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72 Posts authored by: averzoni Employee


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

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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.

 


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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


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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.

Personal accounts of bullying, hazing, and even sexual abuse in the fire service dominated the discussion at last year’s NFPA Responder Forum in Birmingham, Alabama, in October. While the stories were at times hard to listen to, it was a necessary discussion not only for educating responders on the need for wider acceptance in the fire service, but also for driving research into responder behavioral health.

 

Casey Grant, executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, made the case for discussions like this to advance such research in his latest column for NFPA Journal, “Speak Up.”

 

“While it’s too early to know what specific projects might directly come out of the conversations at the Responder Forum, I can assure you that these give-and-take discussions contain invaluable insights for researchers—knowledge that would be difficult to gain any other way,” Grant writes. “It’s this type of process that allows the seeds for important projects to begin to take root, which is exactly what is starting to happen around the issues of responder behavioral health, PTSD, and suicide prevention. Not long ago, these issues were not studied extensively, and obtaining funding for projects was difficult.”

 

Read Grant’s full column here.


Associated Press

The opening image of "Cutting Edge," a feature article in the current issue of NFPA Journal, might look like something out of a sci-fi movie, but in actuality, the photo shows a woman undergoing an increasingly common form of cancer treatment: proton therapy. 
The construction of proton therapy centers is one of three emerging health care trends the article identifies as topics fire and life safety professionals should be aware of. The other two are microhospitals and acuity-adaptable patient rooms. While all three promise something beneficial to patients, they also have the potential to affect the application of codes and standards, the design and construction process, and emergency response. 
Microhospitals, for example, may look like urgent care facilities on the outside, but building code officials should know they need to be treated like a traditional hospital and have the same safety measures in place, such as robust backup electrical power systems. "They should still be treated like an inpatient facility where patients are expected to be incapable of self-preservation and where they would stay for more than 24 hours," said Jon Hart, the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code
Read the full article here.

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Last week, President Trump made headlines after threatening to cut off federal emergency aid to California as the state recovers from its worst wildfire season in history. The president made the threat via Twitter, saying funding would be cut unless California gets its "act together." He was referring to what he believes to be poor forest management strategies carried out in the state, according to the Washington Post
Trump's words didn't sit well with many people, including the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), who released a statement on the news. "This is yet another unimaginable attack on the dedicated professionals who put everything on the line, including their own homes, to protect their neighborhoods," IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger said in the statement. "While our president is tweeting on the sidelines in DC, our fellow Americans 3,000 miles to the west are mourning loved ones, entire communities have been wiped off the map and thousands of people are still trying to figure out where they are going to call home."
In the new issue of NFPA Journal, four pieces shed light on the devastating wildfire season California experienced: "Old & In Harm's Way,"an article that explains how one fire in particular, the Camp Fire, became the state's deadliest and most destructive wildfire ever; "135 Minutes,"a Perspectives interview with a hospital official who helped facilitate the emergency evacuation of a health care facility during the Camp Fire; "California Burning,"a statistics-driven overview of the wildfire season in the Golden State; and "Why It Matters," the debut column from NFPA's Wildfire Division director on the importance of wildfire preparedness and prevention efforts. 
The most recent California wildfire season saw not only the largest-ever wildfire burn, the Mendocino Complex Fire, which torched an area over twice as large as New York City, but it also saw the deadliest ever, the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people. At least one estimate put the economic impact of all the fires that burned in the state in 2018 at $400 billion.


As 2018 comes to a close, the NFPA Journal editorial staff has each chosen his favorite article from the past year. From a story covering a primetime cry-fest to one covering a groundbreaking new NFPA standard, here are our choices, presented with explanations on why we chose them. 
Executive Editor Scott Sutherland's pick: "This is Safety,"March/April Dispatches lead story
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.
Associate Editor Jesse Roman's pick: "Build. Burn. Repeat?,"January/February cover story
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.
Staff Writer Angelo Verzoni's pick: "Writing History,"May/June cover story
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. 
What did readers think? Based on web traffic, the most popular Journal articles in 2018, in order of first to fifth, were: "Smoke Signals"(March/April); "Smarter About Smoke"(May/June); "Firefighter fatalities in the United States in 2017"(July/August); "Small Scale, High Proof"(March/April); and "The Makeover"(May/June).
NFPA Journal will be back in the new year, with an issue focusing on health care, violence against responders, the Camp Fire, and more. 
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As California recovers from its worst wildfire season on record, the landmark report released in October by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) carries even more weight. NFPA Journal covered the release of the UN climate change report in the "International" sectionof Dispatches in its November/December issue.
The report paints a grim picture of a world plagued by more wildfires even if the most ambitious climate change goals are met. Researchers said the most at-risk areas include the United States, Canada, and the Mediterranean—areas where we've already been seeing intense wildfire activity in recent years. In the past several months alone, California has seen its largest ever wildfire, the Mendocino Complex fire, and its deadliest and most destructive, the Camp Fire. (The next issue of NFPA Journal will include comprehensive coverage of the Camp Fire.)
"We've spent decades now creating this problem," NFPA Wildfire Division Director Michele Steinberg told the magazine for its article on the UN report. "The impacts of climate change constitute a systemic global problem, and this report confirms what many fire and land management experts already knew."
Read the full UN report here.

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