The value of talking to industries beyond the fire safety community
NFPA Journal, January/February 2011
The Fire Protection Research Foundation recently completed a series of meetings with some important, but often unrecognized, NFPA constituencies: those industries that fall outside what we traditionally consider our fire safety community. Many industries affected by our codes and standards can benefit from the dialogue and technical solutions the Foundation can provide.
In July, we facilitated a jointly sponsored NFPA and Foundation Health Care Summit for our health care standards leadership and representatives from the health care community who participate in NFPA’s codes- and standards-development process. Among the topics discussed was the "culture change" movement in long-term care, which champions a more home-like environment that may not comply with current health care fire safety standards. Also discussed were the way hospital designs are expected to change in the next 20 years and how the demand for hospital beds will track the changes in the U.S. population. Hearing how a more home-oriented atmosphere in nursing homes helps residents live longer and how the delivery of acute care is changing was a real eye-opener for those of us who spend most of our time focusing on the fire issue alone.
In October, we met with representatives of the "dry stack" industry, indoor boat storage facility developers and operators who are struggling with the lack of guidance on sprinkler protection in NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, and NFPA 303, Marinas and Boatyards. The challenge is getting sprinkler discharge on a fire without shielding or obstruction and without filling the boats. The Foundation recently completed a hazard analysis and is developing a project to validate appropriate sprinkler protection methods. The boat industry doesn’t often think about fire, and enforcers have no guidance on this unique storage configuration. Both seek guidance the Foundation hopes to provide.
Also in October, the Foundation held a symposium in Kansas City on practical strategies to assess and mitigate dust hazards. The metals, wood, paper, agricultural, and chemical industries all sent representatives to learn how to comply with emerging OSHA rule-making in this area, using NFPA standards as best practices. For those in the fire protection industry, presentations on housekeeping challenges in these facilities revealed the magnitude of the issue. Case studies of dust explosions and techniques to mitigate them were a tangible and immediate deliverable for plant personnel and safety managers whose concerns have revolved largely around routine accidents. The Foundation is conducting a study to inform the threshold definition for what constitutes a dust hazard to further improve NFPA standards on this topic.
Finally, in the emerging world of electric vehicles, we facilitated a safety summit held by NFPA and the Society of Automotive Engineers to explore the gaps in infrastructure and emergency responder standards. The automotive industry learned first-hand about electrical inspectors’ and emergency responders’ concerns, and identified ways they want to work with us. We, in turn, dispelled a few myths about the hazards these vehicles and their batteries present.
The Foundation has initiated a project to define the hazards of electric vehicle battery storage. For NFPA and the automotive industry, this is the beginning of a long-term engagement for a safe roll-out of this new technology.
None of these industries — health care, boat building, materials processing, automotive — is exclusively in the "fire" business. But each has unique challenges that can be better met through dialogue with our industry and collaborative engagement in finding solutions. The Foundation is ready to help.
Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSFPE, is the executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.