Skip navigation
All Places > NFPA Today > Blog > Author: paulalevesque
1 2 3 4 Previous Next

NFPA Today

87 Posts authored by: paulalevesque Employee


Some months back, the Fire Analysis and Research Division was asked to run some numbers on fires in residential properties under construction or undergoing major renovation.   This resulted in a new NFPA report, Fires in Residential Properties under Construction or Undergoing Major Renovation.

The results were largely straightforward.  We found that fires in residential properties undergoing construction or major renovation, while a minor portion of all residential property fires, nevertheless accounted for an estimated 5,120 fires per year from 2007 to 2011. We also found that most of these fires and associated losses took place in one- or two-family homes.  Many of the leading causes -- heating equipment, electrical distribution and lighting equipment, torches and shop tools, and smoking materials – were pretty unremarkable. But we were more than a little surprised to find that cooking was the leading cause of fires in residential properties under construction.

We were at a loss to explain how cooking-related activities could figure so prominently in housing units, which, by definition, were not occupied. When the findings were presented to some members of the building community, however, several spoke about the frequent use of hot plates or improvised heating devices to warm food at construction sites, and at least one company reported implementing a “no cooking rule” in response to safety concerns. 

We were naturally relieved to learn that there was some anecdotal evidence to help account for our unexpected results.  But while implementing worksite rules around cooking are a start, addressing the problem in a comprehensive way could require much more expansive prevention efforts.

Safety is a longstanding concern in construction environments, particularly residential construction.  Many workers in this industry lack safety training, and many are temporary or immigrant workers for whom, as emphasized in a recent NIOSH blog, Safety and Health for Immigrant Workers, there are also sizeable language, cultural, and structural barriers to safety.   It seems likely that safe practices related to cooking are associated with other health and safety concerns, including access to washing facilities, sanitary environments for eating, and overall workplace safety efforts.  Good worksite fire safety practices, in this case, will likely be most effective when linked to proactive workplace safety cultures.  


Shortly before 11:38 a.m. on January 2, 1984, the primary electrical power system failed at The Westin Hotel, and security personnel were immediately dispatched to the electrical equipment vaults located in a sub-basement to investigate.  In rapid succession to the power failure and before the security personnel were able to reach the electrical equipment vaults, a fire alarm signal was received from a smoke detector in the switch gear room.  The responding security personnel encountered "heavy smoke", and a series of explosions occurred in the switch gear room.  The evacuation alarm system then sounded throughout the hotel, and the Boston Fire Department was automatically notified. 

Fire department investigators were unable to firmly establish the cause of the short circuit in the electrical switch gear; however, investigators believe that moisture from an unidentified source caused the short circuit.  The short circuit of the high voltage switch gear eliminated the supply of power to the hotel's primary electrical systems and damaged the emergency electrical system conduit.  This caused the loss of lighting on the corridors and in the enclosed stairways in the 38-story high-rise tower and the loss power to the hotel's smoke control system.  Emergency power to the telephone and fire detection and alarm systems was supplied by batteries, allowing those systems to remain in operation.

The loss of the hotel's primary and emergency electrical power systems, combined with the accumulation of smoke in the basement garage areas where the stairways terminated, created a dark, smoke filled environment in these stairways (which occupants of the hotel were reluctant to enter) and then severely hampered occupants in their ability to quickly travel down the stairs and exit the hotel.

Occupant of the hotel were successfully evacuated during this incident.  As a result of this successful evacuation, a human behavior study was performed in order to document how properly functioning automatic detection and alarm systems and a trained staff can contribute to the effective handling of an emergency situation.   

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report.

On December 31, 1986, a mid-afternoon fire at the Dupont Plaza Hotel and Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico resulted in 97 fatalities and over 140 injuries.  The NFPA analysis of the data indicates there were four major factors contributing to the loss of life.  Those factors are:

   •     Lack of automatic sprinklers in the south ballroom (room of origin).

   •     Rapid fire growth and spread.

   •     Lack of automatic fire detection systems/ inadequate exits for the casino.

   •     Vertical opening between the ballroom and the casino levels.

 Additional findings are:

   •    Smoke movement to the high-rise tower by way of vertical penetrations.

   •     Hotel tower occupants were not aware of a severe fire.

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report.


In the early morning hours of December 13, 1977, a fire occurred at Aquinas Hall, a dormitory at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island.  This fire resulted in the deaths of ten female students who were resident s of the fourth floor.  The primary fuel for the fire was highly combustible Christmas decorations that had been put up in the corridors.  Physical evidence indicates that the fire started near a fourth floor sleeping room.

Aquinas Hall was of mixed construction with a majority of the building being protected by non- combustible construction.  It's a four story building with the first floor being used for class rooms and a chapel, and the second, third, and fourth floors occupied as girl's dormitory space.  Interior finish was primarily non-combustible with exception of the concealed fiber board ceiling above the suspended non-combustible mineral tile.  Fire alarm system which consisted of manual pull stations and three combination rate-of-rise, fixed temperature heat detectors.  The heat detectors were located at the top of each stairway. 

The most significant factors which led to the multiple life loss in this fire were the presence of highly combustible Christmas decorations, and the long dead end corridor near the room of fire origin.  Contributing factors were the absence of an early warning fire detection system, no automatic suppression system and poor compartmentation of the room of origin, as indicated by the fire spread even though the door was closed.

For the full NFPA Fire Journal article.  To learn about Home Christmas Tree and Holiday Light Fires and Home Structure Fires that Began with Decorations

At 3:56 p.m. on Friday, December 6, 1985, a natural gas explosion occurred at the River Restaurant in Derby, Connecticut.  It appears that a gas main may have been damaged during the refilling of a sewer excavation.  Before anyone became aware of the leak, escaping gas accumulated in the basement of the restaurant and came in contact with an undetermined ignition source.  The explosion killed six people in the restaurant, injured 12 other occupants, and completely destroyed the building housing the restaurant. Three people who were not in the restaurant were also injures by the explosion. 

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report. To see the most recent statistical information on eating and drinking facilities download the NFPA Structure Fires by Occupancy 2007-2011



On December 4, 1980, a fire occurred on the third floor of the conference facility at the Stouffer's Inn of Westchester, which was located in Harrison, New York.  Of approximately 95 occupants who were attending meetings in several conference rooms, 26 persons lost their lives and 24 were injured.  The fire did not involve guest rooms facilities of the hotel complex.

The fire originated in an exit access corridor outside the meeting rooms in the three-story, fire resistive, nonsprinklered building that was classified as a place of assembly.  In the early stages of the fire, meeting-room occupants were faced with rapidly deteriorating, untenable conditions that impeded their escape to safety.  This fire emphasizes the importance of maintaining the integrity of exit access areas and the extreme hazard to life safety when fire originates in such areas.

The significant factors contributing to the loss of life in this fire were:

  • the critical location of the fire in the intersection of the exit access corridors;
  • the rapid development of the fire through the combination of its origin and
  • the available fuel load provided by contents and furnishings in the exit access;
  • the lack of a remote second means of egress from some occupied meeting rooms; and
  • the lack of a fixed fire protection system to detect and extinguish the fire in itsincipient stage.   

For the full report download the NFPA Fire Journal article.

Oily rags in an open trash can in the kitchen of an assisted-living facility spontaneously ignited, starting a fire that spread to a wall until heat activated a sprinkler. The three-story, wood-frame building, which measured 100 feet(30 meters), contained 80 unites in addition to common spaces. The building's fire alarm system monitored the water flow of the wet-pipe sprinkler, which was installed in compliance with the local code. A building occupant who heard the fire alarm activate discovered the fire in the kitchen and tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the blaze using a dry chemical portable fire extinguisher. by the time firefighters arrived at 9 p.m., however, a single sprinkler head had already extinguished the fire. Investigators determined that someone had improperly disposed of oily rags in the regular trash and that they had ignited spontaneously. The sprinkler spared the building significant fire damage, keeping losses to $5,000. There were no injuries.

Kenneth J. Tremblay, 2014," Firewatch", NFPA Journal, November/December 32.

To read more fire incidents NFPA Journal Firewatch

On December 1, 1977, a fire which occurred on the sixth floor of a luxury hotel in Bermuda killed three people.  The fire burned the entire length of an undivided corridor which measured almost 500 feet in length.  At the time of the fire, the hotel was undergoing renovations so therefore there were no occupants in a large section of the sixth floor.  The renovations resulted in an excessive combustible load in the corridor area.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation and the origin was in the sixth floor corridor.   

The hotel was a "T" shaped building and contained six guest floors.  The building construction was of metal frame with spray -on fireproofing on column and main beams.  Interior construction was of gypsum board on metal studs.  Fire protection equipment in the hotel included hose reels located throughout the corridors along with stand pipes for fire department use.  A heat detection system was provided with detectors located in such areas as closets, storage areas, and other hazardous locations.  Manual pull stations were located throughout the building and activation of any of the heat detectors or the manual pull stations would result in a pyre signal alarm at the telephone operator station and in engineering.  

At the time of the hotel fire, there were civil disturbances in Bermuda that resulted in simultaneous fires.  This meant that fewer fire fighters were available to fight the hotel fire than would normally have been the case.  The hotels own private fire brigade, however, assisted the public brigade in containing the fire and preventing further loss of life.  This fire demonstrates the need to be aware of fire hazards created during renovation of buildings; especially when they are to be occupied during the renovation.  It also demonstrates that even under prolonged and heavier fire loading than anticipated, the existing standards for corridor wall construction proved most satisfactory.  

For more information on this fire download this July 1978 Fire Journal article To see the NPFA report on Fires in Residential Properties under Construction or Undergoing Major Renovation


On the night of November 28, 1942, fire swept through Boston's most popular night club, the Cocoanut Grove. In less than 30 minutes, the fire had traveled through the four main rooms, leaving 492 persons dead or dying.  The cause of the fire was an apparent spark which ignited the combustible decorations on the ceiling. 

The Club was a group of four buildings connected on the ground floor.  In the basement, was the Melody lounge, kitchen, and storage rooms.  Included in the main building was a basement of reinforced concrete and brick masonry construction.  The Foyer walls were covered with artificial leather over structural concrete.  Artificial palm trees with lights in them were decorations in the Melody Lounge.  The Broadway Lounge was added to Club and connected to the lounge by a passageway.  Plywood covered with artificial leather and a wood floor made up the new lounge.  Exits from the lounge included a main door and passage way to the Main Dining Room.    

Exits included a revolving door and a panic fire door in the front of the club.  Unfortunately, at the time of the fire, the panic fire door was locked to prevent non-paying customers from entering. 

Only 8 days before this tragic fire occurred, the night club was inspected by the Boston Fire Department. At that time, the decorations were match tested by the Inspector who found them to be "non-flammable".  The report concluded that the club was in "good" condition. 

Some of the most notable advances that came out of this tragedy was; in the area of exits, combustible materials, emergency lighting, and automatic sprinklers.  They also expanded the definition of public places of assembly to include places that were similar to the Cocoanut Grove.  These investigations not only revealed the technical causes of the fire and huge loss of life, but also hinted at a more deeply rooted problem: fire codes and their enforcement.   

Fore more information The Cocoanut Grove Fire


At approximately 11:13 a.m. on November 26, 1983, a series of explosions and subsequent fires occurred at the site of the New York Pyrotechnics Products Co. plant in the Town of Brookhaven New, York.  Two employees working on the plant site at the time of the explosions were killed. In addition, 24 persons in areas surrounding the plant site were injured.

The two critical factors in this incident were the combination of the lack of adequate building, trailer and vehicle separation coupled with their quantity loading which permitted the initial explosion/fire to initiate a series of explosions and fire which eventually involved buildings, trailers and vehicles throughout the manufacturing portion of the plant.

For the full NFPA's Fire Investigation report.  

On Sunday, November 25, 1990, a fire occurred at a flammable liquid tank farm supporting Denver’s Stapleton International Airport.  Eight of the farm's twelve storage tanks contained jet fuel A totaling almost 4.2 million gallons.  The fire was considered as accidental in nature, and it burned for approximately 55 hours.  Seven tanks were destroyed or damaged, and over 1.6 million gallons of jet fuel was consumed.  There were no reported fire fighter or civilian injuries as a result of this incident.

At approximately 9:22 a.m., the Stapleton control tower saw smoke in the area of the tank farm and called the airport fire department.  Both airport and structural fire suppression crews responded to the reported location.  Upon their arrival, airport fire fighters found a large pool fire in a pit containing piping and valves.  In addition, there was flaming fuel which was apparently under pressure spewing high into the air.  They were able to knock down the pool fire using Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) but were unable to extinguish the fire involving the spewing fuel.  Each time the airport fire fighters stopped agent application for replenishment of water or agent, the fire would burn back and increase in intensity.  When the structural fire fighters arrived, they discharged water through master streams and ladder pipes to protect exposures. In addition, the structural fire fighters also laid hose lines to the aircraft fire fighting vehicles to maintain uninterrupted water supplies to these vehicles.

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report.  Download NFPA's statistical reports Fires at Outside Storage Tanks and LP-Gas Bulk Storage


On Wednesday, November 23, 1983, a fire occurred at the Travel Master Inn Motel located at 225 W. First Street in Dayton, Ohio.  The motel was a rectangular, four-story building, with basement, of mixed construction.  The ground floor contained a registration and lounge area, and the upper floors contained 66 guest rooms.

Earlier in the evening, on November 23, the building's fire detection and alarm system sounded throughout the building.  The hotel's desk clerk deactivated the system and went to the guest room portion of the building to determine the source of the alarm.  The clerk discovered a trash can fire on the third floor exit corridor and extinguished it with a portable fire extinguisher.  The detection system was not reactivated due to the residual smoke present in the corridor.  Approximately two and a half hours later, a third floor guest notified the desk clerk of a fire on the third floor.  The fire department was notified at 4:01 a.m.

First arriving fire fighters observed fire and heavy smoke conditions showing in the top two floors at the north end of the building.  In addition, an estimated 25 guests were located at windows on all the guest room levels awaiting rescue.  The fire ultimately resulted in one fourth-floor fatality, in over 20 persons being injured and in an estimated $700,000 property damage.

Fire investigators have listed the cause of the fire as undetermined; however, they determined that the fire originated at the north end of the third floor exit access corridor.

The following are considered to be major factors contributing to the loss of life and injury in this incident:

  • The location of the area of origin in the exit access corridor and the lack of automatic extinguishment in the incipient stage.
  • The presence of highly combustible interior finish materials in the exit access corridor.
  • The deactivation on the hotel's automatic fire detection and alarm system.
  • The lack of prompt notification of the fire department. 

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report.


A fire at the MGM Grand Hotel on November 21, 1980, resulted in the deaths of 85 guests and hotel employees.  About 600 others were injured and approximately 35 fire fighters sought medical attention during and after the fire.

The high-rise building, constructed in the early 1970s, consisted of twenty-one casino. Showrooms, convention facilities, jai alai fronton, and mercantile complex.  The hotel was partially sprinklered but major areas including the Main Casino and The Deli, the area of origin, were not sprinklered.  About 3,400 registered guests were in the hotel at the time of the fire.

As reported by the Clark County Fire Department, the most probable cause of the fire was heat produced by an electrical ground-fault within a combustible concealed space in a waitresses’ serving station of The Deli.

Following full involvement of The Deli, a flame front moved through the Casino.  Smoke spread to the high-rise tower through stairways, seismic joints, elevator hoistways and air handling systems.  The means of egress from the high-rise tower was impaired due to smoke spread into stairways, exit passageways and through corridors.

The high-rise tower evacuation alarm system apparently did not sound and most guests in the high-rise were alerted to the fire when they heard or saw fire apparatus, saw or smelled smoke, or heard people yelling or knocking on doors.  Many occupants were able to exit unassisted down stairs.  Others were turned back by smoke and sought refuge in rooms.  Many broke windows to signal rescuers or to get fresh air.  The fire department confined the fire to the Casino level in a little over an hour.  It was approximately four hours before all guests were evacuated.

Of the 85 fatalities, 61 victims were located in the high-rise tower, and 18 were on the Casino level.  Five victims were moved before their locations were documented.  The 85th victim died weeks after the fire.  Of the 61 victims found in the high-rise tower, 25 were located in rooms, 22 were in corridors, 9 in stairways and 5 were found in elevators.  One person died when she jumped or fell from the high-rise tower.

The major factors that contributed to the loss of life that occurred as a result of this fire incident are the following:

  • Rapid fire and smoke development on the Casino level due to available fuels, building arrangement, and the lack of adequate fire barriers.
  • Lack of fire extinguishment I the incipient stage of fire.
  • Unprotected vertical openings contributed to smoke spread to the high-rise tower.
  • Substandard enclosure of interior stairs, smokeproof towers and exit passageways contributed to heat and smoke spread and impaired the means of egress from the high-rise tower.

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report. To read the January 1982 NFPA Fire Journal article

November201994 November201994two

On Sunday, November 20, 1994, at approximately 3:41 pm, a series of explosions occurred at a furniture manufacturing facility in Lenoir, North Carolina.  There were two fatalities and four injuries as a result of this incident.  The North Carolina Special Bureau of Investigations determined that the nature of the incident was accidental and not criminal.

The incident occurred in the particle board manufacturing portion of the plant.  Raw dust was taken in and refined into finished sheets of particle board that was used in the construction of furniture in other portions of the plant.  This manufacturing line was the sole source of particle board for the plant's furniture-making operations.

Based on NFPA's site inspection and subsequent analysis, it was determined that there were three potential sources of ignition: a stray piece of metal in a grinding machine that sparked, a leak in an overhead oil line that atomized and subsequently ignited, or a natural gas leak in the vicinity of the thermal transfer unit that was ignited explosively.

Following the initiating event, four explosions occurred throughout the facility.  These explosions were caused by dust in the facility that was placed into suspension in the air by each prior explosion.  The dust in suspension then came into contact with an ignition source and ignited explosively.  It was observed that there were large amounts of dust throughout the facility, and there were minimal efforts to control electrical ignition sources.

Two employees were killed and four were injured.  Damage to the facility covered 139,000 square feet.  Production will be interrupted for over nine months.  An estimate of the property damage is not available.  However, much of the building, as well as the production equipment, will have to be replaced.

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report. To read about NFPA's statistical report on Fires in U.S. Industrial and Manufacturing Facilities.

On November 15, 1984,
the Phoenix, Arizona Fire Department responded to a rescue call at a small petroleum bulk plant.  A worker, involved in a toluene tank cleaning operation, was overcome in the tank.  During rescue operations, that utilized a gasoline engine driven power saw, an explosion occurred resulting in the death of one fire fighter and injury to 16 other fire fighters.  The worker died of asphyxiation and inhalation of toluene vapors.

This incident emphasizes the need for recognition of both the flammability and toxic properties of hazardous materials at fire and rescue scenes and the application of appropriate procedures.

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report  To learn about NFPA's statistical data on Fires Starting with Flammable Gas or Flammable or Combustible Liquid

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: