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Glittering decorations, holiday meals and treats, enjoying the warmth of home on a wintry day – these are hallmarks of the holiday season. However, these traditions and festivities also present an increased risk of fire, making December a leading month for U.S. home fires. Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are two of the top three days for home cooking fires and the top two days for home candle fires.


Following are NFPA statistics that underscore the increased risk of fire during the holidays:



Home fires that began when decorations caught fire caused an average of three civilian deaths, 34 civilian fire injuries and $12 million in direct property damage per year from 2013 to 2017. In 44 percent of these fires, the decoration was too close to a heat source. Fifty-seven percent of December home decoration fires were started by candles, compared to 32 percent in January through November. In addition, December is the peak month for candle fires. Sixty percent of home candle fires started because a flammable item was too close to the candle. In 13 percent of the fires, the candle was left unattended or abandoned.


Christmas trees:

Christmas tree fires are not as common as fires started by other decorations, but when they do occur, they are much more likely to be serious. An annual average of 160 home fires began with Christmas trees. On average, one of every 52 reported home Christmas tree fires resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 135 total reported home fires. Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in more than two of every five (44 percent) home Christmas tree fires, with decorative lights the leading type of equipment involved.



Cooking is the leading cause of U.S. home fires year-round; unattended cooking is the leading cause of these fires, accounting for 31 percent of home cooking fires. Christmas Day is the second-leading day for home cooking fires, with 69 percent more fires than the average daily number. Christmas Eve is not far behind, with 58 percent more fires than the daily average.


Heating: Heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires, with nearly half of all home heating fires occurring in December, January and February. The leading factor contributing to home heating fires (27 percent) was failure to clean, principally from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys. Most home heating fire deaths (86 percent) involved stationary or portable space heaters. In the majority of these deaths, something that could catch fire was too close to the heater.


All that noted, there's no need to be bah humbug about the holidays! Once you know where potential hazards exist, there are many simple steps you can take to ensure a festive, fire-safe season, and we’ve got plenty of them! Check out our tips and resources at


Fire protection systems are increasingly networked to Building Control Systems (BCS), Internet of Things (IoT), and other platforms that are, by design or oversight, exposed to the public-facing Internet. This emerging environment could lead to unique and novel cyber vulnerabilities, and attacks on fire protection systems have the potential to have significant consequences. However, a thorough understanding of cybersecurity issues related to fire protection systems is lacking. The expansiveness of these vulnerabilities, the severity of the consequences, and the awareness of the fire protection community of these vulnerabilities is not well understood.


The Fire Protection Research Foundation recently distributed a new “Request for Proposals” for a project contractor to address this issue. The goal of this current project is to assess the cybersecurity threats of fire protection systems connected to BCS, IoT, and other potential Internet-facing platforms.


Please see the attached PDF for the scope of work or go to the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s website at for more information. Please submit your proposals by January 10, 2020 at 5:00pm EST.

At NFPA, we receive a lot of questions about health care occupancies. In particular, one area that I receive frequent questions about is the application of means of egress requirements in health care suites.

To understand the means of egress requirements within suites, it can be helpful to review the overall occupant protection strategy utilized in hospitals and other health care occupancies. Due to the potential difficulties of evacuation of occupants in health care occupancies a defend-in-place strategy is often utilized. The defend-in-place strategy must account for a plan to relocate patients, should the need arise. The features and floor space arrangements, including the configuration of suites, must also be factored in. NFPA 101 recognizes two types of patient-care suites in health care occupancies: sleeping suites and non-sleeping suites. The Code also has permissions for non-patient care suites, but those suites do not have suite-specific means of egress requirements and are not addressed in this blog.

Suites are a unique feature to health care occupancies and have some original means of egress requirements. To fully achieve the convenience and benefits afforded by suites it is important to understand the differing means of egress requirements.

In general, the means of egress requirements for sleeping suites and non-sleeping suites are similar. Both types of suites are required to have at least one exit access door from the suite either to a corridor or a horizontal exit. Since the protection strategy in health care often relies on the horizontal movement, the use of stairways or other vertical openings is generally used as a last resort for the relocation of occupants.

A second exit access door is required to be provided for sleeping suites greater than 1000 sq. ft. or non-sleeping suites greater than 2500 sq. ft. The second means of egress is permitted to include exit stairway doors, exterior doors, or an exit access door to an adjacent suite.

Suites are required to meet two separate travel distances: (1) travel distance to the nearest exit access door from the suite and (2) travel distance to the nearest exit.

Travel distance from any point within a suite cannot exceed 100 ft. to the nearest exit access door from the suite. Only exit access doors leading to a corridor or adjacent suite, or horizontal exit doors are given credit for this travel distance measurement. As previously discussed, since health care relies upon the horizontal movement of occupants this measurement only applies to exit access doors to areas where occupants can be relocated. Where exit access from a suite goes through an adjacent suite, the 100 ft. travel distance should be applied to each suite individually.

The second travel distance is exit travel distance. Travel distance from any point within a suite cannot exceed 200 ft. to the nearest exit in sprinkler-protected buildings (or 150 ft in non-sprinkler-protected buildings). This measurement is permitted to be to any exit door including an exit stairway door, a horizontal exit door, or an exterior door. This requirement aligns with the overall exit travel distance for the remainder of the health care occupancy.

The use of  suites is just one tool within NFPA 101 that can be applied to hospital design to deliver effective health care and  treatment. However, when using suites, it is important to understand the unique means of egress requirements.

Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “FREE ACCESS.” 

A view from inside a waiting room at University Hospital in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where Tuesday morning a gunman killed six people in the country's deadliest mass shooting since 2015. Image Capture: Aug 2017, Copyright 2017 Google    



A shooting in a hospital waiting room in the city of Ostrava, Czech Republic, left six people dead this morning, the New York Times reported.


The shooter, a 42-year-old man, killed himself as officers closed in. It was the deadliest shooting in the country since 2015, when a gunman killed eight at a restaurant.


The incident highlights the risk of active shooter or other hostile events occurring in hospitals—something emergency management officials have been concerned over for some time.


"We're wide open. We don't run you through a metal detector on the way in," Michael Marturano, safety officer for a health care system in Duluth, Minnesota, said of hospitals during a November 2017 interview with NFPA Journal. "Surgery's locked down, the birthing center is locked down, but the other 80 percent of the building is pretty open. You've got sales people coming in, family members coming in, you've got meetings with a lot of community folks, and they need to get in."


My interview with Marturano served as the Perspectives article for the January/February issue of NFPA Journal. Our conversation covered the importance of preparing health care facilities for situations involving active shooters, some of the challenges involved with the training, and measures health care workers can take to stay safe in active shooter events.


In the nearly three years since our interview, advancements in preparing for active shooter and other hostile events have been made—most notably, NFPA 3000 (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, was released in May 2018.


But the risk of such an event occurring in a hospital has pretty much stayed in the same. In June 2017, a disgruntled doctor opened fire with an AR-15 at a hospital in New York City, killing one doctor and wounding six others. In November 2018, three people were killed in a mass shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Next month, the city of Augusta, Georgia, will embark on a yearlong journey to implement NFPA 3000 throughout its community, and the risk of a shooting occurring in one of the area's three hospitals will be a major consideration for project leaders. You'll be able to read more about this project when the January/February issue of NFPA Journal is published in the coming weeks.


While active shooter events in hospitals aren't that common in the US—only seven occurred from 2000 to 2015, according to data from Texas State University's Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center—they can be a huge headache for hospital emergency planners, said John Montes, the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 3000.


"They have to worry about having an incident on their site, but they are also part of any incident that occurs in the area because they receive the victims," he said. "They are part of that recovery process and response process. It can be very complicated for them to plan."

Lately there has been discussion about the topic of recertification in the fire service in some industry publications, and there seems to be some confusion or misperceptions about our recent activity. Here is the history and the current status.


In the summer of 2016, the Fire Protection Research Foundation (Research Foundation), the independent research affiliate of NFPA, received a request to conduct a study on fire services professional qualifications and recertification requirements. The proposal asked for a review of the existing processes that are in place for emergency personnel to demonstrate their level of competency against a certain credentialing benchmark. It also requested recommendations for implementing and enforcing a proficiency system on a local, state, and national level.


The Research Foundation undertook this project in 2018. This overall effort entailed two deliverables: (1) The research report which has been available online since September 2019, and (2) the workshop proceedings which have now been finalized and are available on the Research Foundation’s website.

The research project

The contractor for this project was FireTox, LLC. They were selected through the Research Foundation’s open RFP process in accordance with our policies, and were chosen to conduct the research with a goal of identifying, comprehending, and reviewing the current fire service training and certification climate. As part of the project, approaches used by parallel professions (EMS, law enforcement, nurses, and teachers) were assessed and a continuing education model was developed. Fire service members were then surveyed to determine how implementation of that model would impact them and their organization.

Findings foster workshop discussions


The new research report was used to facilitate conversation between interested stakeholders and fire service representatives at an October workshop at NFPA headquarters.


The following was considered during the workshop:


  • The evolution, status and anticipated direction of the ProQual system and JPR development
  • Current practices for maintaining fire and emergency personnel skill proficiency in North America
  • Clarification of the relevancy and applicability of the processes adopted in parallel professions
  • Identification, prioritization, and assessment of processes that could be implemented for fire and emergency services personnel
  • The creation of a recommended action plan to provide guidance to the ProQual infrastructure to meet the needs for today and the future


The goal was not to reach consensus on any of the issues that were discussed. Instead, the objective was to gather threshold information that can be used as guidance.


This project and workshop did not, and could not, change any information in any NFPA standard. Changes can only be made to NFPA documents through the Standards Development process.

NFPA 1000 Standard for Fire Service Professional Qualifications Accreditation and Certification Systems has just begun the next revision cycle. Several Public Inputs (recommended changes) were submitted for the next edition of NFPA 1000 by the stated closing date of November 15, 2019.

All recommended changes from the public will now be reviewed by the Technical Committee at their First Draft Meeting to be held January 27-28 in Orlando, Florida. Only at that point, during the First Draft meeting, will any proposed changes to NFPA 1000 be developed by the Technical Committee. Proposed changes to NFPA 1000 that pass ballot by the Technical Committee will then be open for public review and comment. The Technical Committee will ultimately meet in November 2020 to review and act on all submitted Public Comments during the Second Draft Meeting. It is anticipated that the next edition of NFPA 1000 will be the 2022 edition, which will be released in late 2021.

To stay up to date on all activities related to NFPA 1000, visit Click on the “Receive Email Alerts”. To review the Public Inputs that were submitted for NFPA 1000, click on the “Next Edition” tab, then click “View Public Inputs”. This will provide you with access to all the recommended document changes that were submitted by the public. Additional information, including where the document is in the process, and pertinent dates can also be accessed by clicking on that Next Edition tab. You will also find the link to the First Draft Meeting details on that page.

NFPA technical meetings are always open to the public. Any individual can attend. In fact, active participation in our process is the best way for you to ensure that your voice is heard. It also provides you with the greatest opportunity to effect change that will enhance the firefighting profession, as it moves forward. If you would like your voice to be heard on this topic, or any NFPA standard, please participate in the standards development process. As always, we are here to help if you have any questions or we can be of any assistance – simply email us at

The Research Foundation also undertook a project on the topic of maintaining proficiencies for the fire service that entailed two deliverables – a research report and workshop proceedings which are available on the Research Foundation’s website.


With the number of electrical contact fatalities in the workplace being relatively flat since 2012 (average 146 fatalities with a range of 134 to 156), I decided to look into what the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) database provides for the electrical parts contributing to these fatalities. Perhaps if more of us have knowledge of who and what are involved in electrocutions we can further reduce the number of fatalities. 

The 1980-1992 data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities Report (May 1998) shows a high of 582 electrical contact fatalities in 1981. An average of 411 fatalities occurred over those dozen years with the construction industry accounting for a majority of the fatalities. The most frequent victims were linesmen, laborers, electricians and painters. Thirty-three percent of the electrocutions occurred at less than 600 volts. Of these low-voltage electrocutions, 54% occurred at household voltage levels (120-240 volts). Fatalities at all voltages were caused by: direct worker contact with an energized powerline (28%); direct worker contact with energized equipment (21%); boomed vehicle contact with an energized powerline (18%); improperly installed or damaged equipment (17%); conductive equipment contact with an energized powerline (16%). Over 60% of the electrical contact fatalities occurred by contact with overhead power lines.

The BLS database shows an annual average of 269 electrical contact fatalities between 1992-2010 with a high of 348 in 1994. Although listed differently, the construction industry still suffered the most fatalities over this period. The three leading causes of electrical contact fatalities were: contact with overhead power lines (43%), contact with wiring, transformers, or other electrical components (16%) and contact with electric current of machine, tool, appliance, or light fixture (10%). 

The BLS lists an annual average of 152 fatalities between 2011-2017 with a high of 174 fatalities in 2011. Once more the construction industry suffered the most fatalities. Recording of the fatalities and the equipment involved changed in 2011. Now power lines, transformers, and convertors are included in one category which accounted for 59% of the fatalities, followed by building electrical wiring (15%) and power cords, electrical cords, extension cords (10%) and switchboards, switches, fuses (8%). 

An encouraging note from this data is that there has been an annual decrease of 76% in electrical contact fatalities since 1982. Which not surprisingly began to decrease after the issuance and increased use of the first edition (1979) of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the WorkplaceA discouraging statistic is that nearly 60% of the annual fatalities over 40 years have consistently been through contact with overhead wires. I looked through available NIOSH case studies to find out who the victims were. Electricians, linesmen, painters, grounds keepers, roofers, and tree trimmers are common victims. A majority of their fatalities involved the use of a ladder. Other victims include well drillers, dump and cement truck drivers, and boom truck operators. Most of these involved parking near or beneath overhead power lines then raising a portion of the truck. It is disturbing that awareness of the work area could be a simple way to cut electrocutions in the workplace nearly in half.

NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace as its title suggests, is for all employees who might be exposed to electrical hazards while performing their assigned tasks. However, many employers and employees tend to believe that it is written only for those in the electrical industry. This may be one reason for so many overhead power line fatalities occurring even though NFPA 70E has requirements specifically covering this scenario. Fatalities are occurring in trades that may be mistaken in the belief that an electrical safety program does not apply to them. It is foreseeable that employees from these other trades will be exposed to electrical hazards. A field, yard, roadway or rooftop is their work environment. Federal law mandates that an employer furnish to each of his employees’ employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees. If you are not in an “electrical trade” what does your employer do to ensure your electrical safety at your workplace?

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

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

Next time: Where are the employees who are exposed to electrical hazards?

Please Note: Any comments, suggested text changes, or technical issues related to NFPA Standards posted or raised in this communication are not submissions to the NFPA standards development process and therefore will not be considered by the technical committee(s) responsible for NFPA Standards development.  To learn how to participate in the NFPA standards development process and submit proposed text for consideration by the responsible technical committee(s), please go to for instructions.

Winter doesn’t officially start for another couple weeks, but looking out the window here in New England and many other parts of the country tells a different story. Snow is covering the ground, and each additional storm will pile it higher. With the cold, wintry weather brings an increased risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from blocked heating system combustion exhaust vents. The current (2018) edition of the Life Safety Code requires the installation of carbon monoxide detectors or alarms in certain occupancies with combustion equipment, including:

  • New assembly occupancies
  • New educational occupancies
  • New day-care homes
  • New and existing health care occupancies with fireplaces
  • New one- and two-family dwellings
  • New lodging or rooming houses
  • New hotels and dormitories
  • New apartment buildings
  • New residential board and care occupancies

Most of us, however, live in existing homes – defined as those constructed prior to the adoption of the current edition of the code – with older heating equipment and vent systems. It’s in these existing homes where the greatest risk lies. In 2005, seven-year-old Nicole Garofalo of Plymouth, Massachusetts died when a snow drift blocked the exhaust vent on her home’s heating system. Several months later, the state enacted Nicole’s Law in her memory, which requires all homes in Massachusetts with combustion equipment or enclosed parking to have carbon monoxide detection equipment. The law is enforced at the time a house is sold; fire department approval is required prior to the transfer. This exceeds the minimum requirements of the Life Safety Code, which does not require CO detection in existing homes. Kudos to Massachusetts for taking the lead on requiring relatively inexpensive, life saving protection where it’s needed most.

And what is the cost to provide this valuable protection in an existing home? I’ll offer myself as a case study. When I bought my house a few years ago, it met Nicole’s Law by having two plug-in CO alarms – one on each level. I just looked on my favorite online shopping site; a plug-in CO alarm goes for under $20. For under $100, you can protect a pretty good-sized home. Now, my house has a gas furnace, a gas stove, a gas fireplace, a wood-burning fireplace, and an attached garage; I wanted something more than a couple plug-in alarms. My house already had hardwired, interconnected smoke alarms that were due to be replaced. (Smoke alarms should be replaced every ten years or as directed by the manufacturer.) Instead of buying replacement smoke alarms, I bought combination smoke and CO alarms. Again, on my favorite online shopping site, a box of six hardwire combination carbon monoxide and smoke alarms with battery backup and voice warning goes for $168. I’m pretty handy so I did the installation myself. $168 was a small price to pay for the lives of me and my family.

If you’re reading this #101Wednesdays blog, I’m likely preaching to the choir. You already know about the dangers of CO poisoning and the need to keep combustion vents clear. Most people, however, don’t think like us. So as this holiday season approaches, think about your neighbors. Check to make sure their vents are clear. Maybe if they’re older, ask if you can help to clear them. Ask if they have CO alarms in their homes. If not, for $20 you could give a gift that’s much more thoughtful than a fruitcake.

See NFPA’s website for more details on CO, including safety tips and NFPA’s nonfire CO incident report.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “FREE ACCESS.”

Follow me on Twitter: @NFPAGregH

NFPA 1, 2018 edition

NFPA has issued the following errata on November 26, 2019 for the 2018 editions of NFPA 1Fire Code, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code:


An errata is a correction issued to an NFPA Standard, published in NFPA News, Codes Online, and included in any further distribution of the Standard.NFPA 101, 2018 edition

NFPA 1500, 2018 editionThe following two proposed Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs) on the 2018 and proposed 2021 editions to NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program, are being published for public review and comment:



Anyone may submit a comment on these proposed TIAs by the January 6, 2020 closing date.  Along with your comment, please identify the number of the TIA and forward to the Secretary, Standards Council by the closing date

A call for papers has been issued for AUBE ‘20/SUPDET 2020, a joint conference of the 17th International Conference on Automatic Fire Detection (AUBE ’20) and the Suppression, Detection and Signaling Research and Applications Symposium (SUPDET 2020).  The conference will be jointly hosted by the Department of Communication Systems NTS at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany and the Fire Protection Research Foundation.  The combination of these two international conferences continues the tradition of presenting the latest developments in research, technology and applications for the fire protection community.  The joint conference will be held September 15-17, 2020 in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.  

Interested presenters are asked to submit an extended abstract (3 pages) by email not later than December 31, 2019 to  Submitted abstracts must include the full title, and name(s), affiliation(s), address(es), telephone number(s), and email address(es) of the author(s), with the presenter identified (underlined).  Abstracts must be original work and will be accepted on the basis of their quality and originality in the field of automatic fire detection, security systems and their applications.  Abstracts should be absent of commercial overtones, be based on scientific aspects, present objective and credible results, and be without inherent bias.  Abstracts that do not meet these criteria will not be accepted.

For the full call for papers that includes topics of interest and other conference details, please visit the SUPDET website.  For an idea of topics that are of interest, past proceedings of the 2017 joint conference are posted on the Foundation website.

Save the date!  Registration information will be available soon.

"The Magnitude and Cost of Firefighter Injuries in the U.S." is an upcoming, free webinar that will present the results of work by NFPA and the Fire Protection Research Foundation on the extent, economic cost, and causes of firefighter injuries in the U.S. An economic model will be presented which links injury type with cost. Case studies will illustrate the cost of injury at the local level.

According to the most recent study by NFPA on firefighter injuries, 68,085 firefighter injuries were reported in the United States in 2015. Of these, 29,130 occurred at the fireground. Strain, sprain, muscular pain resulted in more than half of the injuries received during fireground operations (53%) and non-fireground activities (60%). In addition to injuries, there were 8,350 documented exposures to infectious diseases (e.g., hepatitis, meningitis, HIV, other) in 2015. This amounts to one exposure per 2,500 emergency medical service runs by fire departments. There were an estimated 27,250 documented exposures to hazardous conditions (e.g. asbestos, chemicals, fumes, radioactive materials, other) in 2015. This amounts to one exposure per 40 hazardous condition runs by fire departments. In 2015, there were an estimated 16,600 collisions involving fire department emergency vehicles responding to or returning from incidents. This is the highest number of collisions since NFPA began collecting this information in 1990. 

Firefighter injury studies by the NFPA indicate that although other loss indicators of the nation’s fire problem are declining, the rate of firefighter injury per fire incident is not. A deeper understanding of the costs associated with these injuries will illuminate their impact on the nation’s resources dedicated to fire safety and provide benchmarks to evaluate strategies to reduce these numbers in the future.

Register for the webinar today! 

When: Thursday, December 5, 2019, 12:30-2:00 pm ET


  • Benjamin Evarts, National Fire Protection Association
  • David Butry, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Visit for more upcoming NFPA webinars and archives.

NFPA 101, 2018 edition

NFPA has issued the following errata on the 2018 edition of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code; and the 2020 edition of NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting:


  • NFPA 101, Errata 101-18-3, referencing A., issued on November 18, 2019
  • NFPA 1851, Errata 1851-20-1, referencing 8.1.7,,, A.8.1.7,, A., and B.1.2.1 of the 2020 edition, issued on October 30, 2019

    NFPA 1851, 2020 edition

An errata is a correction issued to an NFPA Standard, published in NFPA News, Codes Online, and included in any further distribution of the Standard.

Reply to this statement if you are capable of being truthful to yourself. I have always followed my electrical safety training. Unfortunately, for majority of us, the honest answer is no, I have not always followed my safety training. For some of us it may have been when working on a 120-volt circuit. For others it may have been a 13.8 kV system. It really doesn’t matter what the voltage, current or incident energy was. Nearly 25% of the electrical contact fatalities occur at or below 220 volts. Most of us work on electrical systems that have the capacity to kill. A fatality has probably been recorded for the type of electrical system you work on. It would be surprising to meet someone who did not know that contact with electricity can be fatal. Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2003 there has been an annual average of 186 electrocutions in the workplace.

The first question is why do we put ourselves at risk of becoming a fatality? We have been trained to recognize and avoid electrical hazards but still we put ourselves at risk. We know that our death is a potential outcome of performing the task the way we intend to do the work. We know that the circuit should be deenergized regardless of voltage or incident energy. If energized work is justified, we know we should get the appropriate tools and use the correct personal protective equipment. However, at some point in our career we do not shut off the system or take the trip out to the truck to get the proper gear. The next question is why do we decide to risk our life?

Over my career, the most common answer is that we can’t be bothered: we can’t be bothered to shut the system down; we can’t be bothered to walk downstairs to the panelboard; we can’t be bothered to take the time necessary to correctly don the protective gear; we can’t be bothered to come back tomorrow to finish up the work; we can’t be bothered to take time to explain to our employer that being at risk is wrong; we can’t be bothered to forego accepting a job that puts us at risk, and/or we can’t be bothered to protect ourselves when a task will only take a few moments. 

So, we justify risking our lives to ourselves: the disconnect is too far away; I know what I am doing; they will not let me shut the production line down; the protective gear makes it difficult to work; I have never been injured doing it this way; I shut it off so it must be off; my shift is done in a few minutes; I won’t make a mistake; I’ve been shocked before; it’s only 277 volts, and/or if I don’t do it someone else will. Unfortunately for many of us, we justify putting a paycheck ahead of our life.

Sometime during our career, many of us have put ourselves at risk of becoming a fatality regardless of our safety training. We may have done so with no adverse consequence. In that case no one is the wiser. No harm, no foul? We may have taken a risk and ended up with a temporary injury or some time away from work. Were we rewarded for being a hero who took an undue risk or were we tagged as an employee who violated the rules? Worse yet, some have risked their life and lost. Was the consequence of becoming a fatality and its impact on their family considered when they justified ignoring their safety training?  No one alive can know the answer to that question.

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

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

Next time: What is causing electrical contact fatalities?

Please Note: Any comments, suggested text changes, or technical issues related to NFPA Standards posted or raised in this communication are not submissions to the NFPA standards development process and therefore will not be considered by the technical committee(s) responsible for NFPA Standards development.  To learn how to participate in the NFPA standards development process and submit proposed text for consideration by the responsible technical committee(s), please go to for instructions.

Protection of vertical openings is a subject about which we receive a fair number of questions here at NFPA. In general, floors need to provide a smoke-resistant barrier between stories in a building to prevent smoke from migrating vertically and affecting occupants on stories other than the story of fire origin. A vertical opening is a “hole in the floor” that requires some form of protection. Different vertical openings have different names: convenience opening; communicating space; atrium; two-story opening with partial enclosure; and others. The varied protection strategies offered by the code are, I think, what creates some confusion. To determine the protection requirements, refer to Section 8.6 and the X.3.1 subsection of the applicable occupancy chapters. A quick overview of a few scenarios based on the 2018 edition of the code follows:

  • Full enclosure: Where vertical openings (holes in floors) exist, enclose the openings with fire barriers on each story exposed to the opening. The required fire resistance rating of the enclosing barriers depends on the number of stories exposed to the opening(s) and whether it is new or existing. See 8.6.5 for the required rating. Examples include elevator hoistways and utility shafts. This scenario satisfies the base requirement of 8.6.2. Note that exit stair enclosures, which are a form of vertical opening, must meet the more stringent requirements of; meeting the exit enclosure requirements inherently meets the vertical opening requirements.

Where full enclosure on all exposed stories is not practical or is undesirable, the code offers several alternatives. These are referred to as continuity exemptions in 8.6.3; here are examples of a few of them:

  • Partial enclosure: Where a vertical opening occurs in one floor only (i.e., only two stories are exposed to the opening), 8.6.8 permits the opening to be enclosed on one story or the other leaving one of the stories exposed to the opening. The required rating of the enclosing barriers is covered by 8.6.5 (1-hr for new, ½-hr for existing). No special occupancy chapter permission is required and there are no restrictions on what the opening can be used for. If the opening is used for a stair, the stair could be used as part of a required exit access, but it does not qualfiy as an exit since and require exit stairs to enclosed on every story (there is an exemption for some existing two-story exit stairs in
  • Convenience opening: Where a vertical opening occurs in one floor only (i.e., two stories are exposed to the opening), the opening might be permitted to be unenclosed on both stories if it meets the requirements of These unenclosed openings require permission in the X.3.1 subsection of the applicable occupancy chapters, where X is the chapter number (e.g., 38.3.1 for new business occupancies. Some of the key requirements of include: the opening can’t communicate with openings to other stories; new openings must be separated from any corridors (these convenience openings are sometimes found in office building tenant spaces); if the opening is used for a stair, the stair does not get any credit as a means of egress.
  • Communicating space: These are sometimes referred to as “mini-atriums.” Unlike a convenience opening, a communicating space can expose up to three stories to each other. With the increased exposure comes additional requirements and limitations in 8.6.6. Communicating spaces are permitted unless prohibited by the X.3.1 subsection of the applicable occupancy chapters; for an example, see, which prohibits communicating spaces in new health care occupancies. Portions of stories that are exposed to the communicating space must be separated from the remainder of the building by fire or smoke barriers depending on whether the building is protected by automatic sprinklers. Areas outside the communicating space need access to an exit without passing through the communicating space, and the communicating space needs to be open and unobstructed so a fire on any story within the communicating space will be readily apparent. Contents within the communicating spaces are restricted to low hazard (essentially noncombustible) unless the space has automatic sprinklers. By meeting all the criteria in 8.6.6, the unenclosed floor are openings are protected.
  • Atrium: Whereas a communicating space is limited to exposing not more than three contiguous stories, an atrium can expose any number of stories because it is subject to the stringent requirements of 8.6.7, which include automatic sprinkler protection throughout the building. New atriums must be provided with an engineering analysis to show that smoke from a fire in the atrium will not prevent the use of the highest exit access path exposed to the atrium for the time needed to evacuate; this frequently necessitates an engineered smoke control system. Think of a Hyatt or Embassy Suites hotel in which, upon leaving your guest room, you’re immediately in the atrium space. This exit access path needs to be maintained relatively smoke free to allow occupants to reach the enclosed exit stairs. The design of atrium buildings is largely performance-based and frequently involves computer fire and egress modeling.

NFPA atrium

The atrium at NFPA in Quincy, MA


The code offers a handful of additional vertical opening protection strategies – see Section 8.6 for the details. Be aware that some of the Life Safety Code vertical opening protection requirements might differ from those in the International Building Code; in some cases, the Life Safety Code might be more restrictive (several attendees at classes I’ve instructed have indicated this is the case for two-story, unenclosed vertical openings). Where a jurisdiction has adopted both NFPA 101 and the IBC, designers will likely need to comply with the more restrictive provisions so as to meet the requirements of both.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

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