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NFPA Today

20 Posts authored by: kathleenalmand Employee
Since its release in December of last year, EFFECT, NFPA’s electronic tool to assess the risk of high-rise buildings with combustible cladding, has seen widespread use across the globe by engineers, AHJ's and others interested in assessing risks and prioritizing mitigation in these structures.  Over 300 corporations are now using the tool worldwide and its utility has been highlighted by global research organizations. 
The Autumn issue of the Journal of the National Institute of Building Sciences discusses the features and functionality of the EFFECT tool and how it is used to assess the fire risk in high rises with combustible cladding. In Australia, the Queensland Building and Construction Commission established Safer Buildings to help identify buildings in Queensland that may have potentially combustible cladding and will now require building owners to register their building and complete the combustible cladding checklist. 
Learn more about EFFECT and try it out for yourself by visiting our website,
John Portman, a famous  architect who had a major impact on hotel design in the U.S., died in the last week of 2017. Portman was the architect who realized the atrium in commercial and hotel buildings – not only in design but in construction methods.  
But the obituary I read didn't mention that, in fact, John Portman had one of the largest impacts on our building codes in the 20th century. John wasn't a fire safety professional; in fact, like many architects he saw fire safety regulation as a barrier to innovation. He had grand spaces in mind; building codes at the time were based primarily on the concept of compartmentation, the antithesis of grand soaring spaces.  In particular, opening up stories in a high rise building, effectively removing horizontal compartmentation, violated many of the basic tenets of the building codes at the time. But John was a determined innovator and by working with fire protection engineers and building authorities to develop alternative means to provide equivalent safety, he persevered in his desire to create beautiful large interior spaces in public buildings.  

These alternative means included fire sprinklers, smoke management systems, and other features which are now common in fire safety design and code requirements in highrise structures. His determination not only enabled a new form of urban architecture, but it also opened the door for a more scientific approach toward the development of fire safety design and building codes which has been applied to other innovations in building design. His signature design, Atlanta's Peachtree Center, the first Hyatt Hotel that featured a Portman designed atrium, was arguably the gateway to a revitalization in U.S. downtown urban environments. And for us, in the fire safety community, particularly at a time when once again fundamental tenets of our building codes (for example combustible facades and construction for highrise buildings) are being challenged, it's a reminder that we need to keep pace with building innovation with innovation in our own understanding and application of the principles of fire safety engineering.  
To explore how NFPA’s life safety code addresses Portman’s innovation, please read my colleague Greg Harrington's recent blog: #101 Wednesdays: Soaring to new heights - atriums and the Life Safety Code.
Photo: John Portman & Associates website
NFPA Interns
Fire protection engineering students are not strangers to NFPA.  We have a very long history of hiring interns and co-ops from Worcester Polytechnic Institute's fire protection engineering program, some of whom have become employees here.  More recently we have expanded our WPI relationship and data science interns are now interning with us and helping us apply modern data techniques to the fire problem.  But we touch the global fire science/engineering student body in a lot of different ways also.  For example:  
  • NFPA's research section sponsors a student poster session at C&E each year - last year we had a dozen or so posters and students from around the world participating.
  • The Research Foundation annually funds a handful of students to undertake small research projects to provide information to our technical committees.
  • NFPA provides fellowship type grants to the three major FPE schools in the U.S. annually - two are used to fund student projects and one is used to support recruitment efforts.
  • We have two Memoranda of Understanding with global universities in developing nations designed to connect them to the global fire science community and NFPA’s resources.
  • We periodically invite international research fellows to join us for a few months to learn from us and share their work - we have had fellows from Korea, China, Sweden, Denmark and Spain and are looking to strengthen our connection to global universities and their students.
  • Our new student membership program (coming soon) is providing an opportunity to connect and gain information from NFPA.
If you have thoughts and ideas or if you are a student who would like to learn more, please let us know.  Students are the future of global fire safety science and engineering and we are committed to supporting them in whatever way we can. 


At a joint Fire Protection Research Foundation and Vision 20/20 workshop on Monday, September 11, 2017, speakers from research, industry and standards developers described the latest developments in technology and its implementation for smoke alarms and cooking fire prevention.

Workshop participants from the fire prevention community discussed the potential impact of these technologies and asked the question: what is our role in driving their implementation for home fire safety?

That role is threefold: as a communication bridge for new technology to the fire service and to high risk groups who might benefit from it; as an advocate for new technology solutions in regulation and with industry; and as a field data collection resource for the effectiveness and needed enhancements of technology.

The Foundation and Vision 20/20 invite you to participate in the dialogue.

Read the Proceedings from this workshop here.


Why is it that structural fire engineering is rarely used in major building design projects in the U.S.?


That question was addressed last week in Alexandria, Virginia at a workshop co-sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction and the Applied Technology Research Council. The fire engineering design of hi-rise buildings and other unique structures around the world are routinely based on engineering principles. Structural members, connections and systems are designed to withstand fires appropriate to the occupancy, loads and protection provided. Global fire engineering firms integrate this dimension of fire engineering (which is in many respects better researched and understood than other aspects of the complex fire problem) in their overall approach to fire safety design. At the workshop, several UK-based fire engineering firms and a few American ones gave examples of such projects, illustrating where the application of typical standard fire resistance ratings are clearly not appropriate and in some cases are less than conservative.


The Fire Protection Research Foundation has contributed to the development of sound fire engineering methods, most recently with a study focused on the contribution of exposed structural timber to compartment fire growth.


So what’s holding us back? The workshop identified a number of possible barriers including a lack of widespread structural fire engineering curriculum elements in academia, a lack of widespread awareness about the engineered approach that ensures safer buildings, and a lack of a financial incentive to move away from a prescriptive approach.


In the end, the 40 people in room agreed that in light of recent major fire events around the world, the need to ensure that our hi-rise buildings are safe has never been clearer.

research, birgitte
NFPA is pleased to announce the addition of Birgitte Messerschmidt (Collins) as the Director of our Applied Research Group. Birgitte comes to us from a long career at Rockwool Industries, a Danish-based mineral wool and fire protection manufacturing company. She began her career as a fire researcher at the Danish National Fire Research institute (DBI) and has been a leader in the global fire research community for many years. Birgitte will provide leadership in our efforts to grow and strengthen our research network and better connect us to the global advances in research that will impact fire and electrical safety so that we can share that information with our stakeholders. 
You can reach Birgitte at  

Late last month, Margaret Law died peacefully at her home in London. She was a true pioneer.


Law was known worldwide for her early foundational fire science work at the Fire Research Station in the UK. The visionary contributed to the formation and leadership structure of fire engineering consultancy at Arup, Inc.; and was highly regarded for her persistent focus on the application of science to solve practical fire engineering problems.

We, in North America, perhaps know her best for her groundbreaking work analyzing the performance of exposed structural steel in fire. Her research on this subject has many applications in the United States and Canada. Law was also an advocate for the fire engineering profession. During her impressive career, she helped to garner charter engineer status for fire engineering in the UK and was a tireless contributor to the recognition of engineering codes and standards around the globe. She was also steadfast in her efforts to make others aware of the impact that fire engineering has had on life safety. 


Margaret Law was a passionate mentor and patient teacher for many. She was a role model for me and other women in the profession at a time when there were very few of us. 

fire and life safety, workshop

NFPA works daily with a committed group of professionals who are responsible for maintaining fire and life safety in their facilities worldwide. Often those facilities are located in domestic and global jurisdictions with varying levels of safety enforcement capabilities.

Many of you have developed your own programs to address this challenge in order to maintain the level of safety in your facilities that is consistent with your company’s brand and safety philosophy. On August 29th at our headquarters in Quincy, we have invited a small group of corporate fire and life safety professionals to meet to discuss these issues and share best practices. NFPA hopes to learn from this discussion and identify ways that we might support you going forward.

Here is more information on the event – please join us.

In the past year, a number of different requests for tools to assess community risk have been presented to the research group at NFPA. 


The first was an outcome from a workshop we held in late 2015 which explored how various jurisdictions are using data for their inspection programs.   Innovative jurisdictions like Kitsap County, WA, have developed tools to characterize the risk in properties in their jurisdiction based on local data.  Understanding the value of these tools, NFPA is currently developing a Property Inspection Prioritization tool, PIP, which uses an AI approach based on feedback from enforcement community members to prioritize risk factors and generate inspection priorities. 


In response to a different need, the Research Foundation is currently conducting a project focused on reducing the risk of electric shock drowning in marinas and boatyards.  Here too, a risk assessment tool is being developed by the Foundation’s contractor, WPI, based on identifying the factors contributing to this electrical hazard.  The project is also exploring mitigation methods that may be effective in addressing this complex problem.

Most recently, in response to a number of recent catastrophic fires in highrise buildings clad in combustible wall assemblies, NFPA has just initiated a project to develop a risk assessment tool for authorities to assess the relative risk of these structures in their jurisdiction.  The project, which will be conducted by a team of global fire protection engineers by year end, will also present a range of short, medium and long term mitigation strategies.


What these projects illustrate is our emerging ability to create data-informed tools to support decision making for local jurisdictions as they assess their community’s risks.   As we roll these tools out we will learn from them andlook to see what more we can do.

AT the first session this morning, Steve Griffith and Jack Lyons from NEMA reviewed the Association's strategic initiatives related to the internet of things. Steve showed the projected growth of interconnected devices to 40 billion by 2019. He focused on the architectural structure of IoT - describing system networks, technology protocols and relevant standards for various markets. The list of IoT applications in the home is growing rapidly- think appliance and HVAC controls and lighting- including your living room curtains control. My sense from listening to the presentation is that the commercial and associated standards development that are behind this movement are much deeper than I had thought. Jack then connected this to our world of fire and electrical codes. He painted the picture of a lighting device as an energy saving system, a fire detector, a motion sensor to support evacuation strategies and a communicator. This opens up so many opportunities to increase safety - if we can connect this capability to other safety systems. This is our challenge going forward- to enable this communication through standards. 

Matt Hinds-Aldrich, Rita Fahy and myself presented a review of NFPA's review of the international fire data scene at the NFPA conference this morning. As part of our work for our own project to develop a National Fire Daya System here in the U.S., we've conducted an international survey of best practices, participated in the Ibternational Standards Organization's survey and met with some of the leaders in fire data around the world. The presentation this morning shared lessons learned around simplicity of data entry, training of data enterers and most importantly the need to provide immediate incentives and feedback to those at the local level who are the key to data quality. As we broaden our data interests beyond incident related data, we have much to learn from the British and Australians about their systems for fire prevention related data collection. 

Audience members from around the world emphasized the need for a broad global dialogue on these topics as NFPA moves forward with our data initiatives. We are listening. 

In 2014 NFPA published the “Total Cost of Fire in the United States”, a landmark document that captured all the available information on the economic cost of fire loss and fire protection in this country.  The document is still frequently referenced today as one of the few sources of information on a topic that is increasingly on the agenda of decision makers in our community.  Those decision makers include not only policy makers at the national level, the target of the 2014 report, but also regulators at the state and local level who are increasingly requiring an assessment of cost/benefit for regulation, and local jurisdictions who are making decisions about fire protection resources in their community based on cost.


Recognizing the need, in 2016, the Fire Protection Research Foundation convened a workshop of stakeholders to explore what other tools are available and what are the gaps.  The workshop report called for additional data resources and additional tools to be developed for use at the national policy level, the regulatory arena, and at the local level.


The Foundation has published one such tool, Enveco. which is a tool for fire departments to demonstrate the impact of their intervention on reducing the economic and environmental impact of an warehouse fire event in their community. Another project is underway – an assessment of the impact of home fire sprinkler legislation on the cost of housing.


As a result of the workshop, we are revisiting the 2014 Total Cost of Fire Report.  Working with the State University of Buffalo, we are taking a more comprehensive look at the direct and indirect costs of fire loss.  This information will serve as the basis for additional modeling and tools for the community.  We also hope to do more in-depth work on the cost of firefighter injury and on the environmental impacts of fire, in collaboration with DHS and the Swedish Fire Protection Association, respectively. 


Last week, Amanda Kimball from the Research Foundation attended an international workshop on regulatory reform which focused on this topic; we have also been providing resources to the World Bank as they build the case for resilient (and fire resistant) development.  All this means that we are not alone:  dollars and cents are the new metrics for decision making in fire and life safety around the world.

This week I participated in the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Connected Buildings Forum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was an opportunity for NEMA members to learn from related industry speakers about the internet of things and its connection to their business.  I was asked to kick off the Forum by presenting NFPA’s vision of the opportunities that connected buildings present to enhance fire safety.  Using the Research Foundation’s Smart Fire Fighting Roadmap as a starting point, I structured my presentation around four key areas with examples of opportunities in each. Here are some highlights:


  • fire prevention – how building data (from BIM and other systems) can identify high risk structures for community risk reduction programs and to improve fire protection system inspection, testing and maintenance;
  • fire protection – how information from embedded building sensors could improve the performance and durability of both active and passive fire protection systems
  • fire mitigation/fire fighting – how real time sensor data can provide information for pre-planning, firefighting tactics, situational awareness and even firefighter health and safety
  • fire forensics – how building performance data can inform fire investigation and lead to improvements to fire safety codes and design methods.


NFPA has a good story to tell in terms of the resources we already offer on this topic.  I pointed to our electrical and building codes, our data exchange, and our fire service-related standards as examples of how to make the connection a reality. I talked about the Research Foundation’s work to enhance these standards and to highlight the smart home and smart firefighting issue. I also talked about our Data Analytics Sandbox and National Fire Data System projects which are leading the data exchange activities in our community.


If we are going to benefit from the connected buildings movement, we have to continue to reach out to organizations outside the fire community to show others the potential for these technologies to interconnect and enhance safety in a multitude of ways.

research foundation report - lithium ion battery storage

The Fire Protection Research Foundation has completed a major three phase study on the hazards and associated protection needs for small format lithium ion batteries in cartons in storage configurations.  The latest report presents the results of full scale testing to evaluate sprinkler protection strategies.  This research will inform future sprinkler protection requirements in NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Automatic Sprinklers. 



Effective April 1st, 2015, Casey Grant will assume the leadership of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, NFPA’s research affiliate, as its executive director.  The Foundation supports NFPA’s mission through research planning, management and technology transfer, with a strong focus on the needs of NFPA’s codes and standards.

Casey holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, both in Fire Protection Engineering.  He is a Registered Professional Engineer in Fire Protection Engineering in the States of California and Tennessee. Casey is a Fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers and the Institute of Fire Engineers.   Prior to joining the Research Foundation in 2007, Casey was the Secretary of the NFPA Standards Council and Assistant Chief Engineer. 

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