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

NFPA Today

5,241 posts

It’s no secret that volunteer and combination fire and EMS departments have struggled with recruitment and retention, but new research from the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) provides deeper insights on the challenges that exist within the volunteer fire community.

 

The research effort, which was completed in three phases beginning last year, was funded by a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. In part, the project identified a disconnect between why leadership thinks volunteers leave versus why former volunteers say they left. It also showed that a desire to give back to the community was the main reason that volunteers who considered leaving didn’t.Volunteer Retention Research Report cover-NVFC

 

The report also offered suggestions for improving volunteer retention efforts, including:

  • Introducing mentorship programs
  • Bestowing honors for service milestones
  • Conducting stay interviews for volunteers who have lapsed attendance
  • Scheduling exit interviews for departing volunteers

 

While the NFPA5th U.S. Needs Assessment Survey, which was sent to every fire department in the nation this week, focuses on departmental needs, the new NVFC research findings provide a more detailed snapshot of what institutional and other drivers are influencing volunteer retention.

 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, nearly all electrical customers experience at least one electrical utility outage each year. On average, each outage lasts 60 minutes or more. As we are in the peak of hurricane season that seems to worsen year after year and some grids imposing rolling blackouts due to a strain on the grid and to reduce the risk of wild fires, it is more important than ever that we prepare for a loss of power in our buildings. Emergency and standby power systems are an integral part of the fire and life safety approach within a building because they provide reliable backup to the utility and deliver electricity to critical building systems such as fire pumps, emergency lighting, elevators, fire alarm systems, and other critical equipment during a utility interruption.

 

Emergency Power Supply System

Each emergency power supply system comprises complex subsystems with many internal components, all of which are required for reliable operation in order to provide emergency power in the event that primary power to a building is lost. The failure of one or more of these subsystems could compromise the ability of the emergency power system to deliver electricity in an emergency. Diligent maintenance of a building’s emergency power supply system, including routine inspections, system testing, and frequent maintenance helps ensure proper operation.

 

Emergency Power Supply

The emergency power supply is what provides the emergency power in the system. Power supplies are designed to ensure that they can provide enough power to all of the systems in the building requiring emergency power. The most common form of emergency power is a generator that is fueled by diesel, natural gas, propane, or gasoline.

 

Am I required to complete Inspection Testing and Maintenance?

The requirements of NFPA 110, Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems cover installation, operation, maintenance, and testing for the proper performance of the emergency power supply system. The requirements from this standard are invoked by direct reference in several major codes and standards, including NFPA 101, NFPA 99, the NEC, and the International Building Code.

 

What does the Inspection Testing and Maintenance of my Emergency Power Supply System Entail?

First of all, it is important to note that all inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) needs to be performed by a qualified person.  This is a person who has skills and knowledge related to the operation, maintenance, repair, and testing of the EPSS equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved. That being said, some of these tests can be completed by a competent owner or facility management with the proper training, or a separate contractor can be hired.

 

ITM on the emergency power supply system it is important to follow all the manufacturers recommendations and instructions as well as any specific requirements from the Authority Having Jurisdiction. Here the focus will be on the major ITM requirements found in Chapter 8 of NFPA 110.

 

Some of the key considerations for ITM are discussed below in detail, but, in general, the emergency power supply system needs to be inspected weekly, exercised monthly, and tested at least once every 36 months.

 

Transfer Switches and Paralleling Gear

Transfer switches and paralleling gear needs to be inspected, maintained, and tested including checking connections, looking for signs of overheating, removal of dirt and dust, and replacement of contacts where required and verifying that the system controls will operate as intended.

 

Storage Batteries

Storage batteries need to be inspected weekly (including the electrolyte levels and battery voltage) and maintained in compliance with the manufacturer's specifications. A battery load test should be conducted quarterly, and a monthly recording of the electrolyte specific gravity needs to be taken.

 

Fuel

A Fuel quality test needs be completed at least annually to ensure that the fuel is not degrading.  

 

Monthly Exercise

A monthly exercise under load needs to be conducted to ensure the system remains operational. The generator set should never be idled for periods of time because a condition known as wet stacking can occur in generator sets (specifically diesel) that are not run under load. Wet stacking occurs when unburnt fuel is able to pass through the combustion chamber and build up within the exhaust of the engine. The following procedure should be used to help record each monthly exercise:

 

  1. Record run time on run time meter
  2. Simulate normal power failure from test switch on the automatic transfer switch, or by opening normal power supply
  3. Observe and record time delay on start
  4. Record cranking time
  5. Transfer the load to the generator
  6. Record ac voltage, frequency, amperage, and kW
  7. Record initial oil pressure and battery charging rate
  8. Record oil pressure, battery charging rate, and water or air temp after 15 minutes of running
  9. Return test switch to normal or reestablish normal power supply after a minimum run time of 30 minutes
  10. Record prime mover and ac instruments just prior to transfer
  11. Record time delay on re-transfer
  12. Record time delay on shutdown for units so equipped
  13. Place unit in automatic operation mode

 

When you are performing the test, it is important to pay attention to the maximum ambient temperature in the generator room and ensure that it does not go above the maximum specified by the manufacturer as well as ensure that any shutters (if provided for combustion and ventilation air) are working properly and are not blocked.

 

36 Month Test

Level 1 Emergency Power Supply Systems (EPSS) (Level 1 means the failure of the EPSS could result in loss of human life or serious injury, Level 2 systems are those that a failure is less critical to human and life safety) need to be tested at least once every 36 months for the duration of its assigned class but is not required to exceed 4 hours. The intent of this requirement is to provide reasonable assurance that the EPSS with all of its auxiliary subsystems is capable of running for the duration of its assigned class with its running load. The class rating of an emergency power supply system indicates the duration it is designed to run for without refueling, for example a Class 2 is designed to run for 2 hours without being refueled, and a class 48 is designed to run 48 hours without being refueled.

 

Records

As with all ITM that is performed on fire and life safety systems, records need to be created and maintained for all inspections, operational tests, exercising, repairs, and modifications.

 

Maintenance

The EPSS needs to be maintained in accordance with the manufacturers instructions to ensure that the system is capable of supplying power within the time specified for the type (see table below) and for the time duration required by the class. If any maintenance is performed on any portion of the emergency power supply system, a 30 minute operational test needs to be performed after maintenance or repair has been performed to ensure that they system is still operational.

 

Are you performing all of the required ITM on your Emergency Power Supply System? Do you have a time in which you lost power in your building and utilized Emergency Power? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Want to learn more about inspecting, testing, and maintaining emergency lighting? Check out an article I wrote in NFPA Journal on verifying the emergency lighting and exit marking when reopening a building.

 

If you found this article helpful, subscribe to the NFPA Network Newsletter for monthly, personalized content related to the world of fire, electrical, and building & life safety

With industries still adapting to the demands of COVID-19 and the typical, ongoing backlog in ITM (inspection, testing and maintenance), RVI continues to cause quite the buzz. Health Facilities Management magazine featured the technology as the cover story in their recent issue, including insights from Jonathan Hart, an NFPA tech lead for building and life safety and from Kevin Carr, the staff liaison for NFPA’s proposed standard on remote inspections.Health Facilities Management magazine cover

 

Up until the pandemic hit, RVI was not widely employed, but the technology offers a range of benefits that are hard to ignore for those charged with facility inspections and maintenance. Whether it is gaining access during a pandemic when buildings may be shut down or operating at reduced capacity, assisting AHJs that have fewer staff members, or for those authorities that are using drones to examine large buildings with cumbersome exteriors—remote inspections are increasingly becoming an attractive option.

 

Despite its appeal to many, RVI can have issues such as performance impacts by lighting or internet service, inconsistent use methods, and (in the case of the HFM article), healthcare privacy. To use RVI effectively, the article emphasizes the guidance that NFPA has generated to date:

  • gain AHJ pre-approval
  • develop policies to share with key stakeholders
  • communicate results with all parties in a timely manner

Meanwhile, NFPA 915, Standard for Remote Inspections (proposed standard), a document that covers requirements for various types of remote inspections, recently opened for Public Input (PI) and will accept proposed revisions until June 1, 2021.  “This is an important phase of the NFPA standards development process where any member of the public can submit a change to the most recent draft or edition of the standard,” says Kevin Carr, staff liaison, NFPA 915. “The technical committee will then meet after the Public Input Closing Date (PICD) to begin reviewing this input.”

 

NFPA 915 was supposed to go before the Standards Council later this year but instead was considered in August. The guidance is expected to be published as an adoptable standard in late 2023. Interested parties can review NFPA 915, see meeting schedules, submit a public input, and sign up for alerts pertaining to the document at nfpa.org/915. Be sure to see the news section on this page for recent, related RVI content.

 

NFPA today announced the official launch of its 2020 U.S. Needs Assessment survey, the fifth distributed since 2001. The survey works to capture the level of resources and staffing among U.S. fire departments, and to identify where fire departments are meeting the needs of their communities and where there are gaps in resources.

 

To maximize the survey’s impact, NFPA worked with representatives from the nation’s leading fire service organizations, including the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), to collectively identify what questions need to be asked in the survey, ensuring that it accurately quantifies the needs of fire departments throughout the United States. Areas of focus include PPE, apparatus and equipment, training, health and wellness, and cancer prevention, among other timely topics impacting the fire service. 

 

The feedback provided from the survey is critical, as it helps better inform decision-makers where fire departments need support in order to adequately meet the needs of their communities. The survey findings also aid the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the U.S. Congress to identify gaps within the nation’s fire service and appropriately allocate funding. That’s why participation from all fire departments is critical to its success and impact, so please make sure to fill it out!

 

The survey is now accessible online, making it easier for fire departments to fill out and return. (A print version is being mailed out as well.) The survey must be completed by a fire department chief or an assigned designee and returned to NFPA by January 1, 2021. An FAQ is also available to answer commonly asked questions about completing and returning the survey.

 

Anyone who has questions or concerns can also contact NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research division:

 

Toll free:  1-800-343-8890

Fax: 1-617-984-7478

Email: nasurvey@nfpa.org

As of Thursday, more than 26,000 firefighters across 12 states are fighting 102 large fires over 4.4 million acres. If you find yourself gasping for air just viewing footage, can you imagine what firefighters on the front lines are feeling? It is known that wildland fire smoke poses a hazard to first responders in extreme wildland fire events; however, we do not know the long-term impact of this exposure to provide adequate guidance to better protect Wildland Firefighters (WLFF)

 

There is evidence that suggests occupational wildland fire smoke exposure may have a cumulative effect, specifically because studies focused on chronic exposure to wood smoke have linked it to the development of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD) and stiffening of central arteries in otherwise healthy people.  

 

However, while epidemiological studies can provide evidence of trends and associated risks, they cannot pinpoint which burn scenarios are the most dangerous to long-term health or recommend feasible protective equipment to reduce the risks to WLFF.  To help formulate recommendations and guidance on shift duration, cost/benefit of aggressive firefighting tactics, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for WLFF, studies under well-characterized and reproducible experimental conditions are needed.

 

To provide the knowledge needed to develop recommendations to reduce WLFF exposure, the Fire Protection Research Foundation is collaborating with Northeastern University and the University of California Berkeley on a research project to conduct these types of experiments to quantify the effects of exposure on the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems in firefighters to develop a better understanding of the health consequences and offer guidance on ways to mitigate these impacts.  The funding for this project is through a DHS/FEMA AFG Fire Grant and it is a 3-year effort targeted to wrap up in September 2021.  Look for more updates here and on the Foundation website as this project progresses.

Every year on this day, I am overwhelmed with a sense of sadness that almost seems as raw as it did on that beautiful September morn in 2001. Tears flow. Memories flood. And I wonder, what have we learned in the aftermath of 9/11?

 

Nineteen years ago, we said we’d never forget.

 

At NFPA, we have not forgotten 9/11 nor will our nearly 125-year old organization ever forsake first responders. As I often say, “NFPA goes where first responders go.”

 

NFPA’s purview extends beyond the response community, and our Association continuously remembers the lessons learned from 9/11 by working with individuals and organizations across a wide spectrum of safety to usher in the critical changes needed to ensure that people, property, and first responders are protected to the utmost.

 

Looking back at NFPA Journal articles, NFPA blogs, and interviews on YouTube, there have been at least a dozen NFPA codes and standards that have been altered or influenced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy. Our global advocacy efforts have also driven change. Some of the advancements include:

 

  • In 2005 and 2008, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released landmark reports on the investigation of three buildings — the 110-story towers and Building 7. The 2005 report outlined 30 recommendations for NFPA and other standards development organizations to address. NFPA immediately got to work addressing these recommendations in its codes and standards by gathering a team of engineers, architects, fire service officials, and public advocacy groups to form the High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee (HRBSAC) in 2004. The committee prepared recommendations in the form of proposed code changes primarily for NFPA 1 Fire Code; NFPA 101 Life Safety Code; and NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code and other NFPA projects, as applicable.
  • Details related to a building’s means of egress design in NFPA 101 were revisited, including width of exits and use of elevators by occupants and first responders.
  • Mass notification systems per NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code were revised. Before 9/11, the code did not permit other signals to override the fire alarm signal. NFPA 72 now allows another emergency signal to take precedence over a fire alarm signal.
  • The construction, location and practices surrounding building security were adjusted in NFPA 730 Guide for Premises Security as well as the placement, performance and testing of these systems as defined in NFPA 731 Standard for Installation of Premises Security Systems.
  • The need to prepare for other manmade or natural catastrophes was made evident in the 9/11 Commission Reportwhich encouraged the private sector to adopt NFPA 1600 Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management. NFPA 1600 is widely used by public, not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and private entities on a local, regional, national, international and global basis. It has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness.
  • Fire service agencies and related organizations, including NFPA, began to underscore the all-hazards role that emergency responders play in society. In the aftermath of 9/11, NFPA conducted the 1st Needs Assessment Survey of the U.S. Fire Service in 2001 to identify where fire departments are meeting the needs of their communities and where there are gaps in the service they provide. Insights from 9/11 and the Needs Assessment have led to changes over the years— specifically, technology used by firefighters and personal protective equipment—but certain gaps still exist, due in part to monetary shortfalls. The Needs Assessment Survey of the U.S. Fire Service deploys every five years; the 5th edition of the survey will be sent to every fire department in the U.S. late next week. Additionally, programs such as the Assistance for Firefighter Grants and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants have provided extensive funds annually for community preparedness—particularly for fire department staffing, equipment, vehicles, and training but as we are seeing yet again during COVID times, common thinking is that firefighters only fight fires.
  • New types of communication, including wireless systems dedicated to emergency responder use, are now designed so that firefighters and other emergency personnel can more easily communicate with each other. Since 9/11, NFPA committees have worked on a range of code provisions that address this all-hazards approach. Communications capabilities or specifically what's known as "interoperability," the ability to send and receive urgent messages during an emergency incident as quickly as possible, was widely discussed in the wake of 9/11. In 2011, former NFPA fire service segment director Ken Willette told NFPA Journal, "Giving everybody a portable radio isn't the answer to interoperability post 9/11. You need to have good standard operating procedures in addition to a well-developed infrastructure to support this technology.”
  • NFPA 1561 Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System and Command Safety now provides requirements for using "clear text" terminology during an incident rather than radio codes, with the intent of providing a more accurate picture of what's actually happening at the scene.
  • Protecting responders from various respiratory hazards was also addressed in NFPA 1981 Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services. Provisions for the cleaning and decontamination of personal protective equipment soiled by the threats noted above are also part of the current edition of NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
  • And changes to both NFPA 472 Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents and NFPA 1026 Standard for Incident Management Personnel Professional Qualifications ensure that emergency responders, specialized personnel, and incident command competencies are prioritized. Responders and fire service leaders, faced with the unthinkable, now have better training, insights, and authority as a result of the World Trade Center attacks.

 

At NFPA, our more than 300 employees come to work each day to help save lives and reduce loss with information, knowledge, and passion. Like so many others, we will never forget 911, and will continue to incorporate the lessons learned in Manhattan many years ago by delivering information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering our mission.  

70E

If you haven’t been keeping up with the NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace revision cycle, the 2021 edition was issued June 1, 2020 with an effective date of June 21, 2020. Independent standards development organizations, such as NFPA, and the standards they publish play a major role in protecting the public from injury or death. For those of you who took part in the process whether by submitting inputs and comments, attending the draft meetings, or by being a member of the technical committee, NFPA thanks you for your participation.

For the 2021 edition, Article 110 was revised to incorporate the general requirements for electrical safety-related work programs, practices and procedures from other articles. References to arc-resistant switchgear has been changed to arc-resistant equipment to address the use of other types of arc-resistant equipment. Article 360, Safety-Related Requirements for Capacitors and Annex R, Working with Capacitors were added to address specific electrical safety requirements unique to capacitors. Annex D, Incident Energy and Arc Flash Boundary Calculation Methods was revised to reference IEEE-1584-2018 as a method of calculation. Throughout the standard there are other changes so be sure to check for those that might affect your electrical safety program.

Information regarding not only this new edition but earlier editions, providing input to the next edition and asking a technical question is available on the NFPA 70E web page at www.nfpa.org/70E.

For more information on 70E, read my entire 70E blog series on Xchange.

Next time: Why NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace does not include incident energy calculations.

Want to keep track of what is happening with the National Electrical Code (NEC)? Subscribe to the NFPA Networkto stay informed of new content. The newsletter also includes NFPA 70E information such as my blogs.

While water is often the ideal medium for fire suppression based on availability, price, and effectiveness, there are certain buildings, contents, and equipment that building owners want to protect from exposure to water. This is a common topic of discussion for historical buildings, irreplaceable artifacts such as those that can be found in museums, sensitive electrical equipment areas including data servers, and power plant control rooms. It has also been asked about hospital operating rooms and MRI rooms. Building owners and designers will often question if there are options to omit sprinklers and piping from these spaces or from the building entirely, citing concern over water damage either from accidental sprinkler discharge or from leaks in the piping.  

 

The alternative proposed by those questioning the need for sprinklers in these instances is typically another extinguishing system that will have much lower impact to the contents of the protected space. These systems can include carbon dioxide, water mist, or clean agent extinguishing systems. While these are effective systems that, when designed and installed properly, should activate and extinguish a fire in a space before a sprinkler is likely to even operate, their installation does not necessarily allow for the omission of sprinkler protection in that space. Here, we’ll look at some considerations when asking this question, why sprinklers are not normally allowed to be omitted, and some other steps that can be taken to reduce the perceived risks of water damage. 

 

Are Sprinklers Required for the Building? 

Determining if sprinklers are required is the best place to start and will depend on the locally adopted building code.  The mandate for sprinklers will be based on the occupancy, construction type, stories in height, and floor area among other factors.  Life safety codes, fire codes, and any specialty codes or standards related to the building, equipment, or contents that have been adopted can also impact this determination (more on those below). Generally, a person arrives at the question of omitting sprinklers after having, determined that they are required for the building.  

 

Can other suppression systems replace sprinkler protection? 

If the building is required to be protected with a sprinkler system, it is unlikely though we won’t rule it out just yet, that sprinkler protection can be omitted from certain spaces or areas even if an alternative extinguishing system is provided. There are several reasons for this but the primary one is that fire and life safety is complex and is part of an overall system where many different components work together in order to provide a safe environment for occupants, property protection, and safer conditions for first responders. Many allowances in building codes and life safety codes are based on the condition that a building is “protected throughout” by an automatic sprinkler system. For example, providing sprinkler protection can allow for less fire resistive construction type than would otherwise be allowed for the building’s size, reduced fire protection ratings for occupancy separations, increased travel distances, allowances for special door locking arrangements, and numerous other allowances that are not permitted for buildings without sprinkler protection throughout. 

 

Now, the fact that the building would require sprinkler protection based on occupancy, construction type, size, and any other factors makes the argument to omit sprinklers in certain areas more difficult, but it does not completely end the discussion. 

 

Does This Imply that Other Suppression Systems are Inferior to Sprinkler Systems? 

A logical follow up to these points is questioning if the codes and standards are therefore implying that other suppression systems are inferior to or not as effective as sprinkler systems. This is not the case. Specialized suppression systems can certainly be effective against fire, and are typically designed to activate at stages of a fire well before a sprinkler would activate. This provides increased property protection for the material in these spaces especially when the extinguishing media won’t harm the structure, equipment, or contents of the space.  

The operational characteristics of these systems are where the real differences come in. These alternative systems are commonly designed for local application or total flooding of a space and have a finite volume available. If a fire is not controlled in that time before the volume of agent is completely used, there’s nothing else that can be done. Sprinklers on the other hand, even if they fail to extinguish a fire are designed to be able to flow water for several hours or indefinitely based on the water supply.  

 

What Occupancy or Hazard Specific Code and Standards Should be Referenced? 

Outside of the broadly applicable building, life safety, and fire codes there are numerous codes and standards that apply specifically to special building types, types of equipment, and materials. These include but are certainly not limited to: 

 

 

It should be identified if these codes or standards are adopted in the jurisdiction either directly or through reference. The scope and purpose of these documents are also important to understand. Some, such as NFPA 75, will require sprinkler protection if the building is sprinklered, others such as NFPA 909 will allow sprinkler protection or alternative suppression systems.  

 

If sprinklers must be provided, how can the potential for water damage be minimized? 

If sprinklers are still required to be provided, there are several approaches that can help limit concerns of water damage in the space. Pre-action sprinkler systems, either single- or double-interlock can be used to limit that potential for water damage due to accidental discharge resulting from a sprinkler being physically damaged. Piping can have increased pitch, additional auxiliary drains can be provided, and thorough inspection, testing, and maintenance programs can be implemented to limit the potential for corrosion issues. Of course, the installation of another extinguishing system (while maybe not eliminating the need for sprinklers) can also greatly limit the potential for water discharge in the actual event of a fire if it is able to effectively suppress or extinguish a fire in its incipient stage before sprinkler activation. 

 

Summary 

The potential for water to discharge in certain buildings, on certain spaces with special contents, or equipment within a building can certainly be a concern to building owners whether in a fire situation, an accidental discharge, or leaking. Often looking to still protect the building, the contents, and/or the equipment, the removal of sprinklers in favor of an alternative suppression system is often proposed. While these alternative systems can be very effective for protecting the property in question it is not always as simple as a straight replacement. There needs to be awareness of the overall fire and life safety approach for the building and an understanding of the building, life safety, and fire codes as well as the specialized codes and standards that may modify those requirements. Even where sprinklers need to remain, there are approaches that can be taken to limit the potential for water discharging in these spaces. 

According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Laura, which made landfall along the Gulf Coast in late August, was the strongest hurricane to strike Louisiana to date with wind gusts of more than 150 mph and a dangerous storm surge that also affected parts of the Texas coast.

 

With extensive power outages across the state that are expected to last many weeks, many residents have turned to portable generators for relief. Recent news paints a grim picture, however, reporting that eight of the 15 deaths associated with Hurricane Laura were caused by the improper use of these generators. According to the Louisiana Department of Health, the deaths were a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, a colorless, odorless gas that can build up inside enclosed spaces.generator safety

 

Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, said in a recent news conference, “We need people to be very safe and cautious when they run a generator.” In response, the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal announced that “search and rescue teams are making it a part of their mission to ensure people are using generators safely.”

 

NFPA has a safety tip sheet on portable generators that provides important steps for using a portable generator. The tip sheet can be downloaded for free and shared, and includes the following guidelines and more:

 

  • Generators should be operated in well ventilated locations outdoors away from all doors, windows, and vent openings.
  • Never use a generator in an attached garage, even with the door open.
  • Place generators so that exhaust fumes can’t enter the home through windows, doors, or other openings in the building.
  • Make sure to install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for correct placement and mounting height.

 

To date, Louisiana continues to tackle the damage to its grid infrastructure in the southwestern part of the state and restore power to the more than 250,000 residents still affected.

 

For answers to questions or concerns about a home’s electrical system due to the storm, contact a qualified electrician who can help, and visit NFPA’s electrical safety webpage for additional tips and resources.

 

Related information can be found on NFPA’s “emergency preparedness” webpage.

Recently, utility company PG&E announced they had reached a settlement with victims’ families and survivors of the Ghost Ship fire for an undisclosed amount. According to the plaintiffs, PG&E “knew or should have known” that the electrical connection and usage at the warehouse-turned artist collective were haphazard and unsafe. This comes on the heels of a $32.7 million-dollar settlement reached last month with the city of Oakland alleging roughly the same thing—that the city was aware of unsafe conditions but failed to act. The 2016 fire was a loud wake up call for Oakland, exposing weaknesses in fire safety enforcement that contributed to the deaths of 36 people. However, given that these weaknesses live in other cities too, more tragedies are waiting if others sleep through the alarm.Oakland, CA

 

Safety is created by an ecosystem made up of codes, skilled workers, regular enforcement, and public understanding. It is not a spontaneous condition. Most critically, it requires the government never takes its role in leading these efforts for granted.

 

In Oakland, that system broke down. Reportedly, city officials, even fire personnel, were aware of the warehouse turned artists’ residence and unpermitted concert space. Code violations, like exposed wires and a staircase created from wooden shipping pallets, were glaring. The precise cause of the city’s inertia may be an unknown but the fact that only six fire inspectors served a city of over 430,000 certainly contributed, as did shoddy reporting and chaotic filing systems. These factors left a system where nearly 80 percent of fire safety referrals citywide were left un-inspected in the six years before the fire.

 

Unfortunately, weak enforcement systems are spread well beyond Oakland. In-depth reporting in 2018 from the Mercury News East Bay Times discovered that Bay Area cities routinely missed mandated yearly inspections for hotels, motels, apartment buildings, and schools. Further away, in Las Vegas, a motel, which had gone uninspected for several years despite safety complaints, caught fire killing six people. And in Washington, DC, an alert from police to city inspectors flagging an unsafe, illicit residence slipped through the cracks. A fire months later killed two people, including a 9-year-old boy.

 

To avoid catastrophes big and small, cities should check the health of the ecosystem that protects their citizens. By conducting community risk assessments, safety officials better prioritize their inspection resources. Through integrating systems across multiple departments, building and fire officials can keep a better eye on the city’s built environment and be aware of buildings that are no longer compliant with permits and inspections from years ago. Critically, police, child protective services, and all other officials need formalized protocols for reporting unsafe conditions to fire authorities. This all must operate within a culture that understands acting will save lives.

 

Investment in safety is exponentially better than investment in lawsuits. The $32.7 million dollars to victims’ families and an injured survivor may be the best civil justice can offer, but it will never replace what was lost. Rather than wait for the next tragedy, engaging now in a full safety systems approach will help us get closer to ending these avoidable losses.

 

 

Meghan Housewright is the director of the National Fire Protection Association Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute. The Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute supports policymakers around the globe in protecting people and property from fire and other hazards with best practice recommendations and approaches to develop and sustain a strong fire prevention and protection system.

 

Photo: A view from above Oakland, CA

 

Scams of all kinds are occurring with greater frequency via email, phone and other platforms.

 

NFPA has been made aware of a company sending what looks like formal correspondence using both an “nfpa.org” email address and an “nfpa.org” web reference in the body of the letter, indicating that a “fire inspection” is required or has been performed. These messages threaten the recipient with civil violations and penalties for failing to respond.  It appears the communication is aimed at scaring recipients into scheduling and paying for fire inspections.
 
Please be advised that this communication is in no way related to NFPA. NFPA does not conduct fire inspections, issue inspection reports, levy fines, or perform activity related to code enforcement.  If you receive an email of this nature, we urge you to use caution in handling it, and to check with your local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) or fire code enforcement agency to confirm inspection requirements in your community.

 

At NFPA, our technical experts receive many questions asking hazardous materials-related questions from fire inspectors, AHJs, and other stakeholders who are trying to better understand how to apply provisions related to storage, use and protection of hazardous materials.  Most commonly we get asked about how to determine the maximum allowable quantity (MAQ) of a hazardous material and how to properly protect a space containing them. Understanding how to properly protect areas with the storage, use or handling of hazardous materials benefits both life safety and property protection.

 

Inspectors, for one, are responsible for enforcing the safe storage and use of hazardous materials, which include aerosols, compressed gases, corrosives, explosives, flammable and combustible liquids and solids, toxic materials, oxidizers, and others.  But, whether an inspector, a designer, or a facility manager, the amount of content in NFPA 1, Fire Code

that you need to understand in order to safely apply it can be overwhelming.  There are several key terms that must be understood first before beginning to apply protection measures for hazardous materials:

1. Maximum Allowable Quantity (MAQ). The quantity of hazardous material permitted in a control area. While the term is referred to as "maximum", it really means that the material allowed is the maximum quantity per control area before requiring additional protection.  So, it’s not really a "maximum", rather a threshold before additional protection requirements kick in. 
2. Control Area. A building or portion of a building or outdoor area within which hazardous materials are allowed to be stored, dispensed, used, or handled in quantities not exceeding the maximum allowable quantities (MAQ). 
3. Protection Level. While not an officially defined term in the Code, this is where the quantity of hazardous materials in storage or use exceeds the MAQ for indoor control area the occupancy is required comply with additional protection requirements (referred to as Protection Level 1, 2, 3 or 4.)

 

Here are the first steps for a fire inspector, facility personnel or designer planning for the presence of these materials in their building.    
1.    Classify the hazardous material.  
2.    Determine the quantity of hazardous material to be used or stored.  
3.    If the quantity exceeds the occupancy specific MAQ for a single control area, one can either apply the provisions for the various protection levels or apply provisions for multiple control areas. (Note: If the protection requirements cannot be met, the amount of hazardous materials must be reduced to below the MAQ.)
4.    If the quantity does not exceed the MAQ for a single control area, no special construction features are required.  
 
To apply steps 3 and 4, one needs to know what is the permitted MAQ for the particular occupancy under consideration.  Table 60.4.2.1.1.3 in NFPA 1 presents what can be termed the “general” MAQs. These are maximum quantities of hazardous materials that are considered to be appropriate for industrial, mercantile, or storage occupancies without the need for additional special protective measures. The information in this table is used to determine the MAQ for any given hazardous material listed, unless the MAQ for the specific occupancy (presented in a series of additional occupancy specific tables), is different. In that case, the MAQ in the occupancy-specific table applies.  

 

The values in the occupancy-specific MAQ tables noted above are, in many cases, less than the corresponding base MAQs or are designated as “NP” (not permitted).  This is deliberate and is based on a determination that the hazards posed by levels even at the base MAQs for certain materials in these occupancies is too great and requires additional protective measures if present.  For example, the protection measures for hazardous materials in a healthcare occupancy are likely more restrictive than other occupancies based on the characteristics of occupants in those facilities.  

 

The following steps should be followed when using this table to determine the MAQ:
1.    The category of the hazardous material should be determined, based on the classification of the material and the definitions within the Code. Without this basic information, the limits and protection features cannot be identified. All physical and health hazards associated with the hazardous material must be identified and classified so that each risk can be determined and the protection features or limits can be specified.
2.    The use of the hazardous material in a building must be understood so that appropriate limits can be established. These uses are generally categorized as storage, use-closed, and use-open. The storage category is designed for a hazardous material that is intended to enter a building in a container, cylinder, or tank and is not removed from the original container, cylinder, or tank in the storage room or control area. If the hazardous material is shipped to the site, stored, then shipped off-site, only the storage column of the table is used.
3.    If the material is used in a process, the process system must be reviewed to determine whether it is classified as use-closed or use-open. Where the process is determined to be closed-use Table 60.4.2.1.1.3 requires that, under normal conditions, the hazardous material not be open to the atmosphere and be kept within a container, a pipe, or equipment that does not allow vapors to escape into the air.  These systems include closed piping systems, for example, where a large container of material is transferred through closed piping to smaller containers and sealed for shipping. If a process involves pouring or dispensing into an open vessel, open mixing, transferring, or processing of a hazardous material that is exposed to the atmosphere, the process is classified as open use.  Closed use and storage have very similar risks and are treated the same with respect to MAQ. Open use is considered the most hazardous and, therefore, is most restricted with respect to an MAQ.
4.    Apply the appropriate footnotes from the table.  Information in the footnotes may modify the values in the Table so this step cannot be overlooked. For example, the first footnote in the table contains an important limit and a major component in the proper use of the table.  The combination of quantity under use and storage cannot exceed the total amount allowed for storage alone.  This limit restricts the amount of hazardous materials on-site from increasing by simply stating that it is “in use”.  Another modification applies to quantities of hazardous materials that are permitted to be increased by 100% where the building is completed protected with an automatic sprinkler system.  The values taken directly from the table may be altered significantly once the footnotes are applied correctly.  

 

As a reminder, where the quantity of hazardous materials in storage or use exceeds the MAQ for indoor control areas, the occupancy must comply with the requirements for either Protection Level 1, Protection Level 2, Protection Level 3, or Protection Level 4.  (for additional details on Protection Levels see NFPA 1 Section 60.4.3)  

 

The unsafe and improper storage and use of hazardous materials can have disastrous impacts on life safety and property protection.  Whether designing buildings where hazardous materials will be present, managing facilities storing and using hazardous materials or inspecting properties for their compliance with hazardous materials requirements,  understanding the fundamental principles and approach to protecting these spaces will improve the safety of occupants and property in any occupancy where hazardous materials are present.  

 

If you found this article helpful, subscribe to the NFPA Network Newsletter for monthly, personalized content related to the world of fire, electrical, and building & life safety  

According to research from NFPA, an estimated 4,200 home structure fires and an average of 40 deaths result annually when natural gas is ignited.

 

The devastating outcome of a combustible gas leak within a residence was on full display recently when three rowhouses in Baltimore exploded, killing two and injuring seven. While gas detector placement information is available within manufacturer recommendations, NFPA does not currently have a standard containing more specific prescriptive-based detector placement requirements supported by technical review.

 

NFPA 715, Standard for the Installation of Fuel Gases Detection and Warning Equipment, however, is currently in the early developmental stages prior to beginning full public review. NFPA 715 will help to minimize tragic incidents like we saw in Baltimore on August 10th and in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts last year when a series of more than 80 explosions and fires occurred in approximately 40 homes, killing one and forcing 30,000 to evacuate their residences. NFPA 715 will cover the selection, design, application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fuel gas detection and warning equipment in buildings and structures.

 

The Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA, recently completed a report studying combustible gas leaks and dispersion in residential buildings, as well as an analysis of combustible gas detector placement to provide the necessary technical basis to justify the requirements in NFPA 715.

 

Computer modeling was used to quantitatively evaluate the impact that placement has on gas detector performance in residential occupancies. Natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas releases were simulated in different residential structures, and gas concentrations were tracked at numerous potential detector locations within these buildings to determine which locations are most effective for reliable and early detection. Overall, more than 250 simulations were performed with a wide range of plausible leak types and environments to produce the most robust technical basis upon which gas detector location recommendations can be made.

A hazard-based approach was also applied to understand the performance of gas detector installation locations, specifically looking at (1) the role that detector location plays in detecting leaks before certain hazardous conditions arise and (2) the ability for the detector to provide sufficient response time prior to any hazardous conditions arising.

 

The study highlights the importance of requiring a gas detector in the same room as permanently installed fuel-gas appliances. For these detectors, generally better performance was observed when: the detector was placed closer to the leak source, there was an unobstructed path between the detector and the leak source, and when the detector alarm threshold was lower (i.e., 10% Lower Flammability Limit (LFL) compared to 25% LFL). Poorer performance was observed when a detector was located: near HVAC supply registers; near passive openings such as doors and windows; and near openings to adjacent areas (e.g., door openings and stairwells).

 

The final report describing the entire study can be found on the research reports page here. To learn more about dozens of Fire Protection Research Foundation projects currently underway, click here.

Over the years, great strides have been made in the realms of fire and life safety, thanks to the contributions of countless individuals. Today, NFPA and the wider community doing that important work mourns the loss of Jaime Moncada Pérez. After health complications from a cerebral ischemia, “Don Jaime” died on August 31st, 2020, in Bogotá, Colombia at nearly 89 years old.Jaime Moncada Perez

 

Don Jaime was considered by many a pioneer and champion of fire protection engineering in Latin America, devoting himself to the cause through a career including international recognition and a relationship with NFPA that spanned over 40 years. He began his journey in Colombia, where he graduated from the University of Antioquia in Medellín with a degree in Chemical Engineering, before completing his master’s in Industrial Hygiene at Harvard University in 1957 and master’s in Economics from the University of the Andes in Bogotá, in 1970.

 

 A true visionary, he first called on NFPA to make their work inclusive of Spanish-speaking countries in 1976, going on to co-edit NFPA’s Fire Protection Handbook in Spanish and found the Ibero-American Fire Protection Organization (OPCI) in 1981. He initiated the first translation of NFPA standards into Spanish, organized the first fire protection seminars and congresses throughout Latin America, and became the first instructor of NFPA seminars in Spanish. Don Jaime was the first Latin American member of the Board of Directors and served on the board from 2001-2007.

 

Don Jaime’s influence can be seen in the decrease in major disasters like the Avianca Tower and Santa María Tower. We offer the deepest condolences and sincerest thanks to his family, for the legacy that he has left to Latin America and the world through the thousands of professionals he taught, and the advancement of fire protection knowledge through his inspiring work.

Evacuations

Watching news reports over the past few weeks it’s hard to miss scenes of the destructive wildfires raging across Northern California that to date have taken the lives of seven people and destroyed more than 2,500 structures. During the last few days all eyes have also been focused on the Gulf Coast where communities there experienced unprecedented hurricane activity, which caused massive flooding and power outages. Yet even with Fall fast approaching, the peak of hurricane and wildfire seasons is upon us. Weather experts now predict upwards of 25 named storms before hurricane season concludes in November—twice as many as a typical year—and wildfires, which used to have more defined “seasons,” have been known to threaten high-risk states through the winter.

With many of these events there is a need for government agencies and aid organizations to shelter potentially thousands of storm and fire evacuees. But as many have discovered, there are numerous challenges to responding to a major natural disaster during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to emergency management experts, the threat of a massive evacuation together with a dangerous pandemic have caused organizations to make significant changes to its disaster response and recovery plans.

 

In the latest episode of the NFPA Podcast, “Disaster Planning During a Pandemic,” host Jesse Roman, assistant editor of NFPA Journal, speaks with Luke Beckford, the division disaster state relations director of the American Red Cross Pacific Division who discusses different strategies his organization used to assist evacuees of the Apple Fire in Southern California in early August. NFPA Podcast co-host Robbie Dawson, NFPA’s Southeastern regional director, also talks to Anna McRay, a local emergency management director in North Carolina who tells us how her department planned for the arrival of Hurricane Isaias during the pandemic, and what they did differently around sheltering and emergency operations.

 

Similar agencies are also adapting their emergency disaster planning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as highlighted in a new article, Calamity Before the Storm, in the September/October issue of NFPA Journal. In both the podcast and the article, emergency management professionals share lessons they have learned in the hopes that it might help other organizations meet similar challenges in the weeks and months ahead. Topics addressed in the interviews include:

 

  • Ways to approach the process of amending emergency response plans to the current pandemic
  • Using historical precedents and lessons learned from recent disasters that can help with current events
  • Using NFPA 1616, Standard on Mass Evacuation, Sheltering, and Re-entry Programs, which addresses this type of scenario, and the mechanisms that are in place for those who use the document to adapt their normal plans to fit the current situation
  • Ways to provide emergency shelter and food, and comfort to evacuees without spreading the COVID-19 virus
  • The importance of developing/strengthening community partnerships
  • Keeping emergency workers healthy during the crisis
  • The need for continued workforce training
  • Mechanisms for safely delivering medical services to shelters

 

While emergency managers say their mission hasn’t changed, the way in which they fulfill the mission has, and both McRay, Beckford, and others have learned a great deal from their experiences handling a crisis during the pandemic. So much so, they say that several new strategies will likely change how they do their jobs in the future, even after the pandemic is over. 

 

Listen to the full podcast and read the entire article by visiting the NFPA Podcast webpage at nfpa.org/podcasts and NFPA Journal. Related information can be found on the Journal webpage.

 

 

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: