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77 Posts authored by: averzoni Employee

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

 

Sunday is St. Patrick's Day, and on that day in New York City 120 years ago, tragedy struck at the Windsor Hotel. After one careless guest attempted to flick a still-flaming match out of a window, a massive blaze engulfed the luxury hotel, killing 45 people. I wrote about the fire for the "Looking Back" article in the March/April issue of NFPA Journal

 

A number of disastrous conditions collided to drive up the death toll in the fire. The noise of the St. Patrick's Day parade occurring outside of the hotel made warning guests and authorities of the danger difficult. Outdated construction methods used to build the hotel, at the time 26 years old, contributed to rapid fire spread. The building lacked fire escapes. And the fire hydrant water supply in the city was inadequate.

 

Read the full article, which includes quotes from a 1930 NFPA Quarterly article, or listen to an audio version of the story here.

 


Getty Images

Although the longest-ever partial federal government shutdown is over, having spanned from late December through late January, wildfire experts still fear it could have an impact on the upcoming wildfire season in America. A new NFPA Journal article, "The Cost of Shutting Down," details all of the potential consequences of halting government activity. 

While most mainstream media coverage of such consequences has focused on the canceled trainings and prescribed burns resulting from the shutdown, the Journal piece delves a bit deeper, highlighting less-obvious impacts such as the gap the shutdown caused in much-needed communication between wildfire experts on a global scale.

"Fire scientists and managers not allowed to go to conferences means, for instance, that those involved in the big Camp Fire [in California in November] do not have the opportunity to exchange information with people involved in analyzing the Greek or Portuguese wildfires," one wildfire expert from the Netherlands says in the story. "Despite the differences there are so many parallels between fires and we scientists need to exchange information to learn."

Read the full article here, and look for more new content from NFPA Journal online next week.

 

 

This article was first published in the January/February 2019 issue of NFPA Journal. 

 

At 5 a.m. on February 18, 1923, attendants at the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane, located on Ward’s Island in New York City, noticed a metal ceiling tile glowing red-hot in a hallway leading to patient rooms. Fearing an impending fire, they called patients to breakfast to move them away from the hallway and into the dining room. Minutes later, their fears were realized as flames burst through the ceiling, according to an NFPA bulletin on the incident published later that year.

 

Although the attendants’ actions undoubtedly saved lives, not everyone escaped. Twenty-four patients and three attendants died in the blaze, according to the bulletin. Three years earlier, officials had identified the facility—one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in the world, with over 6,000 patients—as being at high risk for a catastrophic fire, but fire and life safety improvements were never made.

 

After the fire spread, rescue work became difficult “as the patients became excited and had to be dragged out by attendants,” the bulletin reported. Firefighting was further hampered by sub-zero weather and the extreme difficulty in getting apparatus to the island. “The New York City force had to go to the fire without equipment as there was only a small ferry, of insufficient capacity for fire apparatus, to the island,” the bulletin said. “Fireboats had to run hose lines for nearly half a mile before water reached the fire.”

 

The cause of the fire wasn’t reported, but the bulletin explains that the facility was similar to thousands of other institutional buildings throughout the United States and Canada, which at the time often experienced fires due to “defective chimneys, poorly installed stoves and furnaces, defective electrical equipment, careless handling of [flammable] liquids, spontaneous combustion in accumulations of rubbish, smoking, and carelessness with matches.”

 

In 1920, the National Board of Fire Underwriters surveyed the Manhattan State Hospital and recommended the installation of automatic fire sprinklers and other safeguards because its buildings lacked fire-resistant features and contained blind attics and other concealed spaces that made the structures “veritable fire traps,” the NFPA bulletin says. The board also cited an inadequate and unreliable water supply and a poorly equipped on-site firefighting service, which used “an ancient horse-drawn engine.”

 

The bulletin noted that the superintendent of the hospital recognized the fire hazard and had repeatedly tried to obtain more equipment and funding from state and city authorities, to no avail.

 

Read more from the January/February issue of NFPA Journal online


Getty Images

 

 

The findings of a nine-month investigation by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) Public Safety Commission into the MSDHS shooting, which left 14 students and three staff members dead in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, were officially presented to Florida state officials last month. This Thursday is the one-year anniversary of the incident, which was the deadliest shooting in the United States in 2018 and one of the nation’s deadliest in modern history.

 

Outlined in a 439-page report, the findings of the MSDHS Public Safety Commission—a group formed by the MSDHS Public Safety Act about a month after the shooting and made up of law enforcement officials, education leaders, parents of victims, and more—include recommendations on how communities can best prepare for future mass shootings and other hostile events. While the recommendations partly draw on the guidance found in NFPA 3000™ (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, some experts say they lack the “whole community” approach of the standard, which was released about two and a half months after the Parkland shooting.

 

The May/June 2018 NFPA Journal cover story, “Writing History,” chronicles the process that went into releasing NFPA 3000 and explains the concept of the “whole community” approach, as well as the three other main themes of the standard: unified command, integrated response, and planned recovery.

 

“The report highlights some critical recommendations that are featured in NFPA 3000,” said John Montes, the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 3000. “Specifically, it highlights two of the four main themes of the standard, unified command and integrated response.” The problem, Montes continued, is that the report recommendations focus primarily on law enforcement. “Everything is viewed from that lens,” he said, missing the perspective of other responders, citizens, health care professionals, and victims. “There isn’t any mention of what tactics to teach students and teachers, such as bleeding control.”

 

Perhaps the biggest shortfall of the report, Montes said, is its lack of information related to the recovery aspect of mass shootings and other hostile events. “While the report itself is part of the recovery phase of the incident for the Parkland area, it says nothing about recovery,” Montes said. “Recovery is the longest-lasting phase, but the one that is most frequently ignored.” There are no recommendations related to reunification, notifying loved ones, or providing mental health services to the community, he said.

 

Still, other portions of the report reflect more fully on the guidance in NFPA 3000. For example, the information included in Chapter 16 of the report, which explains a new Florida law requiring school districts to develop and frequently practice plans for active shooter and hostage situations with public safety agencies, “captures much of the messages in 3000,” Montes said. The standard requires annual trainings at a minimum.

 

Read more in-depth analysis of the Parkland shooting report in the upcoming issue of NFPA Journal, available online in early March. And explore NFPA’s extensive resources on NFPA 3000, including online learning, fact sheets, and more, at nfpa.org/3000news.

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