Elders at Risk
A new NFPA report finds older adults continue to face higher risk of home fire deaths
Adults over the age of 75 are nearly three times as likely to die in a home fire as the general public, and adults 85 and over are three-and-a-half times as likely.
By Fred Durso, Jr.
Cindy Rutter thinks of herself as a burn survivor, not a burn victim.
Carli says that the Faces of Fire initiative will partner with the Michigan-based Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors to identify burn survivors who can share their stories. She plans to host a training meeting later this year for public safety educators, fire officials, and building officials.
On February 24, the South Carolina Building Code Council voted, by a six-to-three margin, to adopt the International Residential Code® (IRC), which requires the installation of sprinklers in all new homes effective January 1, 2011. A coalition comprised of fire service officials, sprinkler associations, contractors, design professionals, homebuilders, insurance agents, and government officials backed the decision. A bill introduced in the state Senate challenges the adoption, however, and would prohibit jurisdictions from requiring fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes. The measure has moved out of the committee stage with “favorable recommendation,” according to Maria Figueroa, regional manager of NFPA’s Fire Prevention Field Office.
In Pennsylvania, a judge denied the Pennsylvania Builders Association’s request for a preliminary injunction, which would have reverted the state back to its 2006 building codes, which do not permit residential sprinklers. Last year, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission decided to adopt the IRC, requiring the installation of sprinklers in townhouses effective January 1 this year, and in new one- and two-family homes in 2011. Pending final resolution of the case, the IRC requirements remain in effect. There’s also a bill pending in committee that prohibits fire sprinkler requirements for homes not connected to a reliable municipal water supply or located within five miles of a fire station.
Elsewhere, a New Jersey review commission, formed as part of an executive order by Governor Chris Christie, has recommended the state go forward with an amended IRC requiring home sprinklers. “That executive order says that there should be no rule held up that is against citizen safety,” Figueroa says. “That’s why the fire service and the New Jersey sprinkler coalition are saying that sprinklers are a life safety issue and shouldn’t be held up.”
In New Hampshire, the state’s Code Review Board voted to adopt the 2009 IRC with an effective date of April 1, 2012. However, a bill introduced this year bumps the date to 2013.
“We’re in a situation that’s not unexpected,” says Gary Keith, NFPA’s vice president of Field Operations, of the sprinkler fights going on around the country. “It’s an incremental process we’re going through. Compared to where we were two years ago—where we had minimal state level activity on the issue — the debate is now occurring.”
In 2009, 82 firefighters in the United States were fatally injured while on duty, a sharp drop from the 105 deaths in 2008. This is well below the average of 101 deaths per year over the previous decade, and the lowest annual total since 1993.
Those are some of the key findings in the 2009 U.S. Firefighter Fatality Study, authored by Rita F. Fahy, Paul R. LeBlanc, and Joseph L. Molis of NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division. The complete report on the 2009 fatalities will be presented at the NFPA Conference and Expo in Las Vegas in June, and will appear in the July/August NFPA Journal. Other preliminary findings include:
The full report will include a 10-year look at firefighter deaths while operating inside at structure fires.
— Rita Fahy
Hawaii has joined 20 other states in adopting NFPA 1, Fire Code, which further safeguards residents from fire-related injuries. Implementation in the Aloha State took effect in January.
Hawaii’s State Fire Council — comprised of fire chiefs from the Honolulu, Hawaii County, Kauai, and Maui fire departments — approved the adoption and relied heavily on NFPA’s assistance during meetings on code implementation. The council’s Fire Prevention Committee, which includes members of the departments’ fire prevention bureaus, spent hours reviewing the code and determining amendments based on enforcement authority as well as state and county statutes. “The support that NFPA provided for this adoption effort is unprecedented,” says Chief Socrates Bratakos, State Fire Council administrator and Honolulu Fire Department battalion chief. “It allowed our staff to concentrate on the technical provisions and amendments, while the NFPA staff took care of secretarial duties. The result was the best fire code for the state.”
NFPA’s technical experts will offer training on NFPA 1 in June. These training programs, which cover the code’s requirements and techniques for enforcement and utilization, are offered free to states that have adopted major NFPA codes and standards. “The code will ensure that all citizens of our state are better protected from the dangers caused by fires and explosions,” says Chief Ken Silva, chair of the Fire Council.
NFPA 1 primarily focuses on ensuring fire prevention and references or extracts key components of other NFPA codes and standards. The document also outlines inspection requirements; provides guidelines on construction, specifications, and maintenance of fire-protection systems; and establishes necessary fire- and life-safety education for the public.
In other code-adoption news, Maryland and Delaware have adopted the latest editions of NFPA 1, NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, and NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®). State officials have received training on the codes and are scheduled to receive further instruction later this year. “We have learned from past experience that utilizing the most up-to-date versions of fire- and life-safety codes and standards is an essential part of protecting the people of Delaware from fire and other hazards,” says State Fire Marshal Grover P. Ingle.
Used in every U.S. state and adopted statewide in 43 states, the Life Safety Code® sets minimum building design, construction, operation, and maintenance requirements, while providing escape requirements for new and existing buildings. The NEC, which is adopted in nearly every U.S. state, includes provisions for safe electrical installations.
— Fred Durso, Jr.
NFPA’s Firewise program will provide its elements of wildland-fire preparedness to Ready, Set, Go!, a new effort by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) designed to instruct residents on the preparedness, evacuation, and survival of wildfires through assistance from fire departments.
Eight communities nationwide are participating in a Ready, Set, Go! pilot program. Each is located near a municipality that’s part of Firewise, which includes 538 participating communities around the country. Firewise provides communities with the tools necessary to take proactive steps in reducing loss of life and property damage from wildfires, and these principles comprise the “ready” component of Ready, Set, Go! “Being ready means you’ve prepared your home and everything around it within a couple hundred feet to prevent large flames and radiant heat in that area,” says Michele Steinberg, NFPA’s Firewise communities manager.
The “set” component of Ready, Set, Go! urges residents to elevate their situational awareness when a fire occurs, while “go” encourages the implementation of a family disaster plan. Fire departments from the selected communities will help get that information to the public. NFPA will assist the departments by linking them with contacts in neighboring Firewise communities and providing communication materials.
“Ready, Set, Go! helps spread the Firewise message to people who need it,” Steinberg says. “Firewise has developed relationships with state foresters, but there wasn’t a direct connection to the fire departments. We’re excited that Ready, Set, Go! is helping us do that.”
The pilot communities include Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Prescott, Arizona; L’Anse, Michigan; Columbus, Montana; Barnegat, New Jersey; Palmerton, Pennsylvania; Huntsville, Texas; and Sandy City, Utah. Tony Watson, fire chief in Pigeon Forge, says his community experiences “about three to four major wildland events” each year. Pigeon Forge is located in heavily forested country near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the area includes a large number of vacation rental properties. Watson says he plans to partner with local rental companies to spread the wildland fire preparedness message. “We’ve worked very hard in pushing smoke detectors, and word of mouth has helped us more than anything,” he says. “We have to get out there again and let community leaders be champions for this program.”
For information on Ready, Set, Go!, visit www.iafc.org/ReadySetGo. For information on Firewise, visit www.firewise.org.
— Fred Durso, Jr.