Published on May 1, 2017.

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The long-term health effects of 9/11 on first responders

TO THE EDITOR:

I read your “Perspectives” interview with Dr. Michael Crane, medical director of the World Trade Center Health Program, and it saddens me that responders are dying years after 9/11 from cancer and lung disease.

They were all heroes—rushing in and working on such a tragedy. The agencies did not have the proper equipment for prolonged work in contaminated areas. I saw pictures of firefighters wearing handkerchiefs over their faces when the air in their self-contained breathing apparatus ran out. Others used N-96 dust masks.

For the conditions, as I understand from press articles, P-100 multigas filter respirators should have been used. Full-faced masks would be a must.

Heather Dawn Green
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Rural challenges for residential sprinklers

TO THE EDITOR:

I wish to present an argument against installing residential fire sprinklers in some areas.

NFPA has been pushing residential fire sprinklers for some time. It would be a good idea if it were affordable. Most of the articles I have read supporting the installation of residential sprinklers apply to cities. I have yet to see an article advocating residential sprinklers in rural areas. Little consideration has been given to water pressure, the rural water supply, and how to install a system where the main water supply is a well.

Cities are planned with supporting infrastructure. Rural areas are largely unplanned and do not have the supporting infrastructure, and the installation of residential fire sprinklers in these areas should be optional.

I live in a rural California community in the foothills of the Sierras that had the foresight in 1917 to build a dam and create a water district supplying the town with water. Water pressure varies immensely depending on which part of town you’re in, the size of the feed lines, the location of water tanks, and the aging infrastructure that is continuously being rebuilt. Our water district has been doing a good job replacing mains supplying water to the residential areas, but pressure varies from over 150 psi in some areas to less than 110 psi in others. The availability of suitable volume and pressure causes a problem that can only be solved by installing reserve water tanks in new homes, pressure tanks, and other expensive items that can raise the cost of a sprinkler system substantially. Other building costs also have to be factored in. Structural loading has to be increased and insulation has to be added as temperatures in the winter can drop below freezing.

Instead of advocating for sprinklers, I would like to see more upgrading and enforcement of the National Electrical Code®. I am an electrician, and I know that safe installation of equipment saves lives and prevents fires. Sprinklers do not prevent fires. They are extremely useful once there is a fire and have real value, but at the present time, in rural residential use I believe we would do better to enforce the electrical code. There is a tremendous lack of code enforcement in rural California and I suspect the same applies in the rest of the rural United States. I would like to see all electrical inspectors properly trained and certified with a minimum of 10 years of experience before being allowed to take the examination for inspector. There would be a lot fewer dangerous and faulty installations in residential and commercial buildings, and this would do more for fire protection than installing residential fire sprinklers.

Tom Kelly
NFPA and IBEW Local 6 member, retired
Paradise, California

A response to Tom Kelly from Tim Travers, NFPA regional fire sprinkler specialist:

Enforcement of the NEC® is certainly a key element for ensuring electrical and fire safety in rural communities—and so are home fire sprinklers.

Since home fire sprinklers are a requirement in all model building codes, it is NFPA’s position that sprinklers are a necessary component in both rural and urban settings. Extensive research supports our position; fire sprinklers significantly reduce the risk of dying or being injured by home fires. Home fire sprinklers can also offset the increased dangers seen in today’s modern homes and create a safer fire environment for occupants and firefighters.

When public water is not available or water pressure is insufficient, a well or a tank and pump can be used for water supply. A tank and pump often cost less than connecting to a public water supply, and eliminate the requirement for backflow prevention or costly periodic standby fees.

Similarly, well systems can be set up to effectively address a fire protection application. Homes on well water most likely will need a pump to serve the domestic water supply. The cost associated with providing additional pressure to run fire sprinklers may simply be the difference between the regular pump the homeowner must install to obtain the necessary pressure for domestic use, and a higher flow pump, or a booster pump and tank. To meet the requirements of NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, many installations have been done using this method, effectively and cost competitively.

Click here for more information on fire safety and home fire sprinklers.

Continued fallout over the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland

TO THE EDITOR:

I have been quite distressed over the news coming out concerning the “Ghost Ship” fire in Oakland and the 36 lives lost [“Under the Radar,” January/February].

What has been most disturbing are reports that people in the neighborhood were aware of the situation in the building, but the fire department was not. Is the local fire station not part of the community?

According to Google Maps, the distance from the Oakland Fire Department’s Station 13 to the Ghost Ship building is only one-tenth of a mile, or a two-minute walk.

In addition, the Oakland Fire Department’s website indicates that that commercial inspections are conducted by the operations division (engine and truck companies) “on a block-by-block basis, with the intent to inspect commercial and residential properties as it pertains to the code and ordinance; provide fire and other life safety hazards education to business owners/occupants; and conduct pre-fire planning for future emergency response. The only properties exempt from said inspections are single-family dwellings and duplex buildings.”

How can it be that this career fire department was not aware of conditions and use of the building that led to the loss of so many lives?

The New York Times has reported that Oakland went more than three years without a fire marshal and that the department remains understaffed, with 63 positions unfilled. Even at that, every company should be familiar with the buildings in its district. We have lost too many firefighters because they were not familiar with the buildings where they were fighting fires, many of them “vacant.”

Company officers should learn from this tragedy and take their crews out on a regular basis to become familiar with every building (especially the vacant ones) in their districts. As the fire protection engineering teacher, Frank Brannigan, often said, “The building is your enemy. Know your enemy!”

Chief Gary R. Long, EFO
NFPA life member, Charter member of the Fire Service Section
Milford, Delaware

The problem with homes on trailer chassis

TO THE EDITOR:

I just read your cover story on unconventional buildings, including tiny homes. Great piece!

One statement, however, hit me like a brick: “Homes built atop trailer chassis can be categorized as recreational vehicles and are not subject to the provisions of the building code.”

This harkens back to the 1984 Haunted Castle fire at Six Flags Adventure Park in Jackson Township, New Jersey, that killed eight teenagers. The park’s Haunted Castle amusement was housed in a series of linked trailers; the wheels were never removed from the trailers, and as a result the structure was considered temporary and didn’t have to meet the building code. The attraction was constructed primarily of wood, paper, and fabric, and included highly combustible polyurethane foam. There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

We certainly saw the results of that fateful decision.

John R. Waters, EFO, MA, MS
Chief Fire Marshal Director, Safety & Codes Enforcement
Upper Merion Township, Pennsylvania

Editor’s note: For a follow-up on the Haunted Castle fire, see our feature story “Haunted by Fire” in the May/June 2014 issue of NFPA Journal.