Skip navigation
All Places > NFPA Today > Blog > Author: averzoni
1 2 3 Previous Next

NFPA Today

89 Posts authored by: averzoni Employee

The second episode of The NFPA Podcast is now out. The one-hour episode features interviews with NFPA's Brian O'Connor, Matt Paiss of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and hazardous materials expert Scott Stookey, who all discuss the science, hazards, and fire prevention and response pertaining to lithium ion batteries and fires involving those devices.

 

"We're living in an increasingly battery-operated world, from scooters scattered along city blocks to sports cars and buses to energy storage systems capable of powering entire buildings," I say to kick off the episode, before rattling off a telling statistic: the worldwide battery market is expected to grow by 12 percent over the next five years. With that growth has come safety concerns, though, and the episode highlights some of those concerns. It also sheds light on some of the ways batteries and energy storage systems are becoming safer—namely, through the use of resources such as NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems.

 

Listen to episode 2 as well as the first episode, which came out on June 9, at nfpa.org/podcasts.

In light of the mass protests in Minneapolis, NFPA Journal Podcast is running an episode that first aired on January 12, 2016, which explores the many implications of civil unrest and mass protests for city fire departments. Most of the audio in the episode is from fire officials in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, who discussed their experiences putting out fires amid gunshots and other challenges during the dramatic protests that occurred in their cities after two African American citizens were killed by police officers in 2014 and 2015. The presentations are from the 2015 NFPA Responder Forum.

 

Listen to the podcast here.

 

Additionally, a November/December 2016 NFPA Journal article, "Civil Action," explored how a fire chief in Charlotte, North Carolina, dealt with the fatal police shooting of a black man and subsequent protests in that city in September 2016. The chief was coincidentally attending the 2016 Urban Fire Forum at NFPA headquarters when he was notified of the shooting, and the Metro Chiefs had been discussing past protests. (Read the white paper they endorsed here.)

 

Now, similar events to the ones that occurred in Ferguson in Charlotte are unfolding again.

 

Last night, demonstrations erupted in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in response to the death of a 46-year-old African American man named George Floyd. Video had emerged days earlier of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for at least seven minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face-down on the road. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

 

As part of the protests that followed, angry citizens have looted stores and set numerous fires, including to a police precinct. While the demonstrations have been most pronounced in Minneapolis, protests have erupted across the country, including in Louisville, Kentucky, Denver, Colorado, and New York City.

 

On the re-aired NFPA Journal Podcast you’ll hear the accounts from firefighters involved in responding to the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. They share what they learned, and how they did their jobs in the face of a very difficult situation.



As we head into the summer months and our thermometer readings tick higher and higher, we all know the discomfort involved with getting into a sweltering vehicle that's been sitting in the sun. Under such circumstances, interior car temperatures can climb to over 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It's certainly unsafe to leave a person or a pet inside a vehicle that hot, but what about a bottle of hand sanitizer? After all, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are considered flammable liquids. 

 

Despite some information currently being released on social media and in the news, the short answer is no. From a fire safety standpoint, it is not unsafe to leave hand sanitizer inside a hot vehicle. Here's why.

 

Flashpoint does not equal ignition temperature 

 

While it's true that most hand sanitizers have a flashpoint around room temperature, that doesn't mean the liquid will all of a sudden catch fire if it reaches that temperature. Flashpoint is a technical term used to characterize the propensity of a liquid to burn. It defines the temperature at which a liquid gives off enough vapor to become ignitible in the air. At that temperature, however, you still need an ignition source like a flame from a candle or a lighter for ignition to occur. 

 

This point became muddled through a recent news story from Wisconsin. A fire department there publicly shared an image from an incident that reportedly occurred in Brazil, showing a burned car door after hand sanitizer being stored in the vehicle was exposed to a flame. Many erroneously interpreted the department's warning as saying hand sanitizer can spontaneously ignite inside a hot car, which is untrue. "Simply be careful and realize that a product we all use very frequently can be dangerous if it contacts open flame of any kind, but specifically cigarettes or those from grills," the department clarified. 

 

Spontaneous ignition, on the other hand, involves a substance self-heating to a point where it ignites, without the need for any outside ignition source like a flame. Hand sanitizer is not subject to self-heating and would require temperatures to reach over 700 degrees Fahrenheit to spontaneously ignite, according to Guy Colonna, director of Technical Services at NFPA. 

 

"Spontaneous ignition would be an ignition source independent of a flame or a spark, [and] it requires a material that is reactive to do what's called self-heat," Colonna says in a new video interview on the topic (above). "Internally, it undergoes a reaction and changes its properties, and when changing its properties, it releases lots of heat energy. Hand sanitizer, the alcohol [in it], is a material not inclined to do that. ... The ignition temperature of the alcohols are going to be something in excess of 700 degrees Fahrenheit." 

 

In other words, while hand sanitizer gives off ignitable vapors at roughly room temperature or above, that vapor-air mixture still needs to be exposed to very high temperatures to ignite. A flame can do it. A hot car can't.

 

Still a fire hazard 

 

All of this said, hand sanitizer still presents fire safety concerns, especially when stored in bulk quantities. For any storage amount over 5 gallons, NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, would apply. That was the message included in a Learn Something New (LSN) video released last month. 

 

"What we're seeing during [the coronavirus] pandemic is a lot of hand sanitizer being stored in places you might expect, like hospitals, but also in places that haven't traditionally stored such liquids," I say in the video. "A Tennessee man, for example, made headlines in March for having stockpiled almost 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer." In doing so, Colonna says in the video, these individuals or companies may be compromising safety, if protection systems designed to protect the storage of such quantities of flammable liquids are not in place. 

 

Watch the full LSN video here.

Click image to watch a new Learn Something New episode on facade fires. 

 

 

June 14 will mark the three-year anniversary of the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire, during which smoke and flames raced up and around the sides of the London high-rise at an astonishing pace, killing more than 70 people. There were many safety deficiencies within the building, from a lack of fire sprinklers to faulty alarms to just one exit stairwell. But in terms of fire spread, the most significant factor was the 24-story apartment building's combustible exterior wall assembly, which included plastic-laden cladding and insulation.

 

So what have we learned about facade fires and exterior wall assemblies like Grenfell's since then? Turns out, not as much as many fire safety experts had hoped. And fires involving combustible exterior wall assemblies continue to occur worldwide. 

 

Just last week, a 49-story building in Sharjah, a city near Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, was aglow with flames. Dozens of worried onlookers captured footage of the blaze (pictured right), which clearly showed the building's facade burning readily, with huge chunks of it breaking loose and smashing the ground and even parked vehicles below. "There was so much smoke coming from the building, you could see the speed at which the fire raced up the building ... you could see big pieces of the cladding falling down," Birgitte Messerschmidt, director of Applied Research at NFPA, told me in an interview this week. "It had all the telltale signs of a facade cladding fire."

 

Parts of my conversation with Messerschmidt is featured in a new episode of Learn Something NewTM that highlights the persistent global problem of facade fires. In the video, she answers questions like, what led to the proliferation of combustible exterior walls in the first place and why is there no quick fix to the problem?

 

Messerschmidt also penned a recent NFPA Journal article on the difficulty of obtaining data related to facade fires. "A surprising fact is that the only way researchers know about the increase in these types of fires is from the media—even after events like Grenfell, there is still no coordinated global effort to collect data on these or any other fire incidents," she writes in the piece. 

 

My full conversation with Messerschmidt—as well as with Anas Alzaid, who is NFPA's representative to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region—can be viewed below. In the video, both Messerschmidt and Alzaid discuss the most recent fire in Sharjah and go into detail about why many of these facade fires over the past decade or so have occurred in the Middle East. The tremendous growth of the region in recent years is one factor, says Messerschmidt. While failures in testing and code compliance is another, adds Alzaid. "This is not the end of the issue," he says in the video.

 


A fire at a hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia, today killed five patients being treated for COVID-19. (Reuters)

 

Six people are dead after two fires in just three days torched hospitals treating COVID-19 patients in Russia. The incidents underscore the importance of not losing sight of fire safety, even during unprecedented circumstances such as the global coronavirus pandemic.

 

The first fire occurred in Moscow Saturday, killing one patient and forcing the evacuation of 200 others. The second occurred today in St. Petersburg, killing five patients and forcing the evacuation of 150 others. Both blazes appear to have been started by faulty ventilators, and Russia has announced it is launching a criminal investigation into the incidents. "The ventilators are working to their limits. Preliminary indications are that it was overloaded and caught fire, and that was the cause [of today's fire]," a hospital source said, according to BBC News. Media reports on the first fire suggested a similar cause. The news comes less than a week after Reuters published an article saying Russia's stock of ventilators was "plentiful," but the devices are "old and sometimes broken."

 

Across the globe, health care facilities have been strained by the coronavirus pandemic. They've been forced to rapidly convert areas never intended for patient care at all into makeshift intensive care units, which require complicated assortments of equipment and building systems working in conjunction with one another. At the same time, temporary hospitals have been established in areas like city parks, convention centers, hotels, and sports arenas, raising similar challenges.

 

With these actions has come some level of risk associated with the need to forgo compliance with parts of established codes like NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code, in order to get things built quickly. It's unclear what, if any, code compliance relaxations had been put in place ahead of the two Russia fires, but the incidents still serve as a warning to all jurisdictions that certain aspects of codes can't be ignored, even during the COVID-19 crisis. 

 

NFPA 99, for example, includes provisions that could have addressed issues like the ones suspected of sparking the Russia fires. "The code includes general safety information on electrical equipment that, when combined with manufacturing standards, should address things like this," says Jon Hart, an engineering technical services lead at NFPA.

 

In the United States, many repurposed and newly constructed health care facilities established in recent months to meet the demand in patients sickened with coronavirus have still adhered to parts of NFPA codes deemed most necessary—such as requirements for fire alarms, electrical safety, and medical gas and vacuum systems—while not always adhering to parts of the code deemed less necessary—like requirements for hallway width and occupant load. A new article in the May/June issue of NFPA Journal examines how some jurisdictions are striking this delicate balance. 

 

"Everybody's concerned, but we have to play with the hand that’s been dealt," Robert Solomon, director of the Building and Life Safety Division at NFPA, says in the article. "You can still make these facilities safe, to a degree, without adhering to every bell and whistle in the codes and standards—at least on a temporary basis."

 

NFPA released a white paper and a fact sheet in early April to help facility managers, designers, and AHJs navigate the situation. Both documents indicate, for instance, that portions of NFPA codes and standards can still be used to enhance safety at health care facilities without those facilities meeting the codes in their entirety.

 

Unfortunately, the Moscow and St. Petersburg blazes—as well as a fire in a nursing home that killed 11 people in the tiny Russian town of Krasnogorsk yesterday—build on the country's poor record of fire safety in hospitals and nursing homes. In general, many countries outside of the US lack the development, use, and enforcement of codes and standards necessary to protect patients and health care workers from fires. A December article from NFPA Journal explored the fire problem in international hospitals. 

 

"Hospitals in low- and middle-income countries often lack strict building codes, certification processes, and regulatory oversight," Robyn Gershon, an occupational and environmental health and safety researcher at New York University's College of Global Public Health, says in the article. "Everything from poor construction to a lack of emergency preparedness within the hospitals can lead to adverse outcomes in staff, visitors, and the most vulnerable population—patients—during fires or other emergencies."


More than 400 firefighters and 120 emergency vehicles were deployed to the scene of a fire in a warehouse under construction near Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday. The blaze killed at least 38 workers who were inside the structure at the time. (Getty Images) 

 

At least 38 people are dead after a fire tore through a four-story warehouse under construction in South Korea earlier today. The blaze occurred in Icheon, about 50 miles southeast of the capital city of Seoul, and was the third "devastating workplace fire" in the East Asian country in recent years, according to the New York Times.

 

Chilling images from the incident showed dozens of ambulances lined up in front of the charred structure, waiting to treat victims. According to the Times, only about half of the workers who were inside the warehouse when the blaze broke out escaped. "We presume that an ignition of oil mist caused an explosion and that the sudden combustion gave the workers no chance to escape," said Seo Seung-hyun, head of the Icheon Fire Department, according to the Associated Press.

 

Construction site fires are a global problem. A simple online search this morning revealed 10 such fires in regions spanning from Asia to the United States to the Middle East in just the past two weeks. In the US alone, NFPA data shows that fire departments respond to more than 17 fires in buildings under construction or undergoing renovations every day. These fires cause an annual average of 12 civilian deaths, 101 civilian injuries, and over $400 million in direct property damage. While some of these incidents have been blamed on specific construction materials—namely, lightweight wood—the truth is any construction site, regardless of the materials being used, is at high risk for burning. Common construction site activities like hot work, combined with the fact that security and fire protection measures are often lacking at these locations, prime buildings under construction or undergoing renovations for fires. 

 

"Construction sites are often unsecured, are home to many kinds of ignition sources, and are largely unprotected in terms of fire protection systems," said Nicole Comeau, an NFPA segment director. "These vulnerabilities make it critical that safety programs are implemented and followed at all times to protect workers, civilians, first responders, the site itself, and surrounding sites."

 

NFPA 241 and other resources  

 

An important tool for mitigating the fire hazards of construction sites is NFPA 241, Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations. The standard outlines measures to reduce the risk of fire in buildings under construction, as well as those being renovated or demolished. It requires building owners, who are tasked with implementing it, to designate a fire prevention program manager to make sure the correct fire safety measures are being followed during the entirety of a construction project. NFPA 1, Fire CodeNFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code; the International Building Code; and the International Fire Code all require compliance with NFPA 241.

 

The use of NFPA 241 is a key step in preventing construction fires, according to Meghan Housewright, director of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute. "Make sure your community enforces the most recent [edition] to keep up to date as construction practices change," Housewright wrote in a blog posted last year, after a series of three costly construction fires occurred in the US. The current version of NFPA 241 is the 2019 edition, which replaced the 2013 edition to include, among other updates, added provisions supporting the need to secure temporary heating and cooking equipment at construction sites. Cooking equipment is the leading cause of construction site fires in the US, according to the NFPA data.

 

Housewright also said ensuring written fire prevention plans are included in the local construction permit process and having local policymakers engage in conversations with local fire officials and site managers to urge they go above and beyond the minimum safety requirements are essential to creating fire-safe construction sites.

 

In addition to NFPA 241, NFPA has also created a training program for construction workers who perform hot work. Hot work is any work process that involves welding, soldering, brazing, cutting, grinding, drilling, burning, or melting of substances capable of creating a spark or flame. It's the fifth-leading cause of construction fires in the US.

 

While it's important for policymakers, fire officials, and construction managers and workers to utilize resources like the ones offered by NFPA year-round, the current international COVID-19 crisis is raising new and unique questions about construction site fire safety. If sites have been temporarily abandoned because of the pandemic, for example, have they also been secured to prevent trespassers and would-be arsonists? Intentionally set fires are the fourth-leading cause of US construction fires. In mid-April, NFPA released a tip sheet to guide construction site safety during these unprecedented times. 


It's unclear what impact, if any, the coronavirus pandemic had on Wednesday's deadly construction fire in South Korea.

 

For some of the more than 400 firefighters who responded to the blaze, it likely recalled a similarly horrific incident that struck Icheon in January 2008, when a fire sparked in a cold-storage warehouse under construction killed 40 workers. In response to that incident, South Korea's largest newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, lambasted safety regulations in the country. "No matter how much our economy grows, a country where people's lives are wasted this way cannot be called an advanced nation," the paper said, according to Reuters

 

—ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. An extended version of this article will appear as an online exclusive in the upcoming May/June issue of the magazine.

When COVID-19 first made landfall in the United States in late February, it immediately took a heavy toll on the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where elderly residents began falling ill and dying from the disease by the dozens. According to the New York Times, one fifth of all coronavirus deaths in the US have been nursing home residents. The elderly are a particularly vulnerable group to this disease. But they're not the only one. Numerous reports have shown that black as well as Latin and Native American communities have been hit particularly hard, too.

 

With trends like these known, communities that have access to data on their demographics, population density, and other attributes will inevitably be better off during situations like the coronavirus pandemic than those that don't—it's an important aspect of community risk reduction, or CRR. A new episode of the NFPA Journal Podcast explores this idea. 

 

"We've been in touch with a number of communities to hear how they're using risk assessments and data to combat this pandemic," Chelsea Rubadou, a CRR strategist at NFPA, says in the podcast. "A number of communities do have risk assessments in place and they've found that they are valuable during this outbreak." 

 

The episode—Community Risk Reduction and COVID-19—is the fifth podcast the NFPA Journal team has released during the coronavirus pandemic. The previous four have explored topics ranging from responder safety during the pandemic to health care patient surge, and can be listened to for free here

 

In June, the NFPA Journal Podcast will be transformed into the NFPA Podcast, a broader, longer, and more frequent series. More information on that project will be available in the May/June issue of NFPA Journal.

For the second month in a row, the latest installment of my Learn Something New YouTube video series deals with a safety topic related to the global coronavirus pandemic. In March, I released a video on NFPA's first responder infection control standard, NFPA 1581. This month, I've tackled the topic of hand sanitizer, and the fire safety considerations for handling and storing this flammable liquid. 

 

If in the past few weeks you've visited any store that typically sells hand sanitizer, you've likely had no luck finding it. Faced with COVID-19 fears, frantic shoppers have snatched up every last bottle of hand sanitizer along with the rest of the disinfectant wipes, sprays, and toilet paper. To meet the surge in hand sanitizer demand, some businesses already versed in the world of alcohol, like breweries and distilleries, are shifting their production capabilities to crank out hand sanitizer instead of booze.

 

The problem with that, safety experts have warned, is it could create a fire hazard, especially when large amounts of hand sanitizer are being stored in areas that weren't designed to hold such a highly flammable product. While most hard liquor clocks in at 40 percent ethanol by volume, hand sanitizer ranges from 60 to 95 percent. "They may have introduced things that compromise previously put in place protections," Guy Colonna, director of NFPA's Engineering Technical Services division, says in the video. 

 

When more than 5 gallons of hand sanitizer is being stored, the provisions found in NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, apply. These provisions require, for example, storage in a flammable liquids cabinet or in an area protected by an automatic sprinkler system, depending on how much liquid is being stored. 

 

Watch my full interview with Guy below. 

 

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
.
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.

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: