NFPA Journal®, November/December 2004
by Stephen Barlas
On the morning of
“I felt pretty good,” remembers Klinger, who is responsible for ensuring that the university’s academic, administrative, and residential buildings meet the Pennsylvania Fire and Panic Code, many provisions of which are based on NFPA codes and standards, such as NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®.
“I knew the NFPA standards we needed to follow, and we had just undertaken a several-million-dollar project to put sprinklers and smoke detectors in each of the rooms in our seven dormitories,” Klinger says. “Moreover, our fire-safety record was good. We had had one dormitory fire 10 years previously, which was limited to one room, and some nuisance fires kids started in waste baskets. But that was it. We were even doing fire drills in academic buildings, which Section 4.7 of NFPA 101 does not require.”
But there was a nervous edge to Klinger’s confidence that morning. After all, he was on his way to meet Charley Eichorn and two other
“We had done some internal fire audits in the past,” explains Klinger, who had had about six weeks’ warning of Eichorn’s arrival and was that morning balancing a stack of fire extinguisher inspection records and the like in his arms as he walked toward the Waller Building, where Eichorn and his team had settled into an office.
“But we had never had an outside fire-safety audit done before,” he says.
Other state university fire safety directors were also nervous that month. As part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (SSHE), Bloomsburg was only 1 of 14 state universities that fire response readiness auditors would examine for the first time.
Seton Hall Fire
Robert P. Casey, Jr., the
At that point, Casey ordered the fire audits to begin in April 2001. When state auditors began finding problems at the universities, Casey expanded the fire audits to other state facilities such as prisons, state hospitals for the mentally disabled, veterans’ hospitals, and schools for children with special needs. According to an August 2004 report collating the results of all the audits, however, the state universities were by far the biggest transgressors in terms of fire hazards.
When Charley Eichorn arrived at Bloomsburg in April 2001, he was working his first fire audit. He and the auditors fanning out to other state universities brought with them a basic knowledge of the state Fire and Panic Code and its reliance, in places, on NFPA standards. And as they worked, they developed a sort of “best practices“ fire-safety list, based on the Pennsylvania code and leavened by the experience of Safety and Police directors, consulting fire protection engineers, and local fire chiefs.
“The first time Bob Klinger came into my office carrying that stack of records, I asked him what fire standards he complied with. And right off the bat he told me about the Life Safety Code, and some of the other NFPA standards, such as NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers,” says Eichorn.
As he and Klinger talked over the next few weeks, Eichorn began to develop his inspection agenda. He had no plans to inspect fire alarm systems or test fire extinguishers. Rather, he demanded the fire equipment inspection records each university was suppose to have on file, observed fire drills, and checked the relationships between the colleges and their local fire departments.
“Charley wouldn’t take my word for anything,” Klinger remembers. “He made me show him documentation for everything. If I were missing one report, he would want to know why. After the fire drills, he would go out and talk to the electrician who pulled the alarm and reset it after the fire drill. He required us to create a book of flooring plans for every room on campus, showing locations for things like the gas shutoffs and fire hoses.”
In addition, Eichorn and his fellow auditors insisted that the university put battery-powered smoke alarms in dormitory rooms that were not immediately scheduled for sprinkler and hard-wired detector installations. There, the auditors were leaning on the Life Safety Code’s requirement for smoke alarms in university living quarters, which has been in the code for at least 10 years.
“We got a lot of opposition on the installation of battery-powered smoke alarms,” says Audit Manager Helen Weigel, who had a supervisory role. “Some schools were worried about cost, others were worried that kids would take the batteries out of the smoke alarms and use them for other purposes, like in the remotes of their television sets.”
John Hall, vice president of NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division, says the battery-removal issue has been a recurring concern regarding smoke alarms for decades despite repeated survey findings that such behavior is rare.
“To do” List
Overall, says Eichorn, “cooperation was phenomenal.” That was certainly true at
There were no smoke detectors in any residential hall bedrooms, either. And during one fire drill, which took place a week before final exams, a chemistry professor allowed his students, who were in the midst of critical lab work, to stay in the room and finish their assignment as fire alarms rang around them.
"There is no question that those students did not leave the building in a timely way,” admits Klinger, who says that professor was admonished by the university provost.
Eichorn was sympathetic but tough.
“The 14 state universities are growing so fast, and new buildings are going up all over the place,” he says. “That’s where the money is going, into new construction. Meanwhile, the older buildings get less attention, and when something is not functioning, it could slip through the cracks.”
The state AG’s office had no power to force Bloomsburg to correct its fire-safety deficiencies, and Eichorn and his associates realized that some of the corrections would cost money the university couldn’t come up with right away. But the AG’s office kept the pressure on, frequently sending press releases based on the audit to local newspapers and television stations. Sometimes unflattering stories followed.
The pressure often resulted in full or partial compliance with the auditors’ recommendations, although some universities continued to balk. California University of Pennsylvania, for example, was cited for lack of smoke detectors in living quarters (they were in common areas in dorms) in its first audit and again in its second audit completed in March 2003. That summer,
“We took their suggestion and implemented that into one building,” Michele McCoy, the school’s director of Public Affairs, explained in a story in the Herald-Standard.
Other State Buildings
It wasn’t just the universities whose fire protection and detection equipment was often sub-par. The Scotland School for Veterans’ Children, established in 1895 for war orphans, houses 350 students in grades 3 through 12 on a 186-acre campus in southern Franklin County, near Chambersburg. The school’s initial fire audit revealed all sorts of equipment problems, such as failure to maintain and inspect the fire sprinkler system and intermittent problems with the fire alarm system, which needed to be replaced, in several buildings. Joan Nissley, a representative for the school, says that the auditor general’s report “was useful to us. Some of the problems that were identified we have begun to address.”
“Our ultimate goal is to replace the system,” Nissley explains, “but we have to wait for funding to become available.”
Money was less of an issue when it came to drawing up building floor plans identifying chemical storage locations and passing the maps on to local fire departments. Many of the universities, including California University, had no floor plans showing where industrial chemicals and chemicals used in chemistry labs were stored, and they didn’t have to come up with any, since the Fire and Panic Code is silent on that issue, according to Peter Smith, Pennsylvania’s deputy auditor general.
NFPA 1 states, “Liaison personnel shall aid the fire department in pre-planning emergency responses and identification of the locations where hazardous materials are located and shall have access to material safety data sheets and be knowledgeable in the site emergency response procedures.”
Some colleges, such as
Myron Nypaver, chief of the Uniontown Fire Department, says, “We have an obligation to our personnel and the citizens to know where chemicals are stored. I get the material data safety sheets for those chemicals and go over them with my firefighters in monthly planning meetings. A fire chief needs to be assertive and demand that information from a college.”
The auditors thought it equally important that state facilities train their own employees in fire-safety response procedures. Because the SSHE has no requirements in this area, the state universities were not audited on this issue, but mental health, mental retardation, and correctional facilities were. In pressing these facilities, the auditors again cited Life Safety Code requirements for training of health-care employees in evacuation procedures and the use of fire suppression equipment. The first audit at
Bloomsburg responded quickly, too. Installing hard-wired smoke detectors and sprinklers in every room in all seven dormitories was expensive, but the
In January 2004, Bloomsburg installed a $30,000 Pyrotronic fire alarm system in its main control panel in the police station.
“We knew we had problems there before Charley arrived,” explains Klinger. “We had had a consultant in to look at the system before. And we would have taken care of the problem eventually. But when the AG cited us for it, it had the effect of forcing us to move more quickly.”
In addition, Bloomsburg moved quickly on other fire protection systems. By the summer of 2004, there were sprinklers and smoke alarms in all its dormitory rooms.
In this Section:
|Dust to Dust - an NFPA Journal online exclusive
Federal board urges North Carolina make NFPA 654 mandatory after fatal plant explosion.
|Auditing Classes - an NFPA Journal online exclusive
Pennsylvania's first fire safety audits of universities and other state facilities look to NFPA codes and standards.
Suncor's oil sands operation in Fort McMurray, Alberta, prepares for unprecedented growth with a decade of investment in fire protection technology.
|U.S. Fire Loss for 2003
There were 402,000 residential fires in the United States in 2003.
|Large-Loss Fires for 2003
The direct property loss in large-loss fires was greater than $12 billion in 2003.
|Firefighter Injuries for 2003
NFPA estimates that there were more than 78,000 firefighter injuries in 2003.