The 2019 technical meeting at the NFPA Conference & Expo is just around the corner, on June 20, and chief among the documents slated for review is the 2020 edition of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®). As NFPA Senior Electrical Content Specialist Derek Vigstol discusses in a video posted on NFPA's YouTube channel this week, a number of significant changes and reorganizations to the code are on tap for the coming year.
One of the major proposed changes, for example, relates to GFCI protection. "One of the examples they gave at the first draft meeting, which was talked about extensively at the second draft meeting, was around a death that occurred from somebody who was electrocuted when making contact with the frame of a range in a kitchen," Vigstol says in the video. "So that led to the [proposed] expansion of GFCI protection to include 250-volt range receptacle outlets ... if it's within six feet of a sink."
Vigstol wrote about this and other proposed changes for the 2020 NEC in an article titled "Power Aid," which appears in the May/June 2019 issue of NFPA Journal. Read the full story online at nfpa.org/poweraid.
An unsprinklered room reaches flashover in less than two minutes.
If you have a fire in your home today you are more likely to die than you were in 1980. Home fire sprinklers can significantly cut fire risks and are the most critical technology available to stop a home fire from becoming deadly.
In recognition of Home Fire Sprinkler Week (May 19 – May 25), fire leaders, life safety professionals, and media gathered at NFPA headquarters in Quincy, MA to witness a powerful side-by-side live burn and fire sprinkler demonstration hosted by the Fire Sprinkler Initiative®, a project of NFPA® and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition® (HFSC). Seeing is believing. And so is smelling, feeling and hearing.
The first part of today’s demo illustrated how quickly fire ravages a room and its contents, while the second part showed the quick, lifesaving benefits of home fire sprinklers. The differences were stark.
During the burn the smoke alarm sounded six seconds after flames appeared. By one minute and fifty five seconds the room was fully engulfed. Quincy firefighters quickly extinguished the fire. In the sprinklered room, the story began in much the same way with the smoke alarm activating at the same time, but at 10 seconds the fire sprinkler began to douse the fire. Attendees witnessed two identical rooms with identical contents set on fire with very different outcomes.
Less than two minutes to escape a home is vastly different from the 15 minutes that people had to get out of a burning home back in 1980. In the past, rooms featured older style construction and furnishings that consisted of solid, larger dimension lumber that withstood fire longer than the unprotected lightweight manufactured materials present in homes now. Today’s lightweight construction and modern upholstered furniture burn faster and release twice as much heat compared to “ordinary” combustibles like wood, paper, wool and linen. Larger open spaces in residences are also exacerbating fires because flames have more opportunity to breathe and spread quickly.
Quincy firefighter demonstrates all is good, thanks to sprinklers, just 10 seconds after fire started.
U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,319,500 fires in 2017 which caused 3,400 civilian deaths. Roughly 80 percent of these fires occurred in the home - the very place people feel most safe. When sprinklers were present, the likelihood of dying in a home fire decreased by about 85 percent, and 97 percent of the time the fires were kept to the room of origin.
Sprinkler technology does not come at an exorbitant cost; installation in new construction runs, on average, $1.35 per sprinklered square foot. Yet, well-funded interest groups continue to generate misleading information to the public and home buyers. Given more than 100 years of sprinkler success, it is concerning that this technology is not in every occupancy being built today. We know better.
“We’re still facing obstacles for the installation of sprinklers in homes.” Dr. Denis Onieal, Assistant United States Fire Administrator said. “One of the reasons we are having Home Fire Sprinkler Week is to overcome those obstacles with education and information.”
“We know that sprinkler technology is our best bet for knocking down fire quickly. It is our best bet for reducing harm to people, property and first responders,” NFPA President Jim Pauley said. “We must mobilize and debunk the misleading information that some well-funded interest groups share about sprinkler technology.”
Massachusetts Deputy State Fire Marshal Maribel Fournier asked the crowd to help foster informed discussions, “We can change the future face of fire and turn devastating fires into ho-hum events that don’t make the nightly news, if we build more homes with fire sprinklers. Ask for them when building a new home.”
On May 12, Atlanta firefighter Sgt. Darrow Harden lost one leg and had his other mangled when he was struck by a vehicle stepping out of his fire truck to assist at a roadside crash. The accident, which happened along Interstate 85 in Atlanta, occurred when the driver of the Pontiac G5 lost control of the vehicle and it barreled into Harden and the fire truck, the fire department said in a statement.
Accidents like this are not uncommon. Just two months prior, an off-duty Colorado firefighter was sent to the hospital with serious injuries after he was hit by a car responding to a roadside incident on Interstate 70.
While responder roadside injuries and fatalities have long been an issue, these incidents seem to be more common than ever as drivers become increasingly distracted by their electronic devices, John Montes writes in his Responder Column in the May/June NFPA Journal. At least 10 firefighters were struck and killed by vehicles in 2017, a big uptick from historical averages, according to NFPA data.
In Montes’s column, he lays out his own experiences with roadside close calls, and why there should be a renewed effort to train members on how to safely navigate responses on busy roads. With drivers distracted more than ever, roadside safety needs to become a higher priority for all responders, Montes writes.
May is National Electrical Safety Month and the theme this year is “Electrical Safety During Natural Disasters.” While this event is sponsored by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), still so much of what we do here at NFPA is closely aligned with the mission of this campaign. We aim every day to keep everyone safe from electrical hazards during a natural disaster and all other times of the year.
Electrical safety during a natural disaster is often the last thing on the mind of those who are watching their entire lives floating away in flood waters. Often in this situation emotions are on high and the concern is with preserving and saving items within a home that represent far more than just physical objects. Think about how many items you might have in storage that hold a sort of sentimental value. Items that if lost in a flood would be devastating to give up. Personally, I can think of a few boxes that live in my basement that are 100% irreplaceable.
But what would I do if I suddenly found my basement full of water from a storm? Would I attempt to rescue the precious memories stored within those boxes? Are there any dangers to attempting such a daring rescue? Unfortunately, I would have to ride this one out. During a flood, there are often times where water will rise to above the receptacle height and can become energized. Combined with the fact that underneath this watery intruder lays numerous paths that provide a way for current to get back to the source. Flooded basements can often become a potential killer.
Entering flood waters in a basement for any reason can be fatal, but there are a few precautions that you can take to ensure that you don’t find yourself wading through water that you might never return from.
First, if you know the possibility of a flood exists or that an upcoming storm presents strong wind and lightning potential, it is a good idea to turn off all non-essential circuits. However, making the call on what is considered “essential” or not can be tough if you don’t know the ins and outs of how your house is wired. Therefore, many recommend turning off the main disconnect to the home to prevent damage to the wiring system that might occur due to line surges and high voltage crossovers. This also de-energizes any equipment that could lead to an electrical hazard if flooding occurs. If there is a back-up generator installed for the home, turning it off as well can help prevent electrified flood waters.
Second, if at all possible, move precious or important items to “higher ground.” If you know that a big storm is coming and the possibility of a flooded home is real, move your important items to an upper level of the home. This way you are not tempted to forge your way through potentially hazardous flood waters to save your things. In past flood disasters, there have been many instances where folks have been injured due to electrified water; being prepared for this kind of event can keep you from adding to the statistics.
Third, It is also important to ensure that all safety devices such as GFCI and surge protective devices are in good working order. The manufacturers of these items will spell out how to test and maintain this equipment. Keep in mind that most manufacturers have recommendations for regular testing and maintenance to make sure these devices will function when needed. So before putting your life on the line or assuming that your home theater is protected by that surge protection device, verify that these devices are in good working order by following the recommended testing procedure.
Lastly, DO NOT re-energize any electrical equipment that has been submerged in flood waters. It is impossible to know the extent of the damage without having a competent individual such as an electrician or inspector evaluate the equipment prior to turning it back on. Flood waters usually consist of more than just water and even though equipment might be completely dry, there is no telling what else could have been left behind. Often equipment that has been submerged in a flooded home will just need to be replaced. Some equipment might be able to be refurbished, however when you weigh the cost of refurbishing vs replacing, it is usually more cost effective and quicker to replace the damaged item.
These are just some high level items to help keep us all safe this storm season. While many of you are already on NFPA Xchange and regularly consume safety-related content like this, we all have family and friends who might have no idea what to do in a storm to protect their belongings and stay clear from danger zones that can be present after disaster strikes. Please share this blog and additional information that can be found on the NFPA Emergency Preparedness website. Until next time, be safe!
Last week, a fire in the upstate New York town of Ellenville destroyed a car dealership where filming of an HBO miniseries staring Mark Ruffalo was taking place. The mayor of the town placed blame for the blaze squarely on the filming activity, according to a local newspaper.
"They made it into a 1950s-1960s dealership, and something they did there caused the fire," he told the paper. Later articles have indicated an electrical problem sparked the fire but didn't elaborate on whether the dealership's electrical system was to blame or a piece of equipment brought in by the production company. No injuries were reported.
The incident coincidentally occurred the same week an article I wrote for the May/June issue of NFPA Journal on fire and life safety on movie and television sets came out. The piece, "Ready for 'action!'?," details a fatal movie set fire that occurred in Harlem in March 2018, as well as the resources that currently exist to protect sets from fire and other life safety hazards. These resources include documents like NFPA 140, Standard on Motion Picture and Television Production Studio Soundstages, Approved Production Facilities, and Production Locations, and a training program developed by CAL FIRE.
By Bill Dickinson (websites ) - , CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14815966
Generally when people walk into a building, they assume that the building will provide a reasonable degree of life safety. NFPA 101, along with other codes and standards, provide the road map to achieving the reasonable degree of life safety that is generally expected by the public. However, unless enforced, codes and standards do not have the ability to protect building occupants. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) plays a vital role in enforcement of the code for the entire lifetime of a building; during construction, occupancy, and rehabilitation.
The term AHJ can apply to many different people and groups. A single building may have multiple AHJs which can include federal, state, and local agencies such as a fire marshal, electrical inspector, or health department inspector. In addition to the public sector, an AHJ might also include an insurance company, listing agency, corporate safety officer, and even a property owner.
22.214.171.124 The AHJ shall determine whether the provisions of this Code are met.
The role of the AHJ is to determine if a building, building component, or design meet the provisions and intent of the code. This can be a challenging task as the code has a very broad application including new and existing buildings and structures that can range from an existing single-family home to a new high-rise hospital. Paired with rapidly changing technology, innovation, operational needs, and design trends, it is not feasible to have the code address every possible design scenario. As a result, often times an AHJ is required to use the code requirements and their professional judgement on whether a design is code-compliant or meets the intent of the code.
In addition to determining compliance with the prescription requirements, there are many provisions which are left to discretion of the AHJ. For example, a hazardous area is defined as an area in a building that poses a degree of hazard greater than the general occupancy. The ambiguity to this definition is intentional to give the AHJ the ability to determine on a case-by-case basis if an area should be classified and protected as a hazardous area. While a storage room larger than 100 sq. ft. storing combustible materials would be required to be classified as a hazardous area in a new health care occupancy, the same storage room in an assembly occupancy would only be required to be classified as a hazardous area where the quantity of combustible supplies is “deemed hazardous” by the AHJ.
6.4.5 Modification Requirements for Existing Buildings. Where it is evident that a reasonable degree of safety is provided, the requirements for existing buildings shall be permitted to be modified if their application would be impractical in the judgement of the authority having jurisdiction.
The code also provides the AHJ with a degree of flexibility when applying the provisions of the code to existing buildings where “a reasonable degree of safety is provided.” It is not the intent of this section to make the requirements of NFPA 101 not applicable to existing buildings, but there are many times in existing buildings where modifications to the building would require significant effort and expense for minimal life safety benefit. For example, an AHJ may permit an existing non-compliant travel distance in an existing building that has been retrofitted with sprinklers, if they determine that a reasonable degree of life safety is provided.
Ultimately, the determination if a building, new or existing, is safe for occupancy is up to the AHJ. As NFPA 101 (4.6.9) indicates, a building shall be occupied only where “no serious life safety hazard exists as judged by the authority having jurisdiction.” It is also important to remember that each potential AHJ may have different goals and thresholds that they consider an acceptable level of life safety. For example, your local fire marshal may have a different goal than your insurance company, and so when enforcing the same code may have varying thresholds of what they consider acceptable.
To uphold the level of life safety that the public expects, it is important during the entire lifetime of a building, to understand the role and responsibilities of the AHJ, and their enforcement of the code in the interest of building occupant safety.
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 www.nfpa.org/101 and click on “FREE ACCESS.”
Energy storage systems, community risk reduction, and important changes to the 2020 editions of NFPA 25 and the NEC—those are just some of the highlights of the new May/June NFPA Journal, which previews the upcoming NFPA Conference & Expo®, scheduled for June 17–20 in San Antonio, Texas.
Leading our feature package in this issue is a profile of Charles Hood, chief of the San Antonio Fire Department (SAFD). Since arriving in San Antonio 12 years ago, Hood has overseen a dramatic transformation of the department that has put it among the best, most forward-looking fire departments in the country. Jesse Roman, Journal associate editor, offers an up-close look at Hood, his management style, and his vision for the department.
Our features also include a big-picture look at the theme of smart technology and how it will be addressed at the conference—Angelo Verzoni, Journal staff writer, takes a broad look at these emerging technologies and connects the dots on their myriad applications. Our feature on community risk reduction, or CRR, introduces readers to the important efforts underway at NFPA to develop CRR tools, and previews the variety of education sessions that will focus on this emerging concept.
Our code-related features include updates on the 2020 editions of the National Electrical Code® and NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. There’s also a story introducing readers to an important new standard: NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, or ESS, a topic that will be addressed in numerous education sessions and other events at the upcoming conference.
Our May/June departments include a “Perspectives” interview with Kris Hauschildt, whose parents died from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in a North Carolina hotel. Hauschildt, an ed session presenter in San Antonio, is on a mission to raise awareness about carbon monoxide threats, and is working with a committee of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, to include new requirements for CO detectors in existing hotels. Our lead “Dispatches” story is a fascinating look at fire hazards on the sets of movies and television productions.
The issue also includes complete listings for product exhibitors at the upcoming conference & expo.
The May/June NFPA Journal is out now in print, as well as online at nfpa.org/journal. Mobile warriors can download our free apps for Apple and Android devices at nfpa.org/journalapps.
Often considered the unofficial kick-off to summer, Memorial Day weekend includes lots of celebrations featuring cookouts and barbeques. But it also means the increased risk of grilling fires, as May is among the leading months for home grilling fires. The peak months for grilling fires are July, followed by June, May, and August.
On average each year (between 2013 and 2017), U.S. fire departments responded to 10,200 home fires involving grills, hibachis, or barbeques, including an average of 4,500 structure fires and 5,700 outside or unclassified fires. These fires resulted in 10 civilian deaths, 160 civilian injuries, and $123 million in direct property damage, on average each year.
Leading causes of home grilling fires include failing to properly clean the grill, leaks or breaks, and having a flammable object too close to the grill. Unattended cooking is a major cause of all types of cooking fires, including grill fires. Leaks and breaks are a particular problem with gas grills.
NFPA offers these tips and recommendations for enjoying a fire-safe grilling season:
As the long weekend fast-approaches, take the time to inspect and test your grill, and make sure you have a safe location for using it!