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57 Posts authored by: averzoni Employee
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From Asia to Africa and even in the United States, informal settlements—often called slums or shantytowns—house the urban poor. With no building codes governing the construction of homes inside these areas, the use of open flames for heating and cooking, and high rates of drinking and smoking, fire is an ever-present threat.
The problem is poised to only get worse. Right now, an estimated 1 billion people live in informal settlements worldwide. By 2050, that number could swell to 2 or 3 billion. How can we keep these people safe from fire? More research and education on the fire problem in informal settlements is a good place to start, experts from the World Bank Group told me in October.
Read what they had to say in "A World Unregulated," which ran alongside "Sound the Alarm," a feature article on a project to install smoke alarms in a shantytown in South Africa, in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal.

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Last month, the Smart City Expo World Congresswas held in Barcelona, Spain. The annual event, which showcases the technological innovations of so-called smart cities worldwide, drew over 21,000 visitors from more than 700 cities in 146 countries. 
The growth of smart cities, which employ technologies to collect and analyze data on citizens and infrastructure, is something the fire service should not only be paying attention to but also actively involved in, according to a position paper endorsed by the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association at the 2018 Urban Fire Forum (UFF), held at NFPA headquarters early this fall. I wrote about the chiefs' decision in the recent NFPA Journal article, "Get Smart."
"The safety of the public is one of local government's highest responsibilities," the chiefs wrote in their paper. "Given the unique capabilities now available for harnessing and analyzing data, it is critical that the fire chief be directly and intimately involved in decisions related to the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data used for planning, decision-making, operations, and evaluation of the programs for which he or she is responsible."
Read all of the papers endorsed by the Metro Chiefs at this year's UFF online


Associated Press

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the Farmington, West Virginia, mine explosion, which killed 78 people. It was the deadliest fire or explosion in the United States in 1968, according to NFPA. 

 

The incident is featured in "Looking Back" in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal.

 

"Man, it was like somebody hit me in the face with a bucket full of dirt," one survivor recalled in a video on the incident produced by NIOSH in 2009. "You couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. So I just pulled my shirt up over my face and sat down. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face it was so dusty." The survivor, Gary Martin, was one of only 21 miners working that day who made it out alive. 

 

Although the cause of the mine explosion was never officially determined, it spurred a wave of legislation improving mine and miner safety throughout the United States. Read the full NFPA Journal article here.

Justin Sullivan 

 

 

An estimated 1 billion people worldwide live in areas known as slums, shantytowns, or informal settlements, where the built environment doesn't benefit from land-use or safety regulations. Organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank Group predict the number of people living in shantytowns to hit 2 to 3 billion by 2050. In almost all of these areas, fire and fire death rates are staggeringly high.

 

But a project carried out in a shantytown in Cape Town, South Africa, last year offers hope. The project is the subject of a new NFPA Journal feature article and podcast available online now

 

In February 2017, about 2,000 off-the-shelf, battery-operated photoelectric smoke alarms were installed in a particularly at-risk neighborhood in a Cape Town shantytown known as Wallacedene. While some fire safety experts believed the alarms wouldn't work—their doubts were fueled by the thought that nuisance alarms would endlessly sound inside the neighborhood's small shacks, where cooking and heating equipment often generate smoke—the alarms proved immensely successful. 

 

"[They] reduced deaths to zero," said Rodney Eksteen, a former Western Cape fire official who coordinated the smoke alarm installation process. "In all the fire incidents that occurred in that community [in the time researchers monitored fires], there were no deaths. Zero."

 

Read the full article here.



Katie Cornhill wants you to know something: She's still a "badass."

That's what the former Royal Marine and current United Kingdom fire officer told attendees of the 2018 NFPA Responder Forum in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, garnering laughs from the crowd of more than 130 people. Cornhill is the subject of a “Perspectives” interview in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal.
Cornhill, a group manager at the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, identifies as a non-cisgendered female—some people mistakenly identify her as a transgender female. She says she was assigned the incorrect male gender at birth and lived the first 39 years of her life, including six years as a commando in the very masculine Royal Marines, hiding her true identify from everyone except her ex-wife, brother, and a few close friends. Twelve years ago, Cornhill says, she decided it was time to finally start living her life as the person she had always been since the day she was conceived, and six years ago, she came out to her department. Since then, she's become a champion of inclusion in the fire service. 
"We need to be truly inclusive leaders and do all that we can every day to make our archaic institutional cultures move forward," Cornhill said at the forum. "The world would be a better place and it would be a safer and happier place if everyone could truly be themselves." Cornhill's talk was one of a number of presentations at this year's forum that tackled fire service personnel issues like bullying, hazing, racial bias, cultural acceptance, and gender equality in the fire service
Last month, Cornhill shared more about her personal journey with my colleague Jesse Roman. His interview with her will appear in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal. "I think every fire and rescue service is populated with individuals who are not out to their colleagues," Cornhill told Roman. "That is in terms of both sexual identity and gender identity. I think that what every fire and rescue service needs to do—we are not there, and nowhere near it—is to create an environment where we embrace diversity so people can truly feel like they can be themselves." 

Read the full story here.

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It's been just over a month since dozens of natural gas–fueled fires burned in homes in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts, not far from NFPA's headquarters in Quincy. Coincidentally, the incident occurred about a month after NFPA began considering a new standard addressing the installation, testing, and maintenance of gas detectors in homes.
I wrote about it in a new article that will appear in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal

"In an event like the Merrimack Valley incident, gas detectors could save lives," I write in the piece. "[NFPA's Director of Engineering Guy] Colonna explained that for the combustion of natural gas in air to occur, the air needs to contain a minimum of 5 percent methane by volume and there needs to be an ignition source, such as a pilot flame in a gas stove or a light switch being flicked on. Detectors, which would sound when gas levels are much lower than that concentration, could alert occupants to get out."

 

Read the full article here.


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When I was in college, I wrote an article titled "What is 3D printing?" for a journalism course. About five years have passed since then, and such a broad headline is outdated today. The general public more or less knows what 3D printing is and doesn't need an article explaining it to them. 
The technology keeps cropping up in more and more areas—medicine, cooking, and now the auto industry. Volkswagen, the world's largest car manufacturer, announced this month that within the next two to three years, it hopes to be mass producing car parts with 3D printers.
Not surprisingly, the technology has also emerged on college campuses nationwide, where students use them to print objects for academics as well as for fun. For all their usefulness and potential to revolutionize industry, though, studies have shown 3D printers can emit hazardous gases and create combustible dusts, among other safety concerns, and, therefore, they must be used in well-regulated spaces. This has generated concerns from campus safety officials, who worry about their unofficial use in dorm rooms and other corners of campus. I wrote about the phenomenon in an article titled "3D Printers Go Mainstream" in the September/October issue of NFPA Journal
The piece accompanies a larger feature article on the threat of active shooters on college campuses, which also includes articles on the emergence of vaping on campuses and the lasting fire threat on campuses
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While the news coverage of the Brazil museum fire has largely focused on the fact that it was a museum that burned—raising questions over the value society places on preserving artifacts—the fact that it was a historic building is just as significant. 
Museums or not, historic buildings are at high risk for catastrophic fires unless modern fire and life safety systems have in some way been added to them, and the incident in Brazil was the latest in a series of recent, massive blazes in historic buildings. In June, fire gutted a 110-year-old building in Glasgow, Scotland, that was being used as a library by the Glasgow School of Art, and in August, a fire spread through a 233-year-old retail building in Belfast, Ireland. 
The problem of fires in historic buildings is a well-documented one, and solutions do exist. NFPA 914, Fire Protection of Historic Structures, outlines measures that can be taken to protect historic buildings from fires, including installing automatic fire sprinklers. But too often, these solutions aren't implemented. 
Read why in "Saving History," available  now and which will appear in the November/December 2018 issue of NFPA Journal

Responders search for victims among the rubble following a bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy, in August (Getty Images)

This article was first published in NFPA Journal on September 4. Read more articles from the "Dispatches" section of the September/October 2018 issue of NFPA Journal here.
In August, a bridge built in the 1960s collapsed in Genoa, Italy, killing 43 people. Photos from the incident show firefighters and other responders searching for survivors and victims among giant slabs of concrete and twisted metal.
As Miami-Dade (Florida) Fire Chief and NFPA member Dave Downey watched the news unfold, he identified parallels between it and what his department experienced in March, when a bridge collapsed and killed six people on the campus of Florida International University. A few days after the bridge collapse in Italy, Downey shared his thoughts about the Italy incident and the one he experienced in Florida months earlier via email with NFPA Journal.
Do you think Italian officials are experiencing similar challenges to the ones your department faced?
While the Italian bridge collapse and the details surrounding the search and rescue efforts are still unfolding, I am sure that some of the challenges we faced during our event in March will be present here as well. While the magnitude of the Italian incident exceeds ours incident exponentially, I am sure there are similar challenges.
What’s the biggest challenge?
First and foremost for us was accountability. We had to ask ourselves, how many people were on, under, and around the bridge when it collapsed? This is not like a typical building collapse where you might be able to more quickly determine who was in the building and who is missing. Like I am sure is happening in Italy, we had to rely on witness statements, direct observation, and gaining access to as much security video footage as possible. That process is very time-consuming.
What are some of the other challenges?
The second major concern, but the primary with respect to rescue operations, is the stability of the already collapsed sections of the bridge, as well as the still-standing portions that have the potential to collapse. In our case, we were dealing with a 174-foot continuous span of concrete that was intended to be stabilized through post-tensioning, which failed during the collapse, resulting in large, unsupported sections of concrete that could not be easily lifted or removed.
After my 30-plus years in the fire service and working in the urban search and rescue environment, I have come to the conclusion that regardless of what engineers and construction experts say, the only way to move large sections of concrete is to make them smaller sections of concrete. This takes an incredible amount of time, but fortunately in our case, it strictly affected recovery and we did not have to break up large sections of concrete to rescue survivors.
The final challenge in these types of events is when to make the decision to transition from rescue to recovery when you are still perhaps uncertain as to the total number missing people. It can be a really hard decision to make, but it’s essential.
What are your thoughts on the efforts of Italian responders?
From the footage I have seen, it appears the Italian rescuers have a good strategy for the rescue operation, utilizing all search techniques available including canines. Access to parts of the collapse appeared to be a challenge but the utilization of cranes and other vertical options appeared effective. It’s a tough way to work hanging from a rope, cable, or even in a basket, and I applaud their hard work.
Since a gunman took 32 lives on Virginia Tech's campus in 2007, campus safety officials nationwide have worried about the potential for an active shooter event on their campus. Between 2000 and 2017, FBI statistics show there was almost one active shooter attack on a college campus every year. 
Active shooter events in general have become more frequent and more deadly in recent years, prompting campus safety officials to further evaluate their preparedness for such events and conceive new solutions. My colleague, Jesse Roman, explores this topic in the new cover story for NFPA Journal, "The New Normal," which came out last week and coincides with National Campus Safety Awareness Month. 
But shootings aren't the only threat facing campuses. As students flocked to campuses in the past few weeks, two incidents proved fire remains a threat, even in on-campus housing. At the University of North Carolina's Asheville campus, students were barred from moving into five newly built dorms after officials discovered unsafe conditions including wood inside stairwells and elevator shafts and water pipes that hindered egress paths. A couple of weeks later, after students had moved onto Boston University's campus, a fire sparked by a candle forced the evacuation of about 40 students from a dorm. 
A sidebar I wrote for "The New Normal," titled "Old Foe," discusses the threat of fire on college campuses. On average, over 4,000 fires occur on campuses in the United States each year, according to NFPA data that's cited in the piece. Since 2000, 92 of these blazes have been fatal, the vast majority of which have occurred in off-campus housing and Greek housing like frat houses. 
Other sidebars included in "The New Normal" examine emerging threats on campuses, including the introduction of 3D printers and vaping devices. Read it all here.

Associated Press

In 2017, fire departments in the United States responded to just over 1.3 million fires, which killed an estimated 3,400 civilians and injured 15,000 more. These are the major findings from NFPA's Fire Loss in the U.S. in 2017 report, detailed in a new feature article in the September/October issue of NFPA Journal
In addition to providing the most recent U.S. fire loss statistics, the article also provides historical context for the numbers. "Home fire deaths reached their peak in 1978, when 6,015 people died in such fires," writes Ben Evarts, a data collection and research manager at NFPA. "The number has trended downward until recent years, with fewer than 5,000 annual deaths since 1982, and less than 4,000 deaths since 1991, with the exception of 1996. Since 2006, home fire deaths have remained below 3,000 per year."
Other notable stats from the article include the amount of property damage caused by fires in the U.S. last year. At an estimated $23 billion, the figure was a large increase from 2016—mostly due to the deadly northern California wildfires that struck in October 2017, resulting in $10 billion in property damage. 
Read or listen to an audio version of the article here. 


An inmate firefighter is seen battling a wildfire in California in July (Getty Images)

On July 31, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tweeted about the thousands of inmates who were fighting the state's historic wildfires. The tweet received over 1,000 comments, with many people expressing shock and outrage at the concept of using prisoners to fight fires.

 

 

News reports soon followed, with publications including The Washington Post, Newsweek, USA Today, and others covering the topic. While this mainstream discussion shed light on legitimate concerns related to California's decades-old practice of employing inmates, who have volunteered for the job, as wildland firefighters, it also included misconceptions about the program, according to a senior official at CAL FIRE. 

 

"I think people look at these inmates and think back to the early 1900s where you had chain gangs and they were digging trenches, the kind of stuff you see in movies," she told me for an article appearing in the September/October issue of NFPA Journal. "I think that’s a misconception. I think people don’t understand what these inmates are actually doing."

Read the full story, "Cellblock to fireline," and in the comments section, tell us what you think of the practice of California—and other states around the country—employing inmates as wildland firefighters. 



Following in the steps of publications such as The Atlantic, NFPA Journal is now experimenting with offering audio versions of select articles. Audio has already been added to two articles from the July/August issue—my feature story on the challenges of regulating short-term rental properties, and an overview of NFPA's 2017 Firefighter Fatalities report
Providing audio versions of written articles makes it easier for people to digest Journal content on the go, in the same way you might listen to a podcast in the car on your evening commute. It also makes the content more accessible for people who are visually impaired. 
To keep up with NFPA Journal's audio offerings, visit the Soundcloud page.

The Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, California, following a deadly fire. (Getty Images)


Boston city officials announced this week that they recently ordered a number of occupants who were illegally living in a storage facility to vacate the area "given the unsafe living conditions and health conditions," according to The Boston Herald
The undocumented repurposing of buildings such as storage facilities and warehouses is one of the biggest challenges faced by the enforcement community. It's an issue that was thrust into the spotlight nearly two years ago, when 36 people were tragically killed in a fire in a warehouse-turned-living quarters in Oakland, California. The space was also being used as an arts and performance venue, and the fire ignited during a late-night concert there.  
I wrote about the incident in a story called "Under the Radar" in the January/February 2017 issue of NFPA Journal:
FROM THE OUTSIDE, the building looked like a run-of-the-mill disused warehouse. Sitting on a crowded block in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, adjacent to an auto body shop, the structure’s cracked concrete walls and wide windows were emblazoned with graffiti. Inside, however, the building told a different story.
The warehouse, known locally as the Ghost Ship, had been converted into an unpermitted residence and performance space for artists. Makeshift interior walls divided a warren of living, working, and performance areas; a staircase made partially of wooden pallets connected the two floors of the 10,000-square-foot space. Musical instruments, artwork, antique furniture, and other collectibles were amassed in hoarder-like fashion, creating a claustrophobic, mazelike atmosphere. In addition to the clutter and makeshift nature of the building’s interior, there were no sprinklers or smoke alarms and no proper exits or signage. In nearly every way, the Ghost Ship was primed for a disastrous fire.
Read the full story here. A year later, a follow-up article was published in NFPA Journal called "Ghost Effect," which examined the aftermath of the incident and how NFPA has worked to develop tools for cities to manage high-risk properties. 

Photo: Associated Press

On August 1, a crowded
tour bus caught fire in the Hollywood Hills, temporarily shuttering the famous Mulholland Drive. Two-thousand miles away, on the same day, a school bus fire snarled traffic on one of Chicago's busiest highways. No injuries were reported in either incident. 
A Google search reveals bus fires occur with some regularity in the United States. But it was bus fires in Rome that made headlines a few months ago, when two of the Italian city's buses burst into flames in the same day. I wrote about the incident for the "Dispatches: International" pages of NFPA Journal
While the article sheds light on some of the problems plaguing the Eternal City's fleet of buses, it also includes some statistics on bus fires on U.S. soil.  "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 reads. 
While bus fires rarely prove fatal in countries like the U.S., that's not the case across the globe. In the March/April NFPA Journal "Dispatches: International," I wrote about a bus fire that killed over 50 people in Kazakhstan at the beginning of the year. According to NFPA data, the blaze was one of the deadliest bus fires in the world in the last 20 years. 

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