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A tragic fire at Hospital Badim in Rio de Janeiro killed 11 patients last week.

 

We have taken a different approach with this blog than what we normally do. Security camera video obtained by various Brazil news outlets gives an inside perspective from the very beginning of this event when the fire started. I worked with several of my NFPA colleagues, including one who is fluent in Portuguese to help understand what we were seeing and hearing from the government officials who were interviewed. We have included links to those news stories that include the video.

 

When deadly incidents like these occur, the usual questions arise. Why did it happen? How do we prevent future tragedies? While we don’t know yet why it happened, we do know that benchmarks exist to prevent loss of life and property in the health care environment.

 

Buildings and facilities that care for the sick and injured, require additional code provisions in order to protect vulnerable hospital patients from fire. Although many of the Hospital Badim victims were elderly, the risks remain largely the same for any patient whose medical condition makes them incapable of self-preservation. During a fire event, patients are essentially dependent on the facility’s building construction features, fire protection systems, emergency management plan, and staff.

 

According to initial and ongoing news reports out of Rio, an emergency generator that was located in the basement level is considered to be the cause and origin of the fire. The generator was located in an open area that housed vehicles and building materials. It was a space that was either normally not occupied or that apparently had a relatively small building population that worked in that space. Security camera video on this level showed some type of arcing or sparking coming from the generator at approximately 5:45 PM. Although it is not known if the generator was operating, this is the first indication that something was amiss. In addition, four 250-litre (approximately 265 gallons total) diesel fuel storage tanks were located adjacent to the generator. Other security cameras on different levels of the hospital showed clear signs of smoke migration into different spaces and offices. Even in the midst of having clear signs of a significant fire, there seemed to be no sense of urgency, at least initially as the events unfolded on the basement level. Several attempts were made to control or extinguish the fire with portable fire extinguishers, but those efforts were not successful. Approximately 15 minutes into the fire event, it appears that decisions were being made to begin relocation or evacuation protocol for the staff, as well as patients.

 

At some point, a large flame can be seen coming out of the basement area and shooting above the street level. Thick black smoke accompanied this part of the fire while at the same time it was migrating throughout multiple levels of the facility. Although TV news coverage, photos and video allow us to make some assumptions about the incident, we obviously do not know the complete circumstances behind the fire or the hospital’s fire protection features, construction, or emergency plan. These are all important elements that should be considered as part of the formal investigation into this particular fire; and, for the record, should always be part of a comprehensive plan for fire and life safety in health care facilities.

 

Whenever a large loss incident like this occurs, NFPA has an obligation to share information about the various NFPA codes and standards that exist to prevent such tragedies-even when they occur beyond the borders of the United States. NFPA 101, Life Safety Code; NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code; and NFPA 110 Emergency and Standby Power Systems are among the documents that have the most relevancy to this fire. NFPA 101 establishes a comprehensive and holistic method to health care fire safety. Known as the “total concept” approach, the code mandates a combination of controls over building construction types and construction materials, extensive use of crucial fire protection systems including fire alarm and automatic sprinkler systems, and reliance on a properly trained and drilled staff who are able to take life-saving measures to protect patients as part of the emergency planning concept. When even one of these three elements are not at the level it needs to be, less than desirable outcomes are inevitable.

 

Likewise, NFPA 99 also establishes supplemental criteria that allows health care facilities to plan for a wide variety of emergency contingencies including total evacuation of the facility. As noted previously, it is presumed that the occupants that the facility is there to serve will largely be incapable of self-preservation. It is for this reason that total building evacuation is literally a measure of last resort when it comes to hospital fire safety. However, for those extraordinary conditions, NFPA 99 provides requirements for comprehensive emergency plans including plans for such a contingency. At some point during the Rio de Janeiro fire, the decision was made to evacuate the facility. This required a carefully coordinated effort between hospital staff, first responders, and even groups of ad hoc volunteers from the neighborhood who worked to move the patients to adjoining buildings and structures. These actions, no doubt, helped to save many lives during the fire.

 

As in any fire investigation, determining the cause and origin is a key part of the process. With video evidence of a problem with the emergency generator, investigators could utilize standards such as NFPA 110 to help determine if the system was in proper working and operating order. It is not known if the generator was in operation at the time that the fire started or if it was an idle position. Other requirements of NFPA 110 include having the generator located in a separately housed space or compartment with fire-resistance rated construction — a circumstance that was clearly not the case in this particular fire. In addition to these provisions, NFPA 110 also covers requirements for ongoing inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) of the generators. ITM records are likely to be reviewed as well.

 

Other video evidence shows smoke spreading from the basement level to all floors of the building, the circumstances of which must be evaluated and understood. Codes like NFPA 101 establish very conservative rules to minimize the number, type and size of unprotected vertical openings to avoid such avenues for smoke spread. This particular area was closely scrutinized following the 1980 fire at the MGM Grand Hotel Las Vegas where many of the fatalities occurred on the upper levels of the building, far away from where the fire originated on the first floor. Preventing smoke movement and migration to upper levels is normally controlled through a combination of HVAC fan shutdown, fire and smoke dampers, and by ensuring that vertical penetrations for everything from exit stairways, to pipe and electrical chases, to building expansion joints are properly sealed and protected to all but eliminate the possibility of vertical smoke movement.

 

In the US, fatalities from a fire in a hospital are rare, although that hasn’t always been the case. In NFPA’s report, U.S. Structure Fires in Health Care Properties, the U.S. averages two deaths per year in these occupancies. Incidents that have occurred over the years have prompted changes to NFPA 101, NFPA 99, NFPA 110, and other standards. As a result, current standards address important issues such as emergency management, egress requirements, hazard vulnerability and risk assessments, construction requirements, emergency power supply systems and many other safety practices designed to make health care facilities safer.

 

The history and knowledge gained through lessons learned from previous fire events, can be used to design a comprehensive fire safety plan for your facility. Unfortunately, there will be more lessons learned from the Hospital Badim fire; but hopefully as we move forward and work to reduce loss of life due to fires at health care facilities, the lessons learned from this incident can be applied globally.

 

Click here to see the blog in Portuguese or Spanish.

Wildfires continue to be a problem in the United States and abroad. According to the California Department of Insurance, the Camp Fire of November 2018 cost somewhere in the vicinity of $8.5 billion in property loss and damages. Currently, the Camp Fire is regarded as the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history.
While the massive destruction of such fires is difficult in itself, the tragedy that comes from the loss of lives all the more difficult to recover from.


This year’s first day of sessions at the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s Suppression, Detection and Signaling Research and Applications Conference (SUPDET 2019) covered a number of Detection-related topics. But I thought I would take a moment to highlight Jessica Doermann’s presentation on Development of a Research-Based Short Message Creation Tool for Wildfire Emergencies.

Doermann

 

Doermann’s goal was to develop a message creation tool to help agencies generate effective 360-character messages that auto-incorporated research-based best practices. Her intent was to help develop a foundation for the bridge between short message alert research and the practical generation of messages during imminent threat emergencies.

 

Over the course of her research, Doermann determined that the following factors were the most important when it came to getting public response to messaging:

  • Readability
  • Content
  • Style
  • Risk Perception
  • Public Trust
  • Public Action

 

In addition, Doermann determined that the content of an effective short message alert was typically made up of five primary types of information:

  • Hazard
  • Location
  • Timeline
  • Guidance
  • Source

 

However, depending on the length of the message and the amount of information provided, the order of these five necessary types of information would change.

 

example

 

If you would like to review Jessica Doermann’s presentation, or any of the other wonderful and informative presentations from this year’s Suppression, Detection and Signaling Research and Applications Conference (SUPDET 2019), please visit https://www.nfpa.org/supdet19presentations

 

And don’t forget to save the date for next year’s AUBE’20/SUPDET2020 which will be held September 15-17, 2020 at Katholische Akademie ‘Die Wolfsburg’ Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.

electrical

 

It’s no secret that NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) is aimed at saving lives. There are requirements throughout the document that are specifically included to prevent shock and electrical fires. However, once in a while we need requirements to install the electrical system in a way that supports life saving efforts of a different kind. Sometimes, it is the electrical system itself that will end up saving a life and other times it might be key components of the electrical system that support certain life safety functions of a building.

 

One type of occupancy that illustrates this point is a hospital. Healthcare facilities are a great example of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical and other hazards. These facilities are also prime examples of where the convergence of multiple building codes and standards can make it hard to digest and keep straight, especially when it comes to the essential electrical system (EES). The EES is a critical piece to the operation of healthcare facilities and instrumental in providing life safety in these occupancies. However, we need to take a look at all of the moving pieces to better understand how this supports the mission to save lives.

 

First, let’s take a look at why we even have a need for the EES in the first place. In order to do this, we need to understand what makes up an EES. For our purposes here, we will focus on a Type 1 EES. But first we should define what an EES is. NFPA 99: Healthcare Facilities Code actually defines an EES as:

 

“A system comprised of alternate sources of power and all connected distribution systems and ancillary equipment, designed to ensure continuity of electrical power to designated areas and functions of a health care facility during disruption of normal power sources, and also to minimize disruption within the internal wiring system.”

 

Specifically, a Type 1 EES is made up of three separate branches that provide power to different functions within the facility:

  • The first branch is the life safety branch and it is intended to deliver power to the systems that are needed for the purpose of life-safety, such as exit signs and egress lighting.
  • The second branch is the critical branch. This branch contains circuits and equipment that are in certain areas and critical to the function of patient care within the facility. Critical circuits can supply items like task lighting, certain receptacles, and fixed equipment in Category 1 (critical) spaces.
  • The third branch is the equipment branch. This branch powers systems that are integral to the building operation. Systems such as climate control HVAC and certain elevators can be found on this branch.

 

Just exactly how this system needs to perform is not exactly a function of the NEC. Remember, the purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of people and property from electrical hazards. Keeping a hospital up and running in an emergency is certainly an important task, however, it belongs to another document, like NFPA 99.  The role of the National Electrical Code is more about how to install the EES, both to meet the performance requirements of NFPA 99 and to be safe in alignment with the purpose of the NEC.

 

As I mentioned, in order to understand the full picture of just how the EES factors into the life saving mission of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, we need to examine all of the pieces in this equation. To do this justice we will be taking a deeper look at the specifics of this system as they relate to the mission of making the world a safer place in a series of blogs over the coming weeks. Our next blog will examine the three different branches of a Type 1 EES the Life Safety Branch, the Critical Branch, and the Equipment Branch. We will cover what types of loads are allowed on each, how each branch is required to perform, and how exactly we install these systems to accomplish this. We’ll also explore the nuances of the relationships between the NEC, NFPA 99, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code . Make sure to stay tuned as we break down one of the more complicated and confusing areas in electrical installations.

 

To learn more about this topic and related information found in the 2020 National Electrical Code, be sure to check out NFPA’s new digital access to the NEC, which provides needed information in the code with features like keyword search and the ability to pull up other referenced sections without leaving the page you were on! Best of all, you can bundle it with a copy of the book and save big. Check it out today, and let us know what you think.

NFPA has released a new white paper designed to help healthcare officials meet and re-examine the emergency preparedness requirements set forth by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

 

In November 2017, Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers, went into effect requiring healthcare facilities to adequately plan for both natural and man-made disasters, and coordinate with federal, state, tribal, regional and local emergency preparedness systems in order to be reimbursed by Medicare or Medicaid. The CMS rule requires hospitals, critical access hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, long-term care facilities, intermediate care facilities, and rural health clinics to have an emergency preparedness (EP) program that entails four critical segments:

 

  • risk assessment and planning
  • policies and procedures
  • a communication plan
  • training and testing

 

Although the rule requires risk assessment and planning, guidance on conducting, implementing, and revisiting a comprehensive risk assessment plan is lacking. To help address “the how” NFPA developed Using NFPA 1300 as a Tool to Comply with CMS Requirements for an Emergency Preparedness Program, a free resource for the healthcare industry. Three of the major steps outlined in NFPA 1300 Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development directly correlate to the CMS EP rule (conducting a risk assessment, developing a CRR plan, and implementing and evaluating the plan).

CMS encourages healthcare providers and suppliers to review policies and emergency procedures on an annual basis. As part of this yearly review, healthcare authorities are encouraged to re-assess:

 

  • food and water needs
  • essential utilities, generators, and potential backup resources delivery challenges
  • evacuation plans and sheltering in place
  • tracking patients and staff; safety and security needs
  • communications, resources and assets
  • clinical support and staff roles
  • exterior connections and communications
  • new construction at or near a facility
  • roads and bridges that could be closed; alternate routes for first responders


“The only thing that is constant is change; and with September being Emergency Preparedness Month it is a great opportunity for healthcare facilities to review protocol and see how they can update and improve their EP plans,” Rich Bielen, NFPA Principal Engineer and the author of the white paper said.

 

Using NFPA 1300 as a Tool to Comply with CMS Requirements for an Emergency Preparedness Program can be downloaded for free; the document can also be accessed on the ASPR TRACIE CMS Resource page. For additional resources for healthcare facilities, visit nfpa.org/cms.

NFPA has released NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems to help engineers, manufacturers, code enforcers, first responders, and policy makers address potential challenges and obstacles related to energy storage system (ESS) installations.

 

The popularity of energy storage systems has been growing steadily for years. Businesses, consumers and government officials are increasingly recognizing the cost savings and efficiencies that come with capturing energy via solar and wind technologies; reserving resources for peak usage periods; and replenishing power at night when rates are typically lower. In fact, Global deployment of ESS is expected to expand thirteen times in size by 2024, with the greatest growth occurring in the United States and China, according to industry expert Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewable.

 

Certain ESS technologies, however, pack a lot of energy in a small envelope therefore increasing fire and life safety hazards such as stranded energy, the release of toxic gases, and fire intensity. These potential threats are driving the need for first responders and those that design, build, maintain, and inspect facilities to become more educated and proactive about ESS safety.

 

The development process for NFPA 855 began in 2016; and over the course of three years a wide range of stakeholders submitted more than 600 public inputs and 800 public comments. In addition to looking at where the technology is located, how it is separated from other components, and the suppression systems in place, NFPA 855 considers the ventilation, detection, signage, listings, and emergency operations associated with ESS.

 

Members of the building and design communities have closely followed the development of NFPA 855 because clients are more likely to consider ESS technology these days for new projects, renovations, and expansion efforts. Manufacturers, likewise, want to appeal to energy-savvy customers and ensure that they are producing the safest, most compliant products. And of course, first responders need to keep pace with innovation and learn about potential hazards including HAZMAT issues, thermal runaway concerns, battery explosion and re-ignition. In April, eight fire fighters were injured in Arizona when a fire caused an explosion as first responders attempted to check on a utility company ESS unit.

 

To learn more about ESS and potential safety risks, visit www.NFPA.org/ESS for:

 

  • free online access to NFPA 855;
  • relevant ESS research reports;
  • the world’s first online ESS training for the fire service;
  • a fact sheet for policy makers;
  • and assorted NFPA Journal content.

 

Current editions of NFPA 70 and NFPA 1 both contain extensive requirements for ESS too.

9.11.01 will always be remembered, not just by the fire service, but by this nation. All the altered lives, all the people affected, even years later, leave an imprint that will never fade. As someone who came into the fire service after that event, I was the beneficiary of the extra attention paid to us in the form of greater staffing, communications equipment, and safety-related purchases. It was all much needed. I am very grateful and appreciative to have benefitted and seen the positive side of what came from this horrific tragedy, to know that some of my friends and I may very well be alive today, and in good health, because of some of the improvements in the fire service that came about after 9.11.

 

However, today we need to also remember those we lost, those we loved, and those who were irreparably changed on that day. We need to acknowledge the good people like Steve King, a former Chair of structural and proximity firefighting equipment, who worked his last day on 9.11 and almost lost his life, but who also shared his experience with us in a profound way. We need to spend a few moments thinking about the families who lost loved ones they were not able to say goodbye to; we need to recognize those whose health declined post 9.11 and who could no longer remain in the fire service.

 

The lives lost and the lives altered – their legacy moves forward through our efforts and with our passion and determination to make the fire service and our world safer. Never forget.

Over the past few years, the NFPA 101, Life Safety Code Technical Committees repeatedly learned of schools’ efforts to protect students and staff that, in many cases, were imperiling safety. It was determined by the Committees that a cost-effective door lock/latch combination utilizing a second releasing operation was needed so that the Code would continue to deliver a high level of safety to students, staff and visitors and, at the same time, minimize the need for well-intentioned but dangerously misguided applications.

 

A newly issued tentative interim amendment (TIA) to NFPA 101 now enables existing classroom school doors to be retrofitted with secondary hardware, which might include items such as a thumb turn lock. This option can be used in lieu of single operation hardware, which combines a latch and lock together, if a school finds the single operation hardware solution cost-prohibitive.

 

Prior to the TIA issuance, schools were required to use lock/latch sets utilizing a single releasing operation when retrofitting classroom doors, as required by the 2018 edition of the Code. Because this requirement reportedly has been considered cost-prohibitive for schools, many resorted to solutions or installations involving barricades, door wedges, rope, and other contrivances as cheaper alternatives. These devices and applications pose significant risks to occupant safety and also present potential challenges and hazards to teachers on a daily basis, as well as to first responders who need to quickly gain access to school classrooms and other student-use spaces during emergencies.

 

Regardless of the approach taken to retrofitting classroom, engaging and disengaging the lock cannot require special knowledge, strength, or any other unique abilities. Performance requirements related to these locking devices include the following criteria:

  • The door must be lockable without having to open it.
  • The lock cannot require special knowledge, a key, or tool to engage or disengage from the classroom side of the door.
  • The two releasing operations must not be required to be performed simultaneously to unlock/unlatch the door.
  • The lock must be installed at an acceptable height - between 34 to 48 inches above the floor.
  • The door must have the ability to be unlocked and opened from outside the classroom with the necessary key or credential.
  • The staff must be drilled in the engagement and release of locks.

 

Earlier this year, NFPA released a school safety and security update document for schools and code enforcers to help answer questions and concerns around safe door locking and related issues. With the issuance of the TIA, an updated version of the resource has been made available. For more information about NFPA’s efforts to address building security and safety, visit www.nfpa.org/security.

 

It's back to school time. Time for teachers open their classrooms for the new school year and welcome students back to classes. Soon artwork will cover the walls, student projects will be on display, and lockers will be overflowing with books and supplies. It is also a time for fire inspectors to walk the halls of schools, checking for fire code compliance, operable fire protection systems and maintained egress routes. 

 

schoolroom

 

Educational occupancies, defined in NFPA 1, Fire Code, as "an occupancy used for educational purposes through the twelfth grade by six or more persons for 4 or more hours per day or more than 12 hours per week" include preschools, elementary schools, high schools, and the like. Colleges and Universities fall under a different occupancy classification and, while might present some similar hazards, should not be protected as educational occupancies. Educational facilities are inspected frequently and kept under a close watch by code officials. The day to day activities of a school can be greatly impacted by a document such as the Fire Code. 

 

Furnishings and Decorations:

One area that inspectors and educational occupancies must play close attention to is furnishings, decorations, and interior finish. NFPA 1 provides the following requirements with respect to these materials:

 

  • Draperies, curtains, and other similar loosely hanging furnishings and decorations have to meet specific performance criteria from NFPA 701.Clothing and other personal supplies cannot be stored in the corridors unless the corridor is sprinklered, has a smoke detection system, or where the supplies are stored in metal lockers that do not interfere with the egress width.
  • Clothing hung on hooks along corridor walls or on racks in school lobbies greatly increases the combustible load and will generally allow flame to spread quickly.
  • Artwork and teaching materials can be attached to the walls but cannot exceed 20% of the wall area in a non-sprinklered building and cannot exceed 50% of the wall area if the building is fully sprinklered. Because the combustibility of the artwork cannot be effectively controlled, the quantity, in terms of the percentage of wall area covered, is regulated to avoid creating a continuous combustible surface that will spread flame across the room. It may be advantageous not only to limit the quantity of artwork displayed but also to avoid placing such materials near a room’s exit access doors.

 

Fire Drills

Emergency egress and relocation drills are required as mandated specifically by a particular occupancy in Chapter 20 or as deemed necessary by the local AHJ. Requirements for drills are extracted from NFPA 101 but are located in Chapter 10 in NFPA 1 under General Safety Requirements. Fire inspectors play an important role in regulating and managing drills in facilities throughout their jurisdiction, especially in schools. Drills should always be designed and conducted in cooperation with the local authorities as the procedure and details of drills will vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction. Factors such as occupant demographics and location may all impact the details of the drill.  

 

The purpose of emergency egress and relocation drills is to educate the participants in the fire safety features of the building, the egress facilities available, and the procedures to be followed.Speed in emptying buildings or relocating occupants, while desirable, is not the only objective. Prior to an evaluation of the performance of an emergency egress and relocation drill, an opportunity for instruction and practice should be provided. This educational opportunity should be presented in a nonthreatening manner, with consideration given to the prior knowledge, age, and ability of audience. Additionally, NFPA 1 also addresses frequency, conduct, environment, and documentation for drills.

 

Security

Perhaps one of the biggest issues facing schools and communities today is maintaining the safety and security of students and staff from a hostile event or unwanted intruder. Chapter 14 of NFPA 1 extracts requirements from NFPA 101 about acceptable door locking arrangements. Inspectors should reference NFPA 101 specifically for new provisions on classroom door locking (see Chapters 14/15 of NFPA 101 and newly issued amendment to the Code that modifies the permitted door locking arrangements.)  NFPA offers several valuable resources for fire inspectors and AHJs faced with implementing security provisions in their communities. 

 

Don't miss another #FireCodeFridays blog! Get notifications straight to your email inbox by subscribing here! And you can always follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA

 

Thanks for reading!


On September 2, a fire aboard the Conception diving boat killed over 30 people off the coast of California. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office

 

 

The early-morning fire that rapidly consumed the Conception diving boat, killing 34 of the boat's 39 passengers, off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, Monday is a prime example of the danger of boat fires. Boats, with their often-cramped, confined spaces, can easily become death traps in the event of a fire. 

 

While the cause of Monday's blaze remains unknown, the passengers' inability to use either of the vessel's two exits to escape the smoke and flames has been well-documented in media reports. "[The deceased passengers] may not have had any means of escape because the staircases leading up from the sleeping quarters below decks ended in the same enclosed space, not an open deck, investigators believe," the Guardian reported. The only passengers to survive the incident, the boat's captain and crewmembers, were located on the top deck when the fire was discovered. 

 

Coincidentally, the cover story for the September/October issue of NFPA Journal discusses the threat of fires on marine vessels and the challenges firefighters face in battling these blazes. While the story, "Close Quarters," focuses on vessels much larger than the 75-foot Conception—vessels like cargo and military ships—and the challenges firefighters face in fighting ship fires versus the challenges passengers may face in escaping them, many of the same concepts apply in both scenarios. The way most ships are laid out, for example, could make it as challenging for passengers to escape it as it could for first responders to gain access to it. 

 

"The way ships are constructed present huge challenges, the way it traps heat and affects fire growth," Forest Herndon, a 36-year veteran of the marine firefighting industry, says in the article. "Firefighters could be ascending steep, slippery ladders or trying to walk on decks that heat up to the point where their feet are burning. Shipboard fires burn a lot hotter than fires in land-based structures, and you don’t have the ability to ventilate these fires, so your methods of addressing them have to change."

 

Similar quotes have been published describing the layout of the Conception and boats like it in the wake of Monday's incident. After Jennifer Homendy, a National Transportation and Safety Board member who is leading the investigation into the fatal fire, toured the Vision, a vessel similar to the Conception, she told reporters she was "taken aback" by how difficult it would be to escape from the ship's hull. "You have to climb up a ladder and across the top bunk and then push a wooden door up," she told the LA Times. "It was a tight space."

 

Openings leading into and out of boats can be so tight, in fact, that firefighters need to remove their turnout gear before using them. Read the full NFPA Journal article here

 

The above image displays how a concealed attic space acted as a flue to spread a fire that destroyed St. Paul’s Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts on April 27, 1920.

 

From NFPA Quarterly vol. 14, no.2 (1920):

 

The fire was discovered about 4 A.M. burning on the roof of the parish house. This is the addition at the rear of the church, appearing at the right in the picture. The firemen came promptly, and in a few minutes apparently had it well under control. Then, without any intermediate appearance, flames broke out in the tower, having traveled, unseen, through the blind attic over the church proper. Two hours later the fire was extinguished, leaving the church as shown in the picture.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.

 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.

 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

At the 2019 NFPA Conference & Expo in San Antonio, I presented a program that covered NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace and energized work permits. For that presentation, those attending were to consider work tasks and the justification for energized work. Scenarios presented were taken from National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) case studies. Three of the scenarios included the task of wiring a 277-volt lighting system. This is a simple task, which should be expected to be pulled off without a hitch. Unfortunately, it was not. While going through the NIOSH system, I was surprised at how many electrocutions occur in the US while wiring a 277-volt lighting system. Such situations may be why the number of electrocutions in the workplace have been relatively consistent since 2012.

All three scenarios involved installing a circuit or extending an existing circuit for a 277-volt emergency lighting system. The task was assigned to a journeyman electrician with several years of experience (Victim #1), a 12-year master electrician (Victim #2), and a journeyman electrician just finished with an apprenticeship (Victim #3). As you can tell by the designation of "Victim" not one of them returned home that day. They all became a fatality for the same reason - making contact with an energized conductor. Many in the electrical industry consider this task to be routine or to be low risk. With this kind of mind-set, the task is often performed as unjustified energized work. It's hard to comprehend a situation where this task must be conducted while energized. Even without establishing a proper electrically safe work condition, you would think that flipping the switch off or opening the breaker would be a minimum step for performing the task. Although I do not condone energized work, it seems as if there wasn't an understanding of the use of properly rated, insulated tools and gloves. Where else did the safety programs of their employer fail these victims?

The employer stated that Victim #1 should have been trained by a previous employer. Apparently, in this case, it did not matter if a previous job has no transferable skills or training to the new employer. There was no written safety program, policy or procedures. Foreman are responsible for job site safety and for holding weekly safety meetings. Both the foremen and manager claimed to be unaware of past safety issues. However, interviews with the foremen and other electricians revealed that making connections while conductors are “hot” was not an unusual practice and was done more often than not. In addition, several prior shock incidents reveal that employees assigned to perform electrical tasks had not been adequately trained. The employer was unaware of this lack of training although they did not provide any safety training. In a nutshell, there was nothing documented to show that Victim #1 was a qualified person. How could there be documentation? No requirements from NFPA 70E were addressed by the employer. 

Victim #2’s fatality is troubling. The employer had a written safety program that included safety rules, safe work procedures for specific settings, and a lockout procedure. The employer used on-the-job training and reinforced it with safety manuals, scheduled safety meetings, and printed materials. Bi-weekly safety meetings were conducted by field foremen to discuss safety and other job-related topics. All employees worked under close supervision of a field foreman and were checked on how well they performed expected tasks before they were permitted to work alone. In addition to the years spent becoming a master electrician, Victim #2 had demonstrated sufficient skills to be designated as a field foreman. Working on energized conductors was not permitted by company policy and no employee had previously been found in violation of that rule. In this case, the employer appears to have done much to prevent an electrocution. However, this master electrician did not return home that day.

Comments by the employer of Victim #3 show how the “facts” become cloudy after a fatality. The employer did not have any electrical safety work program, policies, or procedures. They felt none were necessary since, as a contract employer under a signed contract, their employees were required to follow the host employer’s electrical safety program and lock out procedures. The employer also expected that Victim #3 was previously trained while becoming a journeyman electrician. How could the victim’s general  training possibly address the host employer’s required, specific safety procedure? In addition, the foreman stated that that there was no reason for the circuits to be energized and that every circuit is tested beforehand. How could this verification occur if there was no company safety policy to establish an electrically safe work condition? The foreman appears to have been aware of the contract requiring that his electricians follow the host employer’s policy to establish an electrically safe work condition. However, there was no training provided to the victim. This scenario not only illustrates issues with a host and contract employer’s situation, but that a perceived safety culture is dangerous.

One simple task. Three concepts of electrical safety training. Three perceptions of a qualified person. Three approaches to electrical safety. A decision to work energized. Three mistakes. Three fatalities. Three families devastated.

 

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

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Next time: Take responsibility for your own safety.

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 www.nfpa.org/submitpi for instructions.

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According to a new NFPA report called Renovations Needs of the U.S. Fire Service, more than 21,000 firehouses across the country are beyond 40 years of age and the estimated total cost to replace them is $70-$100 billion.

 

The findings come out at a time when the condition of roads, transportation resources, energy grids and other critical infrastructure in our nation has become a bone of contention with policy makers and the public. The report’s findings are largely based on the data found in the Fourth Needs Assessment for the U.S. Fire Service, a survey that compares what fire departments actually have with what existing standards, government regulations, and other guidance documents state as being required in order to be safe and effective. Relevant case studies were also considered as part of the research project.

 

NFPA set out to determine just how old firehouses are today, and what it would cost to replace current, compliant structures that keep first responders safe from harm at their workplace. The report identifies the number of stations that are over 40-years old; are not equipped with exhaust emission control; are without backup power; do not have separate facilities for female firefighters; and need mold remediation.

Findings from the report include the following:

 

  • 21, 230 of U.S. fire stations (43 percent) are more than 40 years old, representing an 11 percent increase in aging infrastructure over the past 15 years.
  • The estimated cost to replace these stations is estimated at between $70 and $100 billion; costs depend on space needs, location, site condition, and department preferences.
  • Sixty-one percent of fire stations that are more than 40 years old are serving communities with less than 9,999 people.
  • A shortage of funding, tighter budgets, and a lack of grants are likely reasons for the large number of older stations.
  • 29,120 fire stations (59 percent) in the U.S. are not equipped with exhaust emission control systems, which are critical for mitigating firefighter exposure to diesel fumes. These fumes can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, respiratory disease, and lung cancer.
  • Assistance to Firefighter Grants have helped reduce the number of firehouses without exhaust emission control systems from 66 to 59 percent.
  • Approximately 17,030 fire stations (35 percent) do not have access to backup power, which is critical for business continuity during an emergency event. When the power is out, firehouses without generators may run into issues with phones ringing, computers running, trucks being fueled, and garage bay doors opening. The cost to install backup generators runs between $850 million and $1.7 billion.
  • When fire stations were built 40-plus years ago, departments were exclusively male. Today, the most recent Needs Assessment estimates that 10 percent of career firefighters are female. The number of males and females in a particular fire department typically varies based on whether the fire company is career, volunteer or combination, as well as the size of the community. Further research is needed today to determine the number of stations that do not provide separate facilities for female firefighters and the estimated cost to renovate these stations.
  • The number of firehouses affected by mold is unknown, despite common perceptions that stations are susceptible given water damage, prolonged humidity, or dampness. All fire stations should allocate resources for mold prevention including dehumidifiers, proper ventilation, mold inhibitors, and mold-killing cleaning products to reduce the likelihood of seasonal allergy and pneumonia-like symptoms.

 

To learn more about fire service infrastructure challenges, access the complete Renovations Needs of the U.S. Fire Service report here. For a broader understanding of fire service needs and trends, download The Fourth Needs Assessment for the U.S. Fire Service here.

September means new classes, new friends, and often new living spaces. NFPA and The Center for Campus Fire Safety are partnering up this year to help ensure those living spaces are as safe as possible, and you can help!

The goal of the “Campus Fire Safety for Students” campaign is to raise awareness about the threat of fire in both on- and off-campus housing, and provide relevant information and action steps for campus staff, parents, and students. According to NFPA, September and October have the highest incidences for fires in dormitories, so the best time to prepare is now! The following tips are a great place to start:

  • Have an evacuation plan and practice it as if it were the real thing. Know two ways out of every room.  
  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking. Never leave cooking equipment unattended, even briefly.
  • Test smoke alarms monthly in an apartment or house. Ensure smoke alarms are installed in all sleeping areas, outside of all sleeping areas, and on every level of the apartment or house. In dorms, make sure each sleeping room has a smoke alarm or the dormitory suite has a smoke alarm in each living area as well as the sleeping rooms. NEVER remove or disable smoke alarms.
  • Keep combustible items away from heat sources and never overload electrical outlets, extension cords, or power strips. Many fires are caused by portable lights and heat sources, like space heaters and halogen lamps.
  • Keep common areas and hallways free of possessions and debris.

Campaign resources include videos, checklists, infographics, tip sheets, and more, and are designed to be shared through social media, school newspapers, college websites, and posted in dormitory common areas. Learn preventative actions that can save lives. Share the information with people you know. Keeping campuses safe from fire is a collaborative effort; help us foster a culture of awareness and preparedness by starting today.

Learn more about the “Campus Fire Safety for Students” campaign and find additional resources at www.nfpa.org/campus or on The Center’s website.

Recent experiences with combustible gas releases in residential buildings have led to a proposal for NFPA Standards Development for locating combustible gas detectors and consensus on installation location requirements. NFPA is considering a proposed project on detector location and installation, similar to the Standard NFPA 720, "Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment." To date, technical analysis for justifying combustible gas detector installation location is lacking to support standards development. This study is proposed to address the residential installation criteria for these devices and systems.

 

The overall goal of this project is to clarify the technical basis of location requirements for installation of gas detectors for the detection of combustible gases in residential occupancies.

 

  • The scope of this project will be based on the following:
  • Potential accidental release points of gases in residential occupancies separately involving each of these three combustible gases: natural gas, methane and propane,
  • Transport mechanisms of gases and barriers (including buoyancies of gases),
  • Flammability of gases,
  • Related occupant needs for notification for emergency responses,
  • Discrimination of combustible gas alarms from other hazard notifications, and
  • Gas detectors including but not limited to listed devices (e.g., UL 1484 listed devices).

 

This research program will be conducted under the auspices of the Research Foundation in accordance with Foundation Policies and will be guided by a Project Technical Panel who will provide input to the project, review periodic reports of progress and research results, and review the final project report. The Research Foundation will engage a contractor with appropriate technical expertise to conduct the project.

 

You can find the RFP on the Foundation website. The deadline for proposals is 5 pm Eastern Time on 10 September 2019.

Register now before early bird registration ends on August 28 for the Research Foundation's 2019 SUPDET symposium! This year's symposium will be held at the Crowne Plaza Denver Downtown from September 17-20, 2019. The program features almost 30 presentations on suppression and detection and signaling research and applications.

 

The detection and signaling section will take place September 17-18 and includes research on residential smoke alarms, life safety and emerging technologies in buildings, data and modeling, and more. The suppression session, which runs from September 19-20, will feature presentations on the latest applications and research on warehouse storage protection, research on the protection of lithium-ion batteries, advancements in gaseous and clean agent systems, and more. In addition, there will be a Workshop on Automatic and Remote Testing and Remote Monitoring of Fire Protection Systems on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 18 open to all registrants.

 

Don't miss out - register today for the full symposium, or choose either the Suppression Program or the Detection Program. For additional details and the full program visit: www.nfpa.org/supdet. 

 

Break sponsorships are available for interested companies, please contact Amanda Kimball (akimball@nfpa.org) for additional information.

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