NFPA Journal®, November/December 2007
By Jim Smalley
NFPA 1144, Protecting Life and Property from Wildfire, and NFPA 1141, Fire Protection in Planned Building Groups, will look like new documents for 2008.
Working closely with the national Firewise Communities program, the NFPA Forest and Rural Technical Committee completely revised both documents to address the increasing challenges of fire protection in suburban and rural locales.
The changes in focus are reflected in the standards’ new titles: NFPA 1144, Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fire, and NFPA 1141, Fire Protection Infrastructure for Land Development in Suburban and Rural Areas. These two standards linked by locales (forest and rural) and yet independent in application now provide complementary guidance for the wildland/urban interface.
Fire plays a natural role on the landscape. The traditional sense of “fire problem” of the wildland/urban interface is not a result of fire itself but rather a problem situation resulting from inadequate land-use planning, increasing population, severe weather events, and our inability to maintain adequate infrastructure of roads, water, and community services. The solutions to preventing disasters from interface fires lie within each community through better communication, cooperation, and planning.1
Origin and development of NFPA 1144
NFPA 1144, Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fire is not a new standard. In fact, the basis for it first appeared in 1935 as NFPA 224, Fire Protection and Prevention for Summer Homes in Forested Areas, developed by the Forest Committee of NFPA and was presented and adopted at the 1935 Annual Meeting of the Association. In 1952, the document was revised as NFPA 224-T and revised into a 1953 edition as Fire Prevention Standards for Homes and Camps in Forested Areas. The document became designated as NFPA 224M in when it was revised as Recommended Good Practice for Homes and Camps in Forest Areas in 1962, 1969, and 1972.
In 1974, the document was renamed the Standard for Homes and Camps in Forest Areas and was revised into progressively up-to-date editions in 1979 and 1985. In 1988, the NFPA Forest Committee and Rural Fire Protection committees were combined into the Technical Committee for Forest and Rural Fire Protection, and in May 1991, the larger combined Technical Committee revised the document as NFPA 224, Homes and Camps in Forest Areas, was withdrawn and parts of the document were incorporated into NFPA 299, Protecting Life and Property from Wildfire, 1991 edition.
The 1991 edition was revised in 1997 with a new approach to protection following the tragic wildfires that resulted in the loss of 44 lives and 1,400 homes in the United States in 1985. More recent wildland/urban interface fires, such as the 1991 conflagration in Oakland, California, and the fires in Laguna Beach, California (1993), and Malibu, California (1996), showed that fire fighters are often placed in dangerous situations due to inadequate planning and design of roadways, signs, water supplies, and other infrastructure considerations as well as the increasing population of residential areas encroaching into wildland areas. The 2000 fire season of resulted in renewed interest in creative alternative methods to reduce historical trends of catastrophic fires.
Renumbered as NFPA 1144, the 1997 edition clarified numerous requirements from the earlier editions and a significant revision of the Wildland Fire Risk and Hazard Severity Assessment system, which was adapted for use by numerous jurisdictions involved in Firewise Communities planning and assessment. The Technical Committee increased the severity values for non-rated roofing, inadequate separation of vegetation from structures, and separation of structures from one another. The Technical Committee tested a variety of assessment versions through several Firewise Communities Workshops, sponsored by the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program, before arriving at the relative values and hazard levels in the 2002 document. The Technical Committee supports use of these values as relative numbers for planning purposes.
Origin and development of NFPA 1141 - 2008 edition
The former Technical Committee on Suburban and Rural Fire Prevention and Promotion began work on this standard began in 1972 in response to needs expressed by several members. Several drafts were prepared and a document was adopted by the Correlating Committee on Suburban and Rural Fire Protection and Prevention (predecessor to present Forest and Rural Committee) for presentation at the 1977 Annual Meeting.
Due to technical problems, the standard was withdrawn from the meeting agenda. Following reorganization of the Technical Committee in 1982, a task group undertook a review and update of the 1977 document, which resulted in the 1985 edition, which was updated and revised for the 1990 edition.
The Technical Committee’s proposed 1995 edition was returned to the Technical Committee to clarify conflicting requirements between NFPA 1141 and NFPA 1144, NFPA 1, Uniform Fire CodeTM and NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®. The requisite changes resulted in moving the document to the 1998 revision cycle.
The Technical Committee was able to resolve many of issues in clarity and consistency by bringing the 1998 edition in concert with NFPA 1 and NFPA 101. Because of specific fire protection circumstances found in rural areas listed in the revised scope and purpose, the Committee continued to require that some elements remain more restrictive than comparable elements in other NFPA documents.
In the 2003 edition, the Technical Committee responded to the rapid development of structures into areas that present unusual characteristics to responding fire agencies and has worked extensively on making NFPA 1141 current with other documents and more usable by adopting jurisdictions. The Technical Committee is particularly interested in keeping the flexibility in the application of the standard by jurisdictions so that it works with existing codes and standards that may or may not adequately cover planned building groups.
The scope of the document was revised to focus on providing guidance on the development of the community infrastructure necessary to eliminate fire protection problems that result from rapid growth and change. The title change from Fire Protection in Planned Building Groups to Fire Protection Infrastructure for Land Development in Suburban and Rural Areas also reflects this broader look at the challenges facing rural and suburban areas.
While creating this edition, the Technical Committee concurrently revised NFPA 1144 to provide complementary documents for fire protection in rural and suburban development, including special considerations for wildland interface areas. As a result, the requirements for community infrastructure (e.g., roads, water supplies) were moved from the 2001 edition of NFPA 1144 to this document and, as with NFPA 1144, additional guidance was taken from the USDA Forest Service and the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program (Firewise Communities) along with input from several Technical Committee members and special experts.
Why revise the standards?
NFPA documents are reviewed and updated on a regular cycle to keep each document current with changes in technology and methods practiced in the area covered by the document. Of course, the other reason to revise to improve the usability of the documents. NFPA 1144, Protecting Life and Property from Wildfire, contained some confusing measurements and comparisons in a few areas as pointed out to the Technical Committee by users in assessing hazards and risks in interface areas.
While much needed and used by many small jurisdictions, NFPA 1141 often faced several difficulties in application. For example, exactly what is a planned building group? In rural and suburban areas, these “groups” might be a small office park, multiple medical buildings, residential subdivision of single-family homes or groups of townhouses, shopping centers, strip malls, or some mixed use configuration of all the above. The definition that a planned building group is “Multiple structures constructed on a parcel of land, excluding farmland, under the ownership, control, or development by an individual, a corporation, a partnership, or a firm” often left the AHJ with a difficult interpretations from the simple (strip mall) to the complex (large developments with multiple-owner parcels being developed on different schedules and crossing multiple jurisdictional boundaries).
In addition, the basis for determination of those limitations was vague and left entirely up to the AHJ with little guidance as to which limitation might be more severe, how the limitation was to be measured or articulated (within the context of community development), or how those limitations might negatively impact fire protection. Finally, questions often arose about varied interpretations and conflicting requirements concerning fire lanes, access, separation distances, and the application of sprinkler requirements between NFPA 1141 and NFPA 1. Additional confusion, created through revisions in alternating cycles, were discovered between NFPA 1141 and NFPA 1144. For example, NFPA 1144 overlapped with NFPA 1141 Standard for Fire Protection in Planned Building Groups in the areas of subdivision requirements in the area of infrastructure (road widths, clearances, building separation).
Sequence of events of Interface Fire Disasters 2
When lightning causes the ignition of vegetation (wildland fuels) in remote areas, well away from homes and human presence, the resulting wildfire is often called a natural event rather than a disaster. The definition of today’s wildland/urban interface fire disaster seems to depend upon fire fighters being unable to prevent homes from burning, that is one in which resources have become overwhelmed and economic loss, property damage, or loss of life results.
Although some variation exists in each severe occurrence, the sequential elements are generally always present and the impacts are consistent time after time. (Figure 1)
During extreme fire conditions with dry wildland fuels and high winds, fire fighters, equipment, and water supplies can become depleted as numerous homes ignite and burn. Fire fighting forces struggle to position themselves to stop large flames pushed by strong winds. Suppression effectiveness is dramatically reduced in these conditions as tactics shift and they initiate life/safety procedures by evacuating the public.
In other words, fire engines and crews cannot simultaneously evacuate residents and effectively take suppression action in a subdivision of homes igniting within a few minutes of each other. With multiple ignitions, the effectiveness of fire protection forces in these situations is compromised.
In these disaster scenarios, when our fire protection forces are overwhelmed and our standard operating procedures fall short; fire protection forces cannot stop the large flames from these intense wildland fires from entering a residential area and cannot prevent numerous homes from becoming ignited. Valiant efforts may save a few homes but most often hundreds of homes are threatened or destroyed in a matter of hours and numerous lives may be lost.
Wildfires will continue to enter communities, yet homes and adjacent vegetative fuel beds do not have to ignite. To shape successful results in these scenarios, our traditional wildland fire strategies need to be considered. A community made up of ignition resistant homes, healthy surrounding forests, and non-continuous fuels (i.e., vegetation to single homes to multiple homes) becomes less vulnerable to encroaching wildfire. Vegetation doesn’t combust near homes, houses don’t ignite from firebrands and severe structural property losses and human fatalities are dramatically reduced or potentially eliminated.What are biggest differences from the previous editions?
Then, looking at the structure itself, the user assesses possible ignition points (hazards and risks) from the roof peak to the eaves. This area generally includes the condition and type of roofing material, chimney and vents, and the gutters, looking for such things as missing or damaged shingles, cracked or missing bird stops in tile roofing, leaf litter in gutters, and bird nests in eaves. Then, it’s on the area from the eaves to the foundation. In examining vertical walls, notation is made on areas below the gutter (soffit material and integrity), vents, eaves, windows (single or multiple panes, sizes, sealing around frames, location relative to the likely path of a wildfire, and screens), and other area ignition hazards.
From the foundation to 30 feet (9 meters) is another critical assessment area. Here, the existence of decks and outbuildings, vegetation type, height, densities, health, and location (particularly from the foundation to 5 feet or 6 feet (1.5 meters or 1.8 meters) outward), firewood, the presence and location gasoline powered equipment (including automobiles and recreational vehicles). From the 30 foot boundary (often referred to as the survivable or defensible space), the assessment progress to extent of the structure ignition zone, an area determined by the AHJ that would, under severe fire conditions, present a hazards from either direct flame or (more likely) the generation and communication of airborne firebrands (embers) that could be showered on the structure from as far away as a mile from the main wildfire.
What were the problems that were corrected in the new revision?
The previous editions of NFPA 1144 included requirements that reflected two sides of “protecting life and property from wildfire” namely, fire prevention/mitigation and fire response/suppression. Fire prevention and mitigation (risk reduction) were the focus of the chapters dealing with assessment and planning, building design, location and construction, and fuel modification and fire response and suppression were found in the chapters dealing with water supply, access, and evacuation. While these two approaches are complementary, the result of splitting the focus resulted in some difficulties in applying one of the more popular tools of the standard: the Wildland Fire Risk and Hazard Severity Assessment Form.
Current users will notice the drastic changes in the suggested assessment form itself. The Technical Committee actually suggests one of two methods for assessing the ignition potential of the structure; both assessment forms follow the requirements for assessment by spatially segmenting or organizing the assessed conditions. The one preferred by the Technical Committee is a walk-around assessment or observation of existing conditions relative to potential extreme fire behavior. Instead of a menu of numeric values for specific hazards, the preferred method is to assess the hazards to which the home might be exposed during an extreme fire behavior scenario and the risks that might accompany those hazards. Because every assessment is site-specific, these hazards and risks are described and then with fire official working on the assessment makes recommendations to the resident/owner about actions that may reduce the potential of the home igniting. There is no numerical rating or ranking of any kind with this method.
The second method provides numerical rankings for several hazard conditions, but the critical rating values are left up to the AHJ. This way the ratings must be specific to the locale. As always, the assessment forms provide additional information and are part of the Annex materials and are not part of the requirements. This allows the assessment tools to be adapted for local use by the AHJ.This, then, became the essential intent of the 2008 revision – that wildland interface structures (i.e., homes and critical structures) be designed, built, and maintained to withstand a wildfire by its capability of resisting ignition from the fire and its often accompanying ember (firebrand) shower.
The Technical Committee recognizes that wildfires do not respect political or jurisdictional boundaries and to implement the necessary for cooperation in dealing with the wildfire problem. Therefore, fire agencies and citizens in the urban fringe must develop coordinated and effective efforts to stem the wildland/urban interface wildfire problem. Using the newly revised NFPA 1144 will help local agencies and homeowners focus on preventing ignitions of homes from wildfire (external exposures). The removal of the infrastructure requirements and the changes in the assessment tool reflect some of the changes needed in a new approach to preventing wildfire disasters and the resulting loss of homes and lives.
What happened to the fire protection infrastructure requirements for communities?
Where previous editions of NFPA 1141 and NFPA 1144 were trying to address similar (or the same) fire protection issues simultaneously, the new editions of both standards are now in sync and consistent in their focus, their separation of scopes and applications, eliminating the overlapping requirements and providing a complementary approach for the rural or small community fire department (Figure 2).
Many of the requirements in 2002 edition of NFPA 1144 were transferred to the 2008 edition of NFPA 1141, whose new title Standard for Fire Protection Infrastructure for Land Development in Suburban and Rural Areas reflects the significant change in the Technical Committee’s view of the document’s application. The purpose of the revised requirements is to provide guidance in designing fire protection infrastructure for changes in land use and can serve as a planning guide for community development in all areas of the country with some specific requirements and considerations for communities in wildland/urban interface settings.
The new requirements for water supplies for fire fighting, fire lanes and access, building separation and access, parking lot designs, and new road design considerations are based on considerations that were presented to the Technical Committee as real life examples of the challenges faced by small community fire departments.
New road requirements have been based on recent research and proposals to apply the general approach of exiting buildings to exiting subdivisions. Similar to NFPA 1144, the previous editions of NFPA 1141, Fire Protection in Planned Building Groups, were trying to fulfill multiple purposes for community infrastructure design, which raised added issues in applying NFPA 1141 and NFPA 1144 documents in a wildland/urban interface setting.
Land use planning, an element of comprehensive planning, helps communities identify appropriate and compatible mixes of land uses within their jurisdictions (e.g., agricultural use, recreational use, industrial use, residential). While the results may be similar, zoning and land use planning are not the same and should not be confused. The best land use planning also connects public safety considerations with the land in a given area. Pressures on real estate increase the pressures on small communities’ emergency services. The rapid expansion of development in rural and suburban areas presents a real and immediate challenge to local governments, natural resource managers, planners, and emergency services. Effective planning is the best way for members of a community to cooperatively work to address fire protection and safety concerns.
The 2008 edition of NFPA 1141 can serve as a planning guide for community development of lands. At the very least, it can be a valuable supplement to comprehensive and land use planning regulations and methods. When communities are faced with large scale development, the community aspects of aesthetics, affordability, transportation corridors and traffic flow, school districting, and waste management sometimes are designed into the plans before the fire department may become involved. In other words, the development may have already occurred before the hazards (natural and those resulting from design) are recognized.
Moreover, the new edition can help incorporate fire protection and emergency response concerns into the community planning mix. For example, several small- to medium-sized communities in the country have faced the closing of a military base in the past decade. Sometimes faced with multiple jurisdictions and unclear land use plans, acres of land are debated for years – How much recreational land should be set aside for public use? What about commercial and industrial development to support sagging tax bases? Can the area support an additional shopping mall? What about medical facilities? Whose jurisdiction will be responsible for public school children? These questions arise as the design for the land is being completed. At some point, the developer(s), community administrators, and others may ask “What will be needed as far as fire protection?” When faced with large parcels of land in rural or remote areas like the wildland/urban interface, community planning boards and fire officials can now point to NFPA 1141 for the minimum requirements for fire protection infrastructure design.
What about evacuation of residents in time of natural or human caused threats?
The Technical Committee examined recent traffic studies from Portland, Oregon, and met with a traffic research professor who had loosely applied the evacuation requirements of NFPA 101 for people exiting buildings to cars exiting interface subdivisions. Other experts providing input to the Technical Committee noted that interface communities and subdivisions can be analogous to a high-rise building laid horizontally, in terms of exit requirements and challenges. Of course, because the AHJ may also consider alternatives to evacuation during wildland fires, the Technical Committee also included a requirement for the local consideration of sheltering options of exposed population within subdivision boundaries, in a manner that has been applied in emergency situations like hazardous materials spills and high wind events (e.g., hurricanes and tornadoes).
In this Section:
|Large Loss for 2006
In 2006, fire departments in the United States responded to an estimated 1,642,500 fires, which an estimated loss of $11.3 billion.
|Protecting Life and Property
Significant changes in 2008 editions of NFPA 1141 and NFPA 1144
|U.S. Fire Fighter Injuries - 2006
83,400 fire fighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2006, an increase of 4.1 percent from the year before.
|2006 Firefighter Injury Incidents
A company officer with 11 years experience suffered a fractured skull after he fell during a training session.