From the rubble
Safety, standards, and Haiti’s reconstruction.
By Fred Durso, Jr.
Haiti’s post-earthquake devastation rattled Ellen Rathje. With a team of 12 geotechnical engineers and engineering geologists, the University of Texas professor spent five days in February surveying soil samples in and around Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, trying to identify the areas that are prone to enhanced ground shaking so that structures built in those areas can be designed appropriately. "I’ve traveled to quite a few earthquake zones," Rathje says, "and I would have to categorize this as some of the most intense damage over a large area that I’ve ever seen."
Rathje was among representatives of more than 30 organizations, including NFPA, who attended the February 17 Haiti Toolkit Meeting in Washington, D.C., hosted by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), a nonprofit that supports advances in building science and technology. Participants mapped out six focus areas for residential, commercial, and "critical" buildings, such as emergency service and government facilities, schools, hospitals, and jails, in Haiti: reconnaissance of Haiti’s construction materials, project oversight, design criteria, construction training, quality control, and feedback from the Haitian community. NIBS plans to consolidate recommendations, including Rathje’s findings, on a website and submit them to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this summer.
Humanitarian relief, including temporarily housing more than a million people left homeless by the quake, remains the country’s top priority, however, and Haitian officials have only hinted at new construction. The government estimates it would take 10 years to restore the nearly 250,000 homes damaged by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, though it hasn’t outlined any specific strategies.
Even so, before building occurs, NFPA and other organizations are brainstorming ways to help a country where building codes are all but nonexistent. At the Haiti Toolkit gathering, Nancy McNabb, NFPA’s director of Government Affairs, expressed interest in public education and outreach related to the project. "I feel strongly that if you give money to reconstruct buildings after a disaster, you shouldn’t let people rebuild in a manner in which they’re accustomed if it’s not safe," she says. "There was general agreement that the question should not be, ‘How fast can we rebuild?’ It should be, ‘How fast can we rebuild appropriately?’"
Funding such an operation was not the focus of the meeting, says NIBS President Henry Green, who anticipates the toolkit coinciding with future funds earmarked for Haiti’s reconstruction efforts. "There was discussion about using U.S.-based codes and standards and adapting them to the environment in Haiti," he says. "We might not get total compliance, but we might get a level of safety that saves lives."
Robert Solomon, NFPA department manager for Building and Life Safety Codes, says NFPA may be able to offer more immediate assistance in helping Haiti build its emergency capabilities, such as its fire service. In the late 1970s, for example, a string of major blazes in Qatar prompted NFPA experts to develop fire-safety recommendations for the Middle Eastern country. In the 1980s, that project was replicated in Indonesia, Malaysia, South America, and Kuwait, where NFPA helped build the country’s fire service—and rebuild it after the first Gulf War in 1991—while training new recruits.
Such coordinated efforts have Rathje hopeful about Haiti’s future. "I’m optimistic, but it will require some strong partners in the country," she says. "That’s the big question mark."
California headlines states to adopt residential sprinkler provisions.
By Fred Durso, Jr.
Residential sprinkler advocates celebrated major wins recently when seven states, including California, took action to require sprinklers in all newly constructed one- and two-family dwellings.
On December 10, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission adopted the International Residential Code® (IRC), requiring the installation of sprinkler systems in all new townhouses effective January 1, 2010, and in all new one- and two-family homes effective January 1, 2011. On December 11, the New Hampshire State Code Review Board voted, by a 12 to 2 margin, to adopt the 2009 edition of the IRC. The bill will become effective on April 1, 2012.
And on January 12, the California State Building Standards Commission voted unanimously to adopt the 2010 California Residential Code. This measure includes the 2009 IRC and its requirements to install sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes and townhouses, effective January 1, 2011.
"These are significant steps forward in our efforts to eradicate the home fire death problem by requiring home fire sprinklers in new homes," said NFPA President Jim Shannon. "We are hopeful their actions will lead to more states doing the same in order to save lives from fire."
In Pennsylvania, the regulatory review commission made its ruling following convincing testimony from members of the Pennsylvania Residential Fire Sprinkler Coalition at the state’s Code Review and Advisory Council hearings.
Widespread support from associations representing fire chiefs, architects, engineers, plumbers, and contractors helped the measure succeed in New Hampshire, and a similar base of support existed in California. In 2008, California’s fire marshal addressed the adoption of a statewide residential sprinkler code by bringing key stakeholders together. The fire service, state agencies, the public health department, design professionals, and the California Building Industry Association joined a task force that discussed sprinkler installation, cost offsets and incentives, and impact on local water supplies. Three published reports highlighted the group’s recommendations and approval of the new measure. "Going into the actual adoption process, there was no opposition," says Ray Bizal, NFPA regional manager and task force member. "This is a model to be emulated."
Elsewhere, Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development currently allows local jurisdictions to adopt or modify the code, and a growing number of that state’s communities, now totaling 27, have taken steps toward adopting sprinkler provisions. An amended IRC requiring home sprinklers in New Jersey next year is awaiting an executive decision from Governor Chris Christie. In Iowa, a proposed state building code would include a residential sprinkler provision, and on February 24, the South Carolina Building Codes Council voted to retain the sprinkler provision in the IRC effective January 1, 2011.
Sprinkler opponents, meanwhile, continue to fight such measures, even where statewide sprinkler provisions have been adopted. After various anti-sprinkler legislation bills failed in 2009, the Pennsylvania Builders Association filed a lawsuit in January requesting the state to revert to its 2006 building codes; members of the Pennsylvania Residential Fire Sprinkler Coalition plan to attend a hearing on the matter in March. In New Hampshire, two House bills introduced this year are challenging the ruling of the state’s code review board. And in Iowa, the state’s Home Builders Association has filed legislation prohibiting the requirement for sprinklers in various dwellings, including complexes with no more than four units.
Anti-sprinkler legislation has been introduced in about 10 states, prompting supporters of NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative to voice their concerns at legislative hearings. In February, the Kansas fire service helped defeat a measure that would prohibit local jurisdictions from adopting residential sprinkler requirements. "The most important reason we’re there is because the fire service is there, and we want to make sure we’re behind them 100 percent," says Maria Figueroa, regional manager of NFPA’s Fire Prevention Field Office. "We are helping the fire service get out the most important message about fire sprinklers: they save lives."
For more information on recent fire sprinkler legislation, visit www.firesprinklerinitiative.org.
Rules of Engagement
How can organizations such as NFPA keep volunteers involved in the standards-development process?
NFPA’s standards-development process relies on volunteers, so it’s important to know how to keep those volunteers engaged in the process. It’s especially important now, when some volunteer-based consensus codes and standards organizations are having trouble getting members to participate.
That’s why the Fire Protection Research Foundation has launched a six-month project that will study an array of volunteer issues, including demographics, participation rates, employer support, technological resources, preferred methods for participation, and changes in cultural attitudes toward volunteer participation. The goal of the study is to gather critical information that NFPA and other standards-development organizations can use to maintain a healthy and vigorous volunteer base in the future.
Joining NFPA in support of the project are the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, the American Society for Testing and Materials, and Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
Chris Dubay, NFPA’s vice-president of Codes and Standards and chief engineer, believes the project will be more valuable as a result of collaboration between those standards-development organizations. "We’re all facing the same issues," he says. "We’re all facing volunteers being busier and busier but still being committed to the [codes and standards] process."
NFPA currently has about 5,000 volunteers sitting on close to 7,500 committee seats. (Some members sit on more than one committee.) The reasons volunteers offer their time are as varied as the industries they serve: some are experts in their fields and want to give back, some are manufacturers with concerns about code revisions, and others may be public safety officials concerned about best practices in their cities or states. Though NFPA’s volunteer base hit a record high last year, similar organizations weren’t as fortunate, with demographic shifts, technological changes, and workplace demands all contributing to dwindling volunteer numbers.
Technology—what potential volunteers want and need to perform their duties—will be a key element of the study, according to Kathleen Almand, the Foundation’s executive director. "Relevant technologies like the Internet are platforms for volunteers to participate in codes and standards development," Almand says. "That means technology that allows for remote meetings, information sharing, document writing by groups—any technology that enables our volunteers."
Recent volunteer surveys have already resulted in technology-driven improvements, such as the consolidation of all codes and standards document pages into a centralized, easy-to-use location on the NFPA website (www.nfpa.org/codelist).
Dubay says those are the kinds of improvements that show NFPA is not only listening to volunteers, but that it’s actively developing new ways for them to get—and stay — involved in the process. "Our volunteers are so important to us, and they find it so valuable to participate in our process," Dubay says. "What can we learn from these volunteers that will keep them engaged 5 or 10 years out? How do we ensure we’re providing the resources that benefit volunteer standards development? We want to make sure we maximize the value of their time."
Committee moves to strengthen safety requirements in NFPA 54
Gas purging at industrial, commercial, and public facilities should be restricted to outdoor discharge.
That urgent recommendation by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) came in the wake of a deadly explosion last year and has resulted in an important change to an NFPA code. At a meeting in late February, the Technical Committee for NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code, approved changes to the code that will require the discharge of gas purging to be directed outdoors.
Indoor purging of natural gas was blamed for an explosion last June at a ConAgra Slim Jim facility in Garner, North Carolina, that killed 4 workers and injured more than 60. The CSB’s investigation into the blast found that workers lacked proper safeguards when performing gas purging indoors, relying mainly on smell, which in the ConAgra incident led to gas buildup inside the facility. "There are a lot of accidents involving purging that the CSB has identified," says CSB Public Affairs Director Daniel Horowitz. "The board felt these were recommendations…to be put into the code as swiftly as possible to prevent further loss of life."
The explosion released 18,000 pounds (8,165 kilograms) of ammonia into the environment and damaged the roof covering the facility’s 87,000-square-foot (8,083-square-meter) packaging and warehouse area. Once operations resumed, decreased production forced ConAgra to lay off several hundred employees.
At its meeting, the technical committee initiated a tentative interim amendment (TIA) that enables the lessons learned about safety practices for purging of gas piping to be implemented without waiting for the revision cycle of the 2012 edition of NFPA 54 to be completed. The committee also voted to revise the next edition of the code, scheduled for release in 2011.
The technical committee’s actions will be voted on by all members of the committee, then published and made publicly available in the Report on Proposals (ROP). All changes to NFPA 54 will then be avaliable for a second round of public comment, which will be open until September 3, when the technical committee will meet again to consider and act on all comments received. Any further committee actions will then be published and made publically available in the Report on Comments (ROC). Following further proceedings, including an opportunity for appeals, NFPA 54 is scheduled for issuance in the summer of 2011.
For information on the 2012 revision of NFPA 54, visit www.nfpa.org/54.
— Fred Durso, Jr.
Grindle, Willette assume NFPA posts
Crosby Grindle has been named NFPA’s northwest regional manager. Grindle replaces Dave Nuss, who has been promoted to manager of NFPA’s Wildland Fire Protection Division.
A Virginia native now living in Bend, Oregon, Grindle, 43, brings more than 18 years of uniformed fire service, both professional and volunteer, to his new post at NFPA. His previous position was as executive officer with the Western Fire Chiefs Association. He has also served as the director of professional development for the International Association of Fire Chiefs in Fairfax, Virginia, and the training chief for the Roanoke Fire EMS Department in Roanoke, Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Virginia and a Master of Public Administration from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He is also a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.
Grindle had only been in his new position a matter of days when he found himself on the front line of one of NFPA’s key advocacy initiatives. In January, Grindle, along with Maria Figueroa, regional manager in NFPA’s Fire Prevention Field Office, traveled to Nebraska to testify against legislation that would prevent communities from requiring fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes and townhomes. "I recognized the need to have a thorough knowledge of the data and facts that NFPA develops and collects, along with the ability to think on your feet," Grindle says of the experience.
In his new position, Grindle will focus on improving fire, building, and life safety in his region by working with state and local authorities to promote NFPA services and the adoption of NFPA codes and standards in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.
Experience + perspective
Kenneth R. Willette has been appointed division manager of Public Fire Protection at NFPA, replacing Curt Varone.
Willette, 57, has devoted the past 35 years of his career to fire service and emergency preparedness planning. He spent 26 years with the fire department in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, including 7 as the fire chief and emergency management director. In 2003, Willette became chief of the fire department in Concord, Massachusetts, where he served until 2009.
Willette says an achievement he’s proudest of occurred during his time as president of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts in 2007–2008. Willette says he helped convince Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick to include funding in his budget for the Student Awareness of Fire Education (S.A.F.E.), a state initiative to provide resources to local fire departments to conduct fire and life safety education programs in grades K–12. The program’s mission is to enable students to recognize the dangers of fire, especially the hazards posed by tobacco products.
Willette says his NFPA goals include boosting fire service participation in the Association’s codes- and standards-development process. He sees this as a significant challenge, adding that fire service members "may not realize how much input they can have in the development of codes and standards." Willette encourages all fire service members to comment on proposals, attend meetings, and submit ideas on how to improve the standards, saying that "this is what will bring us to the next generation of fire service."
Above all, he says, he hopes his years in the fire service will provide him with valuable perspective in his work at NFPA. "It allows me to see the trends," he says of his experience. "Some are good, and some, frankly, are not. But they give me a framework to evaluate new ideas against."
— Sarah Danielson