Earlier this month I attended the 29th Phoenix World Burn Congress (PWBC), the largest gathering of the burn survivor community. It is a poignant reminder of why fire prevention and life safety is so important. This is the annual gathering of those impacted by fire – survivors, caretakers, healthcare professionals, fire service - supporting one another and talking about prevention and advocacy strategies. It is an incredible experience.
I went to my first PWBC in 2009 and am always amazed at how quickly 1000 people can come together in such an accepting and compassionate way. What is equally impressive is the strength, resiliency and optimism of those whose lives have been impacted by burns. In addition, their desire to help prevent future fie tragedies from occurring is remarkable.
NFPA has had a longstanding partnership with Phoenix Society because the work of the Phoenix Society is a critical component in the full fire prevention system and intertwined with everyone who works in fire and life safety. Without the Phoenix Society, NFPA cannot fully achieve our mission. We work with Phoenix Society on the Fire Sprinkler Initiative’s Faces of Fire campaign and other projects. Most recently we produced a podcast series called The Survivors, that will be released later this month.
This work is important. Survival from a burn injury in a United States hospital is nearing 96% and that is good news. But it means there are more and more people who need support throughout their life. I am honored to be the board president of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors on behalf of NFPA and help them expand their mission of building a community for transformational healing.
For years, Phoenix Society has been developing leading edge resources for the burn community and continues to do so today. They amplify the survivor voice in conversations that influence the future of acute and long-term care, psychosocial support, and research. They work alongside NFPA and other partners for fire prevention and advocating for up to date fire and life safety codes.
This is a critical organization doing incredible work. NFPA is excited about what the future holds and is supporting their efforts to expand services so they can reach more people in more places, increase their advocacy voice and further their leadership role in burn care.
At NFPA, we often say that we never do anything alone. We have much greater impact through by working with others. Our work with Phoenix Society is moving us closer to our vision of eliminating loss from fire.
His Highness Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior for United Arab Emirates and NFPA Board Member Russell Leavitt were on hand to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between NFPA and the UAE Ministry of Interior during Innovation in Fire Protection: Fire Service and Code Enforcers Symposium in Abu Dhabi this week.
Calling it a mutual commitment to advance fire and life safety in the United Arab Emirates, NFPA President Jim Pauley signed for NFPA while Major General Jassim Mohamed Al Marzooqi signed for the UAE Ministry of Interior.
His Highness thanked NFPA and the conference attendees for their roles in the protection of society saying, “Collaboration is key to our success in protecting our community.”
The MOU includes the development of training and certification programs, joint research projects, additional conferences and seminars and adoption of various codes and standards.
More than 150 attendees from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) participated in a first of its kind symposium this week in Abu Dhabi. Entitled Innovation in Fire Protection: Fire Service and Code Enforcers Symposium, the two-day event was aimed at fire and life safety officials from around the country and addressed the latest code and related issues impacting fire and life safety.
Saying it may be the first time the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) brought so many staff outside of the U.S. at once to put on this type of event, NFPA President Jim Pauley stressed the importance of working together in his keynote remarks, “It is a unique opportunity for all of us to talk about the issues facing the fire service and enforcement community today and discuss what we can do together to protect people and property from fire and other hazards.”
NFPA worked closely with the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Interior to put together the program, which highlighted issues of greatest interest to the UAE. Topics included Impact of NFPA Standards in the Real World; Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Existing Buildings; Remote Inspection Program and Cinema Training Initiative; Managing Social Media; Smart Firefighting, Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems, Firefighter Operations and Industrial Fire Protection Challenges.
(Recounted by Casey Grant- Fire Protection Research Foundation Executive Director)
On Friday evening (26/Feb) my wife Cathy and I attended the play “Inferno: Fire at the Cocoanut Grove 1942” at the Core Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts theatre complex. It was a great show and I was part of a post-show talk-back panel answering questions from the audience, along with former Boston Fire Department Commissioner Paul Christian and author Stephanie Schorow. Truly a unique experience!
Rich in content, the dialogue was fascinating and provided a realistic portrayal of this tragic disaster. It was a straight-forward production, and the solid cast provided a noteworthy representation of a wide span of colorful characters. Their monologues and multiple scenes effectively engaged the audience using a straight-forward set, centered primarily on the Grove’s nightclub atmosphere and related locations, before and after the fire.
Not only was the story accurate, but the post fire scenes stressed the significant advances that came from the tragedy. They gently but firmly emphasized that valuable lessons ultimately came about, and those who suffered did not do so in vain. The importance of the work of emergency responders and fire safety organizations like NFPA were mentioned more than once, as well as being prominently highlighted in the program.
For me, this was not just another show. Beyond the story itself, I felt like I was in a surreal reality, listening to voices and seeing the faces of people whose stories I had heard many times but could only imagine. Eerily, I’ve previously had conversations with some of the main characters in the play. These people survived and witnessed the fire but have since left this world, and seeing their characters again had a dreamlike quality.
Not long after I started at NFPA in 1988 I decided I wanted to write an article for NFPA Journal on something that was full of passion and non-technical. As I poked around on this thought, it became clear that touching on a historical event was a worthy and safe approach. But on what?
A little more digging, and I realized that a few years hence (i.e., 1992) would be the 50th anniversary of the famed Cocoanut Grove Fire, an incredible tragedy in the City of Boston that took 492 lives and left a deep scar on the fire safety landscape.
Published in the May/June 1991 edition of NFPA Journal as “The Last Dance at the Cocoanut Grove”, I constructed the story around the personal eyewitness testimony of survivors and participants. Locating these individuals prior to the 50th anniversary (in 1992) required significant investigative work. Today, all have now passed from this world to the next.
I allowed the story to be told by the following five participants in the event: Hewson Gray, a patron that survived with his wife Hilde; Daniel Weiss, a bartender in the Melody Lounge; Red Graney of the Boston Fire Department and on one of the first arriving units that stumbled on the fire while at a nearby car fire; Dr Francis Moore who was in charge of the emergency room at Mass General Hospital that fateful evening; and John Collins with the US Navy that responded with other military units. I interviewed each of them, and they told me their stories, and I simply packaged them together. In the play, three of these characters came back to life: Hewson Gray, Daniel Weiss, and Red Graney. Very, very strange indeed.
“Inferno: Fire at the Cocoanut Grove 1942” will have a six-week run, from February 24 to April 3. The Core Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts theatre complex is located at 539 Tremont Street, Boston. With a parking garage underneath the complex and plenty of great restaurants in the complex and nearby, it makes a great evening out.
The production was written and directed by James Hansen Prince, a Texas playwright-actor-director. His connection is a personal one, with a relative from his wife’s family lost in the disaster, and one of the play’s characters. This is considered the first theatrical production about the devastating nightclub blaze, and it’s intended as a tribute to never forget. Significant advances have been linked to this disaster, and this play allows us to reflect on the somber thought that those who died and those who suffered did not do so in vain.
I highly recommend it.
You may not know when or if you will have a fire in your home, when or if a member of your family will be stricken with a medical emergency or when and if your community will face a terrorist or other life threatening calamity; but what you do know is that you expect the first responders in your area to be there, be well trained and be properly equipped to deal with the situation.
This seems to have been lost on the author of a recent Washington Post piece that posed the question that if we have fewer fires today, why are there more firefighters. The author simplistically thought the answer should be that we need fewer firefighters and they should be volunteers. Here are a few reasons why that is the wrong conclusion.
While the number of career firefighters has been increasing, the number per 1,000 people has been steady.
The number of career firefighters has increased has the population size as increased. In contrast, the number of volunteer firefighters per 1,000 people has been decreasing since 1986. One reason we have more career firefighters today is that volunteers are harder to find and keep. Increased training requirements, unpredictability of when an alarm will sound, not living in community and today’s lifestyle make it harder to keep and retain volunteers. But both career and volunteer firefighters are essential to public safety.
It’s not just the number of fires that describe the problem, but the severity of the fires.
Consider a few examples. Human losses of fire in the United States are among the highest per capita in the industrial world. Climate change and other factors are having a tremendous impact on wildland urban interface fires. These fires are happening in more places, more often and causing more loss. In addition to vehicle fires, we are experiencing a new generation of transportation related fires, such as train derailments carrying large amounts of Balkan crude, a phenomenon that was a rare occurrence only a few years ago. Fires are still fatal. The death rate per 1,000 home fires has not substantially changed since 1977. Today we see about 3,000 people die in fires each year. Loss from fires is actually increasing. NFPA research shows that the loss per structure fire was 35% higher in 2013 than in 1977 (adjusted for inflation).
The reality is our nation’s first responders are our first line of defense and our offense in ordinary and extraordinary situations.
The author gives only a terse mention of firefighters being asked to do more than fight fires. The complexity and range of incidents that firefighters are being asked to respond to continues to increase including EMS, HazMat incidents and other public needs, requiring specialized training and expertise.
It was just a week or so ago that the nation recalled the horrific tragedy of 9/11. It was a solemn reminder of all those who lost their lives on that day and how it changed our expectations about what we now rely on our first responders for. The Post piece misses the point.
If you are attending the 52nd ASHE Annual Conference and Technical Exhibition in Boston this month, be sure to visit with the NFPA staff who will be in attendance. NFPA will be well represented at this year’s conference. All events and sessions will be held at the John B. Hynes Memorial Convention Center on July 12-15. Come by and visit with our marketing and product staff in the Exhibit Hall (Booth 123). Swing by the ASHE Learning Lounge in Hall A on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to speak with NFPA staff engineers with your NFPA code questions. And be sure to attend the Just Ask ASHE: Codes and Standards Forum on Wednesday morning.
ASHE has lined up a number of sessions that will cover everything from emergency power supply requirements, accreditation program challenges and findings, how the Affordable Care Act is impacting staff/patient interactions and a review of the Fire Protection Research Foundation study "Validation of the Fire Safety Evaluation System (FSES in the 2013 Edition of the NFPA 101A" and more.
For anyone arriving early, the New England Healthcare Engineers Society (NEHES.ORG) is organizing a Community Service project on Saturday morning July 11th. NEHES is the host chapter for this year’s conference. NEHES very own, and NFPA Technical Committee member Dave Dagenais is also the 2015 President of ASHE and will be front and center in Boston.
With committee activity ramping up on NFPA 99 and NFPA 101 this summer, this is a good opportunity learn from your peers in the health care engineering world, hear about the latest innovations and challenges in the acute care environment and share your experiences and knowledge.
About the ASHE Conference: More than 3,000 professionals gather on-site each year to get vital information on health care compliance, codes and standards updates, emerging trends, and best practices for efficiency, sustainability, emergency preparedness, and other pressing topics in the field. Attend the ASHE Annual Conference and Technical Exhibition to connect with colleagues in the field and to "stay fit" in your role as a health care facility management professional.
Some of the latest news stories covering recent fires in churches have quoted NFPA research. According to NFPA's 2013 report U.S. Structure Fires in Religious and Funeral Properties, local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 1,780 structure fires per year at churches, other places of worship or funeral parlors during the five-year period of 2007- 2011. Thirty percent of the fires in these properties were caused by cooking and another 16% by heating equipment. Sixteen percent or 280 of the 1,780 structure fires per year at these properties were intentional.
NFPA’s Marty Ahrens says it is not surprising that cooking is the leading cause of fires in these properties, “Places of worship are often used for more than worship. They are often centers of the community and a place where a lot of activity happens.”
She also said it’s important to remember that most fires in places of worship are small. Three out of five reported fires in these properties were confined to the object of origin.
According to news accounts, a possible cause of the latest church fire in South Carolina may have been lightning.
Additional resources can be found at NFPA’s online press room.
UPDATE - A little more than a year ago, I wrote a blog post when my youngest brother Tony was promoted to Captain of the Everett Fire Department in Everett, MA. All of what I wrote then still holds true today with one exception. This week I had the privilege of seeing him sworn in as Deputy Chief! Congratulations on moving up the “ladder” to you and your colleagues who also were sworn in to their new positions. Events such as this happen all across the country celebrating and recognizing those moving up the ranks in their respective fire departments.  The ceremonies are great reminders of the brave men and women who not only have chosen the fire service as their career but also are excelling at it.
More than 250 people interested in fire, life and electrical safety gathered in San Jose, Costa Rica this week for Congreso de Protección Integral de la Vida y las Edificaciones – VIED –2014. The third event of its kind was hosted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the School of Electrical Engineers, Mechanical and Industrial, (CIEMI). CIEMI is one of five schools that make up the Association of Engineers and Architects of Costa Rica.
NFPA has been working with CIEMI for ten years. Costa Rica is an excellent example of how NFPA works with people and organizations from all over the world to spread the fire, life and electrical safety message. The collaboration over the last decade has resulted in the adoption of NPFA 70, National Electrical Code and increasing use and interest in a number of additional NFPA codes and standards to better protect people and property in Costa Rica.
During the Third Congress there were more than 20 sessions on the topics relevant to some of the most pressing issues in Costa Rica addressed by our codes and standards. The sessions were conducted by speakers from Argentina, Colombia, Dominican Republic, México, Peru, Venezuela and the United States.
Yesterday NFPA took an important step to ensure our ability to continue to protect public health and safety by preserving the revenues that sustain our ability to develop and maintain our codes and standards.
An organization called Public.Resource.org (Public Resource) has been copying and uploading copyrighted standards developed by NFPA and other private sector standards development organizations (SDOs). Public Resource is well aware that it is doing this without the copyright owners’ authorization. It nevertheless claims that it has the right to engage in unlimited copying and distribution of any standard — and to encourage others to follow suit — any time that even one single city, town or other governmental jurisdiction references the standard in an ordinance, regulation or other law.
NFPA together with ASTM International(ASTM) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have field a lawsuit to stop Public Resource from the flagrant violation of our copyrights and from undermining the enormously effective process of developing consensus codes and standards that over the past century has made all of our homes and workplaces safer.
The standards development system that has evolved in the U.S. for over one hundred years provides enormous public benefits that could not be replicated by governmental bodies without tremendous expense and needless chaos and confusion. Standards development is the original public/private partnership — and it works.
NFPA, along with numerous other SDOs, underwrites the substantial costs of developing standards, in whole or in significant part, by relying on revenues from the sales and licensing of our copyrighted standards. Copyright protection provides a revenue stream that allows NFPA to develop codes and standards with independence and effectiveness and to provide both the private sector and governments with the standards they need to keep the U.S safe and strong.
And the bottom line is, without this revenue our ability to develop future standards and update existing ones would be placed in serious jeopardy, as would the health and safety of the public.
Public Resource’s massive copyright infringement is a “solution” in search of a problem. SDOs have every reason to make their standards widely available, and they actively do so. Standards are available in a variety of formats and at a reasonable cost. SDOs work to meet public access requirements, by offering free access to standards on the Internet. NFPA, for example, has made of all its codes and standards available on its website for viewing at no cost. for more than a decade. For more information on viewing codes and standards online visit www.nfpa.org/freeaccess.
The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages from Public Resource or its founder. It seeks simply to stop the illegal posting of our copyright protected materials.
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A November fire in a garment factor in Bangladesh (photo from abcnews.go.com)
A coalition of trade unions led by IndustriALL and Uni and 70 market leading clothing brands and retailiers announced steps to implement the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. According to the announcement from IndustriaALL, the coalition will begin taking steps to address safety issues in clothing factories in Bangladesh. The announcement identified key highlights of the implementation plan  which includes conducting initial inspections to identify hazards and the need for repairs within nine months. More details on the plan can be found at the IndustriALL website.
Over the past several months, there has been extensive news coverage of a number of tragic fires in garment factories in Bnagladesh and Pakistan. In April, the media also covered the collapse of the Rana Plaza Factory,an eight-story commercial building located outside Dhaka, killing 1,127and injuring another 2,500 people.
In a recent column in NFPA Journal, NFPA President Jim Shannon called these incidents appalling saying,"It is appalling in the 21st century that workers anywhere in the world would be subjected to conditions like these." He likened these horrific events to the Triangle Waist Co. fire in 1911 in New York that took the lives of 146 people, mostly garment workers. Following this fire, NFPA led the way in upgrading working conditions in the United States by developing the Building Exits Code, which has evolved into[ NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code® | http://www.nfpa.org/freeaccess].   Shannon states in his piece, "As an organization that is regarded as a worldwide authority on safety, we must contribute to the effort to raise standards of safety for workers everywhere...Adoption of NFPA 1® Fire Code ® and the Life Safety Code by the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh is a way for those countries to begin to raise safety standards."
(photo KTLA5 - CA)
The nation and the world continue to grieve for the 19 brave firefighters who lost their lives this week battling one of the many raging wildland fires in the United States. Acording to NFPA records, the fire near Yarnell, Arizona is the deadliest incident for firefighters since 9/11 and the third highest firefighter death toll for wildland fires. The 1910 Devil’s Broom wildfire in Silverton, Idaho killed 86 firefighters and the 1933 Griffith Park blaze in Los Angeles, California, killed 29.
Metro Chief President G. Keith Bryant, who serves as the chief of Okahoma City Fire Department shared the sentiments of his membership saying, "On behalf of the members of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, we send our most heartfelt condolences to families and fellow firefighters of the 19 who sadly but bravely lost their lives in the Arizona wildfires. We recognize the enormity of this tragedy and the impact to the loved ones who have lost so much and we grieve with you. The Metropolitan Fire Chiefs offer our prayers for comfort and strength to those suffering with this tragic loss and will always honor the sacrifice of our fallen brothers."
Peter Holland, UK Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor and a member of the Metro Chiefs also sent his condolensces to the US stating, "It truly is unbelievable that so many firefighters have paid the ultimate sacrifice by losing their lives in the enormous wildfires sweeping through Arizona. On behalf of the British government I pass on the sincere condolences of all our citizens to our friends in the United States. We look on in awe at the enormity of the fires and the brave efforts of your firefighters to halt these devastating wildfires."The Metro Chiefs Association brings together fire chiefs from large metropolitan fire departments to share information and focus on major issues effecting policy changes in the U.S. and abroad. Its members belong to the IAFC and NFPA and are the fire chiefs of jurisdictions with minimum staffing of 350 fully paid career fire fighters.
Throughout the week the media have used a number of NFPA resources to tell this tragic story and provide an overview of the growing wildfire problem. For more NFPA resources, including statistics and research, NFPA Journal articles on wildfire and online information relating to wildfire and Fire Adapted Communities, please see the "Breaking News" section of our NFPA press room.
Tonight NFPA mourns the loss of four firefighters in Texas. According to news stories four Houston firefighters died and six others were injured fighting a five alarm fire at the Southwest Inn this afternoon. Reports say that more than 100 firefighters were on the scene of the blaze which began in the kitchen of the hotel and restaurant.
NFPA's most recent firefighter fatality report showed that In 2011, a total of 61 on-duty firefighter deaths occurred in the U.S. This is another sharp drop from the 73 on-duty deaths in 2010 and 82 in 2009, and the lowest annual total since NFPA began conducting this annual study in 1977. The largest share of deaths occurred while firefighters were operating on the fire ground (30 deaths).
U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 3,700
structure fires per year at hotel or motel properties between 2006 and
2010. These fires caused average annual losses of 12 civilian deaths,
143 civilian injuries, and $127 million in direct property damage each
year. Nearly half (45%) of these fires involved cooking equipment, 10%
were caused by smoking materials, 9% were caused by heating equipment,
and clothes dryers or washers were also involved in 9% of these fires.
UPDATE (April 19, 3:00 pm) CNN is reporting that 12 bodies have been recovered in West, Texas, following a fertilizer plant explosion on Wednesday evening. CNN quotes Senator John Cornyn as saying that 60 people are unaccounted for. Local officials say 200 people have been injured and 50 homes have been destroyed. The West Fertilizer Plant is located north of Waco and located near a school and nursing home.
<span style="font-weight: normal;"><strong>Video: See the moment a burning West, Texas, fertilizer plant erupts in a massive explosion.
NFPA will continue to learn more about the developments and provide other relevant material as appropriate.