This past Friday evening, eight firefighters were injured when an energy storage system (ESS), which was connected to a solar panel array and operated by Arizona Public Service Company (APS), was involved in a fire and subsequently, an explosion. According to media sources, responders were called to the scene in response to a smoke condition from an ESS container. When they arrived on-scene, they saw white smoke billowing from a Conex container and called a hazardous materials unit to respond. Soon after they inspected the container, an explosion took place that blew the heavy metal doors off their hinges. Injuries sustained by the first responders included both thermal and chemical burns, as well as multiple fractures, lacerations, and a collapsed lung. As of the writing of this blog, one responder was critically injured and two others were seriously injured, however all three are reported in stable condition. Thankfully the remaining five have been released and are recovering at home.
This incident is a reminder of the challenges faced by first responders as new technology such as ESS are mainstreamed into everyday living. Use of ESS is growing not only in the U.S. but also on a global scale, as renewable energy is implemented around the world. These systems are showing up in myriad environments, including residential homes, commercial buildings, hospitals, and dedicated utility operated sites, like this installation.
Since 2014, NFPA has been working to identify the hazards associated with this emerging and growing technology. Research from the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), expansion of ESS criteria in NFPA 1, Fire Code, development of our new NFPA 855 stationary energy storage standard, and the construction and deployment of the U.S.’s first Energy Storage and Solar Safety training program for first responders demonstrate NFPA commitment to providing and sharing the knowledge necessary to help with the design and ongoing operation of ESS, regardless of the size or location of the system. (On that note, the Boston Fire Department and other departments in the greater Boston area are attending an ESS training at our headquarters today.)
Equally, if not more important is the need to offer first responders the information and education they need when they encounter a fire event or incident at an ESS facility. ESS owners, operators, and designers for these facilities are encouraged to utilize the resources provided by NFPA to ensure that the best design and installation practices are being followed. Pre-planning and coordination with the first responders is a critical need, since ESS technology can vary between battery chemistries, arrays, and location options. Firefighters need to be aware of the underlying hazards in these environments and the additional precautions that need to be taken when conducting operations involving ESS. NFPA offers free online self-paced training, as well as classroom training, interactive scenario modeling apps, and reference materials so knowledge about these systems can be propagated.
NFPA has consolidated all of our available resources at www.nfpa.org/ess. Many of these materials are readily and freely available to all members of the public and responder communities. This Arizona event and the serious dangers it revealed for the firefighters involved allows all of us to pause and step up our efforts on educating the broader fire protection community about ESS . It is also a good reminder that as new technology comes into our lives, new potential hazards often follow. Raising awareness of these hazards and offering solutions is a fundamental part of NFPA’s mission.
Since the historic fire at Notre Dame this past Monday, I have found myself fascinated with the flood of analyses and photos and information about the fire, the building design and construction, its history and a global desire to rebuild. I am confident that for the weeks and months to come we will continue to see and hear information as plans solidify and a community joins together to plan and prepare for moving forward with redeveloping and reimagining this global icon.
A few days ago, a local Boston news website wrote an article about a local monument, Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and its recently completed fire protection upgrades. The last sentence of the article resonated with me the most. Chris Gedrich, an executive at Boston-based Suffolk Construction stated “We rely heavily on teamwork and partnerships . . . and a lot of pre-analysis of hazardous areas before we start to work.” Designing, building, protecting and maintaining has to be a team event. Those partnerships and shared conversations that are held up front set the stage for success among all those involved in such a unique large scale project that carries such a variety of goals and objectives held my numerous stakeholders. When the Notre Dame community is ready to move forward following the fire, this quote will have to hold true to ensure a safe and resilient structure.
You read in Robert Solomon’s post about the challenges of protecting historic buildings from fire and the codes that NFPA produces that address these challenges. Both NFPA 909 and NFPA 914 are referenced in NFPA 1. Inspectors and AHJs are provided the direction to comply with NFPA 914 when faced with historic buildings in their jurisdiction. For buildings that display cultural resources, including museum or library collections, or spaces within other buildings used for such culturally significant purposes, inspectors have available to them NFPA 909.
What is so unique about NFPA 909 that also relates to the quote noted above from Mr. Gedrich is its emphasis on the planning process when preparing a protection plan for a cultural resource property. The governing body of these properties is responsible for developing and adopting a protection plan for the property. In addition, a planning team must be identified in order to oversee the development of the protection plan. The planning team collects all relevant information, standards and regulations to begin the development of a protection plan. Chapter 5 of NFPA 909 provides the governing body of a cultural resource property with the framework to develop the protection plan.
Throughout NFPA 909, for the variety of culturally significant properties, is the common theme of teamwork, either during day to day protection of the property and even during construction and renovation projects. Identified and agreed upon roles, responsibilities and documentation are a minimum to ensuring the adequate protection of such valuable and treasured property.
Whatever transpires with the future of Notre Dame or other communities around the world that may be reassessing the safety, security and resiliency of their own cultural and historical structures, one thing is for sure, it will involve teamwork, contributions and buy-in from all stakeholders involved in the process. It will be an effort and undertaking with a global impact and with modern fire safety and technology in the spotlight. I, for one, will be following along with the rebuilding of this icon every step of the way. Will you?
Do you have any historical or cultural buildings in your jurisdiction? What challenges do you face? Comment below and join the discussion!
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Thanks for reading!
Photo Courtesy of Andysmith248 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
As a staff engineer I often get the question through our technical question service (TQS) if a smoke control system is required. Although there are a few times where NFPA 101 prescribes the use of a smoke control system, for the most part it is a choice by the building designer to comply with performance criteria in the .
Smoke control is an engineered system that is designed to modify the movement of smoke. Where the NFPA 101requires a smoke control system, it is required to comply with NFPA 92, . There are two main types of smoke control systems per NFPA 92: smoke containment systems and smoke management systems. The purpose of smoke containment system is contain smoke to a given area and prevent it from entering another area, such as with a stairwell pressurization system. The purpose smoke management system is maintain tenability of an area or means of egress and reduce migration of smoke between the fire area and adjacent spaces, such as with an atrium smoke control system.
There are several times in which NFPA 101 prescribes the use of smoke control:
There are other times that a smoke control system may be required in order to meet a performance criterion. Such as new atria which require an engineering analysis to demonstrate that the smoke layer interface is maintained above the highest opening or at least 6 ft. above the highest floor level for a time period of 1.5 times the calculated egress time or at least 20 minutes. An atrium may be able to achieve this performance criteria without the use of a smoke control system, however, for some buildings the installation of a smoke control system may be necessary to achieve a desired atrium design.
Stairwell pressurization systems as a means to provide a smokeproof enclosure is another common example of smoke control systems. Smokeproof enclosures are required to be designed to limit the movement of smoke, this is permitted to be achieved through natural ventilation, mechanical ventilation incorporating a vestibule, or by enclosure pressurization.
In addition to atria and smokeproof enclosures, smoke control systems may be utilized to meet a design criterion for buildings and designs including underground and limited access buildings, smoke-protected assembly seating, stages in assembly occupancies, detention and correctional occupancies, mall concourses, as part of an engineered life safety system, or in performance-based designs in accordance with Chapter 5.
For most buildings and designs, with the exception of underground buildings and mall concourses, the will not prescribe the use of a smoke control system. However, based on the use and design of the building, the use of a smoke control system may be desired or necessary to meet the prescribed performance criteria in the .
I just returned from Paris this past Saturday after a week of meetings with the ISO committee that deals with Sustainable Cities and Communities. Part of the goal of this committee is to look at a range of critical issues such as resilience, community risk reduction, smart city concepts and transportation options, and the ways in which we measure how good, or how not so good we all are doing in these areas. Recognition of the importance of preservation of heritage sites and historically significant buildings is among the topics that we often discuss either in the meetings or during the more informal settings.
Like many others, I heard about the awful fire at Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday afternoon. While I had the privilege to tour the building when I was there in 2007, I simply did a “walk by” during some free time I had on my most recent trip. While it is way too early to determine or speculate why this fire occurred, that will come later, there is no argument or question that the loss of significant portions of this magnificent structure and some of its contents will have a lasting impact not only on the citizens of Paris and France, but clearly on the world community as a whole. I do not overlook the fact that no one was killed or seriously injured. Likewise, I also acknowledge that sometimes losing a piece of history can also be a devastating experience.
Fires in historic buildings are often times difficult to judge, extinguish or control. Failure of wood structural members alter the behavior of remaining structural elements. Exterior walls that were once tied together by overhead elements become freestanding façades that could collapse on first responders for any number of reasons. Beyond the physical loss, such fires leave a gaping hole in a community or a larger society. Application of best practices in the form of codes, standards — norms as they are sometimes referred to in Europe — can all work to help minimize the impact of fire even in buildings that are more than 800 years old. Innovative and novel designs have allowed sprinkler systems to be retrofitted in these older structures. Use of specialized systems such as beam detection and air aspirating devices can be used to apply and blend in effective smoke detection into the architectural features of these buildings.
These and other measures require the delicate balance of providing fire protection and life safety systems that are both effective, yet minimally obtrusive. Maintaining the historic fabric of the structure is a critically important goal of the designer. Determining what operating plans can be put in place to supplement the systems must also be considered. In other words, what roles can the staff members who are at the building day in and day out play in keeping the occupants as well as the building safe from the effects of fire. All of these measures are among the criteria provided into specialized NFPA codes that deal with these environments. NFPA 909, Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties — Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship and NFPA 914, Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures can work hand-in-hand to offer meaningful solutions to protect these important buildings from fire as well as other potential hazards.
NFPA 914 in particular is developed by a committee of experts who know about the delicate balance mentioned above. The requirements in this code have been carefully evaluated to bring to bear all of the unique options and solutions that might be applied to these structures. From management operational systems, fire prevention, security and special precautions that should be taken during renovation projects, NFPA 914 provides a wide range of criteria that can mitigate the effects of the fire.
While the fire at Notre Dame will bring attention to the importance of having the right measures in place to prevent or minimize the impact of a fire, it is important to not lose sight of the fact that fires in places of worship are not totally unheard of. At about the same time the fire in Paris was burning, another fire was burning at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Early reports are that this fire was contained rather quickly in this 1300 year old structure and that perhaps minimal damage occurred to the Mosque. Most of us probably never heard of St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre or the Greater Union Baptist Church or the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, both located in Opelousas. These three churches in Louisiana were targeted by an arsonist in the last three weeks. Historic by US standards, the churches stood for over 100 years and were a focus of the local community. As the caretakers for these structures, used for religious purposes or not, historic or not, applying the right mix of building design, operating features and vigilance requires a group effort to protect and maintain the heritage that these buildings represent.
Those that are interested in historic preservation or protection of specialized cultural resource facilities might be interested in these NFPA Journal articles:
On April 10, 1935, the Massachusetts fire departments of Weymouth and Braintree were called upon to fight a large fire that swept over Weymouth Landing after a gas explosion early in the morning.
At the time of the incident, there had been a suspected gas leak. The manager of the store was heading to the basement to inspect the leak at about 1:30 A.M, when the blast occurred. Considerable confusion was caused in the surrounding streets by flooding and a fire soon broke out among the debris in the store. The blast also was credited with shattering the window glass of most of the surrounding buildings.
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.
Local authorities announced this week that the cause of the massive fire that gutted Brazil's 200-year-old National Museum in September 2018 was an improperly installed air conditioning unit on the ground floor of the museum. The fire destroyed roughly 90 percent of the facility's 20 million artifacts.
"[The] air conditioners failed to meet manufacturer recommendations regarding the use of separate circuit breakers and grounding devices, according to an Agence France-Press report," an article published in Smithsonian magazine reads. "The Associated Press adds that units received a stronger electrical current than they were made to conduct, created a powder keg situation poised for disaster." A page on NFPA's website details the adoption and use of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®, in Latin America. While 12 countries are listed, including ones that border Brazil like Venezuela and Peru, Brazil is not.
On top of the unsafe electrical practices, a number of other factors at the museum contributed to the fire's rapid spread and severity. I reported on these in a November 2018 "Dispatches" article in NFPA Journal.
"According to museum experts, fire safety officials, and politicians who were interviewed after the incident, it was a loss that could have been prevented with additional attention and resources for the museum, which could have paved the way for critical fire safety upgrades," the article says. "The 200-year-old building, a former palace for the Portuguese royal family, lacked fire sprinklers and fire doors. Fire hydrants close to the museum failed to provide responding firefighters with an adequate water supply to fight the flames." The article goes on to explain how similar fire safety deficiencies exist in many historic buildings worldwide—not just museums—"because of a lack of government support, misconceptions among property owners, and the intrinsic challenges—and costs—of retrofitting historic, sometimes centuries-old structures with modern fire and life safety technology."
A sidebar to that piece included interviews with NFPA staffers who reflected on the Brazil museum fire. "Brazil’s economy, which has been experiencing ups and downs, doesn’t help the situation, as issues with more immediate importance get addressed while preventing tragedies like the museum fire are put on the backburner," Anderson Queiroz, NFPA's representative to Brazil, told me. "I simply don’t see any tangible solution in the short-term, except to count on luck and divine help that more fires like this don’t happen."
Why do so many of us get wrapped around the axle? We are all committed to electrical safety. We all know that removing an electrical hazard is a good thing. But is removing the hazard the same as eliminating the hazard? Can a hazard only be permanently eliminated? If so, does this mean a hazard can only be temporarily removed but not temporarily eliminated? I might be an instigator of this confusion because I never expected it to be an issue. I do believe that a hazard that never exists should be the goal. I have often stated that “full elimination of the hazard is often not an option for installed equipment. Although elimination also can be achieved by applying other controls such as through establishing an electrically safe work condition (ESWC), these other controls introduce a potential for human error. Therefore, the initial attempt should be full elimination of the hazard.” I do not believe such a statement alters meaning of the word elimination. I was not aware that elimination has a time component for many of you. I haven’t found a definition of elimination that includes a time base. Here is the problem.
Many in the electrical safety industry consider the hierarchy of risk controls to first eliminate the electrical hazard. This is such that there is no electrical hazard at any time. I agree. NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® states that it includes installation of electrical equipment but such work is typically not conducted while energized. I believe the electrical safety of employees should be addressed at design and installation regardless whether NFPA 70E applies at that time or not. Under this belief, I have stated that full elimination of the hazard should be considered at design of the equipment as well as the design of the electrical system. I hold on to that belief since attempting it will protect future employees by making electrical installations safer. I would then consider the rest of the hierarchy for the installation to further control hazards and risks while the system design, equipment selection and installation are being considered.
For many of users of NFPA 70E, a problem comes with requirement in 105.4 that hazard elimination be the first priority. Another issue is many reference another standard where elimination only means “total elimination.” That fixed idea may not be applicable to elimination within NFPA 70E. It is typically not possible to permanently eliminate the hazard using work the practices required by NFPA 70E. Once equipment has been installed my concept of hazard elimination shifts but my definition of elimination does not. When using the hierarchy of risk controls for work practices on installed equipment, I run down the list again. Full elimination, substitution, and engineering controls are typically not possible. This brings me to the other controls (administrative, awareness, personal protective equipment (PPE). Under NFPA 70E these lead to establishing an ESWC which temporarily removes (or eliminates) electrical hazards in a specific location for a finite period of time. This leads many to believe that they have not met the goal of “elimination” of the hazard as a first priority. Many consider only full removal of the hazard as in the first context (previous paragraph) to be elimination, therefore removal of the hazard in this second context cannot also mean elimination.
I must be missing something. A sports team is eliminated from the playoffs, they are not eliminated from the league. It is a temporary thing. When a hazard is verified as not being present, it has been removed or eliminated regardless of time. There are many intricacies of requirements in a standard that you must handle on your own. NFPA 70E is no different and elimination is one of those. NFPA 70E does not mention permanent or temporary elimination of a hazard, it is simply elimination. To my knowledge I have never stated that the only elimination of a hazard is permanent elimination. I have said that the process of establishing an ESWC is not the elimination control but it results in the elimination of the hazard. There is a difference. But it is just what the standard required by eliminating the hazard through work processes. The employee will not be injured since there is no electrical hazard present where the task is being performed. You will not convince me that permanent elimination should not be considered first. However, if permanent removal of the hazard is not possible then removal of the hazard on a temporary basis is a very effective method of protecting an employee. I also do not believe that an ESWC be a default work practice without further considering ways to mitigate the hazard or risk.
I expect that much of the second draft meeting will be spent addressing the meaning of the word elimination. If full elimination or an attempt to mitigate a hazard is not addressed, many of you will ignore the hierarchy and only establish an ESWC on all equipment. On the other hand, if elimination only means an ESWC, the safety of future electrical employees will continue to be jeopardized by not mitigating the exposed hazard during the process of establishing the ESWC. Since the concern has been raised, we are getting wrapped around the axle on meaning of the word elimination. But I am not sure how many do not understand what it means and how to use it in regards to NFPA 70E. The solution may be worse than the problem it is trying to solve.
For more information on 70E, read my entire 70E blog series on Xchange
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Next time: Equipment that has electrical hazards beyond what safety equipment is designed for.
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