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.
188.8.131.52 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!
Some significant changes are on the horizon for NFPA 58, Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code. Although the changes that have been proposed so far in the code development process are not groundbreaking, they are worthy of your attention if the work you do is impacted by the requirements in this code.
One big change is still to be decided at an upcoming event. At the 2019 NFPA Technical Meeting in June, the 2020 edition of NFPA 58 will be up for any Certified Amending Motions (CAMs). This will be the second-to-last chance for any changes to be made to the document before it is issued by the NFPA Standards Council.
There is only one CAM on NFPA 58 and it’s on purging pipe systems to atmosphere. At the first draft meeting, the committee elected to change the procedures from what they are currently in the 2017 edition to the first draft language. This new language would require pipe purging of systems designed for 125 psig or less to be done in accordance with the requirements in NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code, and any systems of greater than 125 psig to be purged in accordance with NFPA 56, Standard for Fire and Explosion Prevention During Cleaning and Purging of Flammable Gas Piping Systems. The committee, however, at second draft changed the language to state that regardless of system operating pressure, the procedures of NFPA 54 must be followed. The CAM is looking to reject this change and send the document back to the same first draft language. What happens to the document next is up to the general body at the Technical Meeting.
There are a number of other changes that have happened to NFPA 58 that are almost finalized and are covered below. While none of these changes are groundbreaking for NFPA 58, they are significant enough to call out.
These changes are only some, but not all, of the upcoming revisions to the 2020 edition of NFPA 58. For a more detailed list, visit nfpa.org/58news for a revisions fact sheet and information on how to get involved in the next cycle of NFPA 58.
Standpipe systems are fixed piping systems with associated equipment that transports water from a reliable water supply to designated areas of buildings. Such systems are typically provided in tall and large-area buildings.
These systems can significantly improve the efficiency of manual fire-fighting operations by eliminating the need for long and cumbersome hose lays from fire apparatus to a fire. Even in buildings that are protected by automatic sprinklers, standpipe systems can play an important role in building fire safety by serving as a backup for, and complement to, sprinklers.
So, how does this impact you as a fire inspector? As an inspector utilizing NFPA 1 you need to know three things about standpipes when determining if a building and system is compliant with the Code: (1) Where are standpipes required, (2) What type of system is required and (3) Has the system been properly inspected, tested, and maintained.
Where are standpipes required?
The Code required standpipe systems, designed and installed in accordance with NFPA 14, in new buildings that meet any of the following conditions:
(1) More than three stories above grade where the building is protected by an approved automatic sprinkler system,
(2) More than two stories above grade where the building is not protected by an approved automatic sprinkler system,
(3) More than 50 ft (15 m) above grade and containing intermediate stories or balconies
(4) More than one story below grade
(5) More than 20 ft (6.1 m) below grade
In addition, standpipes are required in high-rise buildings and some stage areas in assembly occupancies. Some occupancies also mandate the presence of standpipes, such as detention and correctional occupancies, airport terminals and piers, at certain thresholds. As a fire inspector, you will be utilizing a number of codes and standards when inspecting buildings. You might find that the standpipe thresholds vary in the codes. NFPA 1 might mandate the presence of standpipes where NFPA 101 does not, for example. This is because the scope of a fire code, life safety code, and building code differ. When enforcing the provisions for standpipes, the most restrictive provisions of the applicable codes apply.
Did you know that there are instances where the AHJ can permit the removal of existing occupant-use hose lines? Where (1) NFPA 1 does not require their installation, (2) The current building code does not require their installation, AND (3) The AHJ determines that the occupant-use hose line will not be utilized by trained personnel or the fire department, existing occupant-use hose lines can be removed per the AHJ. This was added to the Code to place emphasis on the preference for untrained building occupants to evacuate rather than attempt to extinguish a fire using hose lines.
What type of system is required?
In addition to the Code mandating where standpipes are required it will also specify what class of system is required for a particular installation. Standpipe systems are designated as Class I, Class II, and Class III. Note that sprinkler systems with hose connections are not necessarily considered to be standpipe systems. Such systems are often regarded simply as sprinkler systems. The design of a combined system is similar to any other Class I or Class III system, except that the water supply and pipe sizes may be larger to accommodate the added sprinkler system demand. The process of designing a standpipe system begins with determining the intended use, that is, whether it is for (1) full-scale fire fighting, (2) first-aid fire fighting, or (3) both. These three uses correspond with the three classes of standpipe systems. Most aspects of system design, such as the required water supply, layout, and system components, are also affected or dictated by the class of system.
Let’s look at a Class I system, as an example: A Class I system provides 2½ in. (65 mm) hose connections at designated locations in a building for use by the fire department. A Class I system is typically required in buildings that have more than three stories above or below grade because of the time and difficulty involved in laying hose from fire apparatus directly to remote floors. For these reasons, Class I standpipes are the required system in high-rise buildings.
Requirements for inspection, testing, and maintenance of standpipes systems
Finally, a standpipe system installed as required by NFPA 1 must be properly maintained to provide at least the same level of performance and protection as designed. Specific details for inspection, testing, and maintenance of the system are found in NFPA 25. The owner is responsible for maintaining the standpipe system and keeping it in good working condition.
Are you required to inspect buildings with standpipe systems? What types of buildings in your jurisdiction have standpipe systems? Have you sited compliance issues? Are there any resources you find could help you do your job better when enforcing standpipe or other building systems? Comment below and join the discussion!
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Anyone may submit a comment on these proposed TIAs by the closing dates listed. Along with your comment, please identify the number of the TIA and forward to the Secretary, Standards Council by the closing date.
Despite advances in various areas of science and technology, the act of firefighting is inherently dangerous. Over the past 10 years, an average of 81 U.S. firefighters have died each year in the line of duty, with nearly 30,000 injured during that span.
Dangers on the fire ground are a constant challenge. After being notified of an incident and dispatched, the incident commander and emergency responders make rapid fire ground decisions, based on the best information that they have at the time. They work to control the fire and ensure the life safety of building occupants; however, the tactics and strategies implemented rely on the following:
Situational awareness on the fire ground is paramount. Since the conditions of the fire scene are continually changing, it is common to lack some of the critical information that is needed to make optimal decisions about the stability of the structure, the health and status of firefighters, the location of victims, changing conditions on the fire scene, etc.
But what if emergency responders could be better informed via more accurate data? Can we improve firefighter safety by leveraging data captured thought sensor technologies?
To address this question, a research project led by the University of New Mexico in collaboration with the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA, is exploring novel use cases for sensors that will improve the safety of firefighters on the fire ground. Funding for this effort is through a multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation.
The goal of this research project is to make fundamental technical and algorithmic advances courtesy of connected and smart fire fighting technology. The proposed system will augment existing systems used by first responders by adding hardware and software components to the fire fighters’ existing equipment. This initiative will provide predictive modeling capabilities to support incident command evaluation of best approaches, based on experience and available resources.
This project addresses the following five key topic areas:
The proposed smart mesh communications structure combined with situational awareness will provide enhanced location and search capabilities. The communications backbone, in addition to the voice channel, will be enhanced and extended to enable increased data flow from various sensors collected locally but not yet fully integrated into the command infrastructure.
This project is on schedule to be completed in 2019, and we are looking forward to enabling new technology that supports firefighter situational awareness and ultimately improves the safety of our first responders.