoint of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the article says, compared to pure ethyl alcohol with a flashpoint of 55 degrees F. 

 

Read more at nfpa.org/safedistilling.

Have you ever wondered what community risk reduction, or CRR, is? Well, you're not alone.

 

"Many different people have many different definitions of community risk reduction," Karen Berard-Reed, a community risk reduction strategist at NFPA, says in a video published last week on NFPA's YouTube channel. And for many people, she continues, they're "just not sure" what CRR is. 

 

Simply put, CRR is the process for identifying and prioritizing risks in a certain community and devising a plan to address those risks, Berard-Reed says. The definition comes from the new NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development.

 

At the 2019 NFPA Conference & Expo happening in San Antonio, Texas, this week, CRR will take center stage. There are four education sessions slated for the next three days at C&E that relate to CRR, including three Berard-Reed will help present. 

 

Learn more about these sessions and NFPA's efforts related to CRR at nfpa.org/gotrisk, where you'll find a feature article Berard-Reed wrote for the May/June issue of NFPA Journal.


In just a few weeks, on June 20, NFPA members will convene in San Antonio, Texas, for the annual NFPA Technical Meeting to cap off the 2019 NFPA Conference & Expo. NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, is among several NFPA documents that will take center stage at the meeting. In a video released yesterday, NFPA's Brian O'Connor highlights three key aspects of the new standard, which is scheduled to come out in September. 

 

One key aspect of NFPA 855, for example, will be how it addresses the location of energy storage systems (ESS). "When energy storage systems are located in a remote location ... there will be less stringent requirements than if that energy storage system were located in a building with other uses," O'Connor says in the video. 

 

O'Connor further explains these three key aspects of the standard and more in an article titled "Juice Box," which appears in the May/June 2019 issue of NFPA Journal. Another NFPA document that will be subject to a vote at the 2019 Technical Meeting is NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®). Watch a similar video featuring NFPA's Derek Vigstol on key changes slated for the 2020 edition of the NEC here

 

 

 

The 2019 technical meeting at the NFPA Conference & Expo is just around the corner, on June 20, and chief among the documents slated for review is the 2020 edition of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®). As NFPA Senior Electrical Content Specialist Derek Vigstol discusses in a video posted on NFPA's YouTube channel this week, a number of significant changes and reorganizations to the code are on tap for the coming year. 

 

One of the major proposed changes, for example, relates to GFCI protection. "One of the examples they gave at the first draft meeting, which was talked about extensively at the second draft meeting, was around a death that occurred from somebody who was electrocuted when making contact with the frame of a range in a kitchen," Vigstol says in the video. "So that led to the [proposed] expansion of GFCI protection to include 250-volt range receptacle outlets ... if it's within six feet of a sink."

 

Vigstol wrote about this and other proposed changes for the 2020 NEC in an article titled "Power Aid," which appears in the May/June 2019 issue of NFPA Journal. Read the full story online at nfpa.org/poweraid


In March 2018, a fire on the set of the movie "Motherless Brooklyn," in Harlem, New York City, left one firefighter dead. (Newscom) 

Last week, a fire in the upstate New York town of Ellenville destroyed a car dealership where filming of an HBO miniseries staring Mark Ruffalo was taking place. The mayor of the town placed blame for the blaze squarely on the filming activity, according to a local newspaper

 

"They made it into a 1950s-1960s dealership, and something they did there caused the fire," he told the paper. Later articles have indicated an electrical problem sparked the fire but didn't elaborate on whether the dealership's electrical system was to blame or a piece of equipment brought in by the production company. No injuries were reported. 

 

The incident coincidentally occurred the same week an article I wrote for the May/June issue of NFPA Journal on fire and life safety on movie and television sets came out. The piece, "Ready for 'action!'?," details a fatal movie set fire that occurred in Harlem in March 2018, as well as the resources that currently exist to protect sets from fire and other life safety hazards. These resources include documents like NFPA 140, Standard on Motion Picture and Television Production Studio Soundstages, Approved Production Facilities, and Production Locations, and a training program developed by CAL FIRE. 

 

Read the full story and more from the new May/June issue at nfpa.org/journal, and listen to a podcast about the article here

Getty Images

 

 

Local authorities announced this week that the cause of the massive fire that gutted Brazil's 200-year-old National Museum in September 2018 was an improperly installed air conditioning unit on the ground floor of the museum. The fire destroyed roughly 90 percent of the facility's 20 million artifacts. 

 

"[The] air conditioners failed to meet manufacturer recommendations regarding the use of separate circuit breakers and grounding devices, according to an Agence France-Press report," an article published in Smithsonian magazine reads. "The Associated Press adds that units received a stronger electrical current than they were made to conduct, created a powder keg situation poised for disaster." A page on NFPA's website details the adoption and use of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®, in Latin America. While 12 countries are listed, including ones that border Brazil like Venezuela and Peru, Brazil is not.

 

On top of the unsafe electrical practices, a number of other factors at the museum contributed to the fire's rapid spread and severity. I reported on these in a November 2018 "Dispatches" article in NFPA Journal. 

 

"According to museum experts, fire safety officials, and politicians who were interviewed after the incident, it was a loss that could have been prevented with additional attention and resources for the museum, which could have paved the way for critical fire safety upgrades," the article says. "The 200-year-old building, a former palace for the Portuguese royal family, lacked fire sprinklers and fire doors. Fire hydrants close to the museum failed to provide responding firefighters with an adequate water supply to fight the flames." The article goes on to explain how similar fire safety deficiencies exist in many historic buildings worldwide—not just museums—"because of a lack of government support, misconceptions among property owners, and the intrinsic challenges—and costs—of retrofitting historic, sometimes centuries-old structures with modern fire and life safety technology."

 

A sidebar to that piece included interviews with NFPA staffers who reflected on the Brazil museum fire. "Brazil’s economy, which has been experiencing ups and downs, doesn’t help the situation, as issues with more immediate importance get addressed while preventing tragedies like the museum fire are put on the backburner," Anderson Queiroz, NFPA's representative to Brazil, told me. "I simply don’t see any tangible solution in the short-term, except to count on luck and divine help that more fires like this don’t happen."

A bus fire in a remote part of Kazakhstan killed over 50 people in January 2018. (Associated Press)

Last week, a bus carrying tourists to Mao Zedong's hometown in southern China burst into flames, killing more than two dozen people. The cause of the fire wasn't initially reported, but one survivor said it seemed to break out at the back of the bus and quickly overcame passengers who didn't have time to escape, the New York Times reported

 

The Times said the incident exposes China's poor record of transportation safety. While government statistics claim an annual death toll of about 65,000 from transportation accidents in China, the World Health Organization estimates the real figure is closer to 250,000.

 

But, as I reported in the Dispatches: International section of the July/August 2018 issue of NFPA Journal, bus fires aren't all that uncommon in countries around the globe. In January 2018, a bus fire in a remote part of Kazakstan killed over 50 people. A couple of months later, 20 people died in a bus fire in Thailand. And in October of last year, children narrowly escaped death or injury when a school bus ignited in Wisconsin

 

The July 2018 Journal article was prompted by a spate of bus fires in Rome, and points out that even in countries like the United States, bus fires occur with some regularity—although they're far less common than other types of fires.

 

"A report published in November 2016 by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which analyzed data from 2004 to 2013, found that fires in motor coaches (defined as buses designed for long-distance passenger transportation) occurred almost daily on average, while fires in school buses occurred more than daily for a combined average of over 550 each year," the article says. "And that’s just for two types of buses." Mechanical failures are usually to blame for the blazes. 

 

In 2005, 23 people died in a bus fire that occurred in a bus that was evacuating nursing home patients from Houston as Hurricane Rita marched toward the coast. In response to that incident, NFPA released a report that found about six bus fires occurred on average each day in the US from 1999 to 2003. More recent NFPA data suggests that figure has dropped to between four and five. 

 

In December, several NFPA staff members got together to discuss a trend that's been making headlines in the construction industry: modular construction. From hotels to high-rise residential buildings, modular construction is becoming increasingly popular in the United States (it's been popular for a while in Europe). 

 

But the method—which entails prefabricating units, or modules, in a factory before shipping them to a construction site, where they're stacked together to form a full-sized building—caused folks at NFPA to take pause, and questions about modular construction safety and regulation swirled. How do inspections work? How are codes enforced across state or even country lines?

 

After the meeting, I and other NFPA staff members embarked on a mission to get to the bottom of things, and out of that work came a new feature article in the March/April issue of NFPA Journal, "Outside the Box," as well as a new video produced by NFPA Journal.

 

The video, titled "What is modular construction?," is the first in a series of planned videos called Learn Something New (LSN), which will run on the second Wednesday of every month on NFPA's YouTube channel and explore topics related to fire, electrical, and life safety hazards. LSN is targeted toward a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) student audience.

 

Essentially, the modular construction industry is regulated through a combination of language incorporated into state or local building codes, as well as self-inspection by the companies who fabricate modules.

 

Watch the video below, and learn more at nfpa.org/modular

 

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