Making the connection between firefighter safety research and the NEC
NFPA Journal, July/August 2010
Last year, the staff and leadership of the Fire Protection Research Foundation identified near-term research priorities and developed a research agenda designed to guide our activities over the next five years. The agenda is composed of several key areas, one of which is "performance issues for advanced firefighting equipment and tactics to ensure that they meet the real needs of first responders."
This priority is being addressed by a number of recently completed or in-progress initiatives. These cover a range of topics, such as firefighting tactics under wind-driven conditions; the thermal capacity of firefighting protective clothing; whole glove testing for structural firefighting gloves; risk factors for firefighter cardiovascular disease; international evaluation of fireground injuries; evaluation of fire and EMS mobilization times; and friction loss coefficients for modern fire hoses.
One recently completed project of particular interest is a DHS/FEMA fire grant project on firefighter safety and emergency response in pre-planning and fireground tactics for alternative energy technologies. This project provides two separate reports, available at www.nfpa.org/foundation, on best-practice tactical information to help first responders in decision-making processes involving electric drive and electric hybrid vehicles, as well as buildings and other structures with photovoltaic panels.
Electric vehicles (EVs) and photovoltaic power systems (PVs) are new alternative energy technologies creating different challenges for the fire service. This project is also applicable to the interests of the electrical safety community and the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), and included two workshops on each topic with several dozen subject-matter experts brought together in Detroit, Michigan, for respective one-day gatherings. The participants provided a dynamic blend of knowledgeable professionals primarily with fire service and electrical safety backgrounds, among others.
Both workshops clarified the needs of the emergency response community when dealing with these alternative energy applications. While the NEC already addresses both the EV and PV topics, it does not fully address the concerns of the fire service when handling emergencies. For example, firefighters want to make sure they can isolate electrical equipment during an emergency and that certain components are consistently labeled and marked. This applies to charging stations for electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, as well as photovoltaic power systems, especially large systems found on commercial properties, that cannot be powered down when exposed to sunlight. While the NEC does include criteria addressing these topics, the workshops indicated that more focus is needed on certain details specific to the concerns of first responders.
The dynamics of these workshops were informative in terms of bringing together the interests of the fire service and the electrical safety community. It’s not often that these orbits of knowledge get to interact directly on a specific technical issue, but that was the case here.
This work supports additional research already underway or planned. NFPA recently started a major initiative supported by the Department of Energy with other collaborating fire service partners to address emergency responder training for advanced electric vehicles. This new effort will dovetail with the earlier project and EV workshop in Detroit. Additional work is pending on other topics, such as how the NEC will be affected by SmartGrid technology that is proposed for interactive operation of the built electrical infrastructure.
As these and other initiatives go forward, it will be important to include the perspectives of the fire service and other emergency responders alongside those of the electrical safety community and others. Pulling together the common interests of diverse NFPA constituents on complex technological topics is important, and the Research Foundation will continue to help facilitate these activities.
Casey C. Grant, P.E., FSFPE, is the program director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.