SEEING RED In June, a NASA satellite took this image of the burn scar made by the Fourmile Canyon Fire, which occurred in September 2010 in the foothills west of Boulder, Colorado, pictured at right. The image is made from a combination of shortwave infrared and visible light, with the burned area appearing in shades of red and orange. The Fourmile Canyon Fire was the costliest fire in terms of property loss in 2010, with losses estimated at $217 million. For more on the fire, read the summary of the "Large-Loss Fires in the United States in 2010" report.
HOME FIRE SPRINKLERS
Bay State Backlash
The push for residential sprinklers gains momentum in Massachusetts. Plus, a new study gauges elected officials’ perceptions on sprinklers, a California fire official is honored, and a new debut for Faces of Fire.
NFPA Journal®, November/December 2011
By Fred Durso, Jr.
The Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards in August adopted a building code for all new construction in the state. What’s causing concern among fire officials is that the code intentionally omits the provision requiring home fire sprinklers.
Here’s what one reader had to say about the special wildfire issue of NFPA Journal that was mailed to members in early October:
"Great special issue, full of information about wildland fire and the threat to residences and communities—great stories that should lead any reader to an understanding that action is required. The Journal also provided information about prevention and mitigation programs to reduce wildland fire risk to homes and communities. And there is plenty of information about the various coalitions and partnerships nationally and internationally to help us learn from others, share our problems and lessons, and hopefully achieve some synergy in achieving fire adapted communities where we humans work, live, and play.
I give it a 10+. I hope it gets super widespread distribution."
Vice Chair of the IAFC Wildland Fire Policy Committee
Chair of the NWCG Wildland-Urban Interface Mitigation Committee
Former fire chief and director of emergency services for Alachua County, Florida
Be sure to check out the issue and its wide-ranging coverage of NFPA’s efforts in wildfire education, advocacy, research, standards development, and more.
Shannon Honored by ANSI
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) honored NFPA President James Shannon in October with its Ronald H. Brown Standards Leadership Award during World Standards Day in Washington, D.C. Named for the late U.S. Secretary of Commerce, the award recognizes leadership in promoting the role of standardization. The International Association of Plumbing and Building Mechanical Officials nominated Shannon for his contributions to improving the safety of citizens and the built environment since becoming NFPA president in 2002. Presenting the award was Councilmember Michael Brown of Washington, D.C., who is Ron Brown’s son and chair of the Ronald H. Brown Foundation.
Front n' Center in NYC
Sparky, NFPA’s official spokesdog who turned 60 this year, anchors an array of iconic marketing mascots during the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame in October. The public was asked to select its favorite character through an online contest coinciding with Advertising Week in New York City. Top honors went to Mayhem, the trouble-seeking character in the Allstate Insurance commercials, and the Coca Cola polar bears. Even though he didn’t cop any hardware, Sparky’s Big Apple appearance was great exposure for the affable pooch — and an unforgettable experience for Ben Evarts, the NFPA employee who donned the weighty costume. “It’s difficult to keep 15 people walking at the same pace in New York, even if they aren’t wearing costumes,” says Evarts, an NFPA research analyst. “Add photographers and onlookers into the mix and you have a fairly chaotic scene. But we got the fire safety message out there.”
— Fred Durso, Jr.
“Every national model building code in this country includes the provision for fire sprinklers in new one- and two-family homes,” says Gary Keith, NFPA’s vice president of Field Operations and Education. “It’s ironic that most actions by this Board involve making the model code more stringent, but when it comes to sprinkler protection for occupants and firefighters, they have somehow decided that the state code should be less stringent. New homes built in the Commonwealth do not meet minimum model code requirements. This is substandard housing.”
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan and all four major state fire service organizations — the state’s Fire Chiefs Association, Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, the Fire Prevention Association of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Call/Volunteer Firefighters’ Association—have joined with NFPA in an effort to urge the Board to reverse its action and place the sprinkler provision back in the code. The Board will host a public hearing on the matter December 13 in Boston. Showing their support for the provision, fire officials have conducted a number of home sprinkler demonstrations throughout the state this year, including one in October at a Home Depot parking lot in Chelsea, where a catastrophic fire in 1973 consumed 23 homes and 45 acres.
NFPA has launched an aggressive ad campaign leading up to the hearing and has created a website to provide residents with information and a way to voice their support for home fire sprinklers. For more information on the coalition and on the public hearing, visit firesprinklersma.org.
Elsewhere, nearly 100 attendees at this year’s National Conference of State Legislatures in San Antonio, Texas, participated in an NFPA survey to gauge their understanding of the extent of home fires and the role sprinklers play in reducing these incidents. Legislators, legislative staffers, and members of the public weighed in on sprinkler costs and environmental benefits, as well as general fire safety information.
The results were eye opening: Two-thirds of respondents did not think home sprinkler mandates would negatively impact housing in their state, while more than 60 percent of legislators supported mandates for minimum sprinkler standards. Seventy percent of respondents felt smoke alarms weren’t sufficient to protect residents.
Another survey taken during this year’s Fire-Rescue International Conference in Atlanta provided similar results. Of the 86 survey participants, nearly all were in favor of sprinkler mandates in one- and two-family homes, and more than 70 percent thought the fire service should actively promote sprinkler requirements in their state.
Sprinkler advocate honored
Putting that latter statistic into practice, Tonya Hoover, California’s acting state fire marshal, received the 2011 Bringing Safety Home Award given by NFPA and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC). The award recognizes fire chiefs who use the resources on NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative website, firesprinklerinitiative.org, to promote the benefits of residential sprinklers to lawmakers.
Hoover was selected for her efforts in facilitating the adoption and implementation of fire sprinkler requirements in her state.
Sprinkler provisions in California took effect in January, after the state adopted the 2009 International Residential Code® that requires residential fire sprinklers in all new townhouses and two-family homes. Hoover received the award in August in Atlanta. “We appreciated Tonya’s diligence and are very pleased that the award went to such an active life safety advocate,” Keith says.
Campaign gets another ‘Face’
A Canadian homebuilder has given his seal of approval on residential fire sprinklers in the latest video for Faces of Fire, a campaign that humanizes NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative.
Murray Pound, vice president of operations for Gold Seal Homes in Alberta, Canada, offers residential sprinklers in all of the homes constructed by his company. A fire that destroyed one of his company’s homes convinced Pound to outfit any additional residence with sprinklers. “The rebuilding process was a big struggle for that family and the community,” says Pound, a former volunteer firefighter. “We’ve been known as the builder who’s doing the right thing…because we’ve created a mandate of building safer homes.”
Pound hopes his company’s decision will counter the inaccuracies associated with the cost and implementation of home sprinklers. “Some of the information builders are given about fire sprinklers isn’t completely accurate,” says Pound. “As they start to investigate…they start to realize sprinklers aren’t as costly as they thought.”
For a video interview with Pound visit firesprinklerinitiative.org.
Sending and Receiving
New research aims to standardize wireless technology for firefighters.
By Fred Durso, Jr.
Personal alert safety system (PASS) devices are a necessary piece of firefighter gear. They beep and flash when firefighters idle during an emergency response — an indication that they’re possibly in danger and need help. Newer models, such as those in use in Houston and Omaha and being tested in New York City, incorporate wireless technology that transmits and receives signals to and from an incident command post.
Now, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are developing test methods to evaluate how well this burgeoning wireless PASS technology works under realistic conditions. The results of NIST’s Metrology for Wireless Systems Project, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, have the potential to make their way into relevant NFPA codes and standards.
Researchers initially combed through existing data on the characteristics of wireless communication to discover commonalities in signal interference and reflectivity. Two tests were then developed: an “attenuation test” that determines how well a signal performs under a certain amount of signal loss in the field due to obstructions such as walls or tunnels, and another that used interfering signals such as portable radios or other wireless devices to see how they might affect signal communication between a PASS device and its base station.
“Our ultimate goal is to come up with lab-based test methods,” says Kate Remley (pictured above), the project’s leader and a NIST electronics engineer. “Firefighter environments cover the gamut, and wireless technology works differently in different environments. A large convention center will need a more powerful signal to transmit deep inside [the building] than a single-family dwelling.”
The test methods developed by NIST have been proposed for inclusion in NFPA 1982, Personal Alert Safety Systems, which is in the Fall 2012 revision cycle. “The Electronic Safety Equipment Technical Committee supports this proposal and believes it’s going to be beneficial to the emergency response community,” says NFPA’s Dave Trebisacci, staff liaison for NFPA 1982.
Since the committee’s scope extends beyond PASS devices, Remley notes that other electronic devices used by emergency responders — tracking systems and voice radios, for example — could also benefit from the NIST research at some point. “Hopefully we’ve been able to provide some really important support to the firefighter community,” she says. “There’s a lot of really neat wireless technology out there that could make firefighters’ lives easier and even more secure. Without standards, it’s very difficult for them to take advantage of it.”
Verdict Reached in Bangkok Club Fire
The cover story of our January/February 2010 issue marked the one-year anniversary of the Santika nightclub fire in Bangkok, Thailand, that killed 67 people and injured hundreds. The blaze was the worst nightclub fire in Thailand’s history and one of the worst international club fires on record, and illustrated many of the fire safety problems afflicting nightclubs worldwide. As we were completing that story, word came of the catastrophic Lame Horse club fire in Perm, Russia, that would eventually claim more than 150 lives.
Pyrotechnics during a 2008 New Year’s Eve celebration at Santika caused the blaze, and among the sources of frustration for people touched by the fire was the inability of authorities to hold anyone accountable. In September, though, a Thai court sentenced the owner of Santika Pub, as well as a special effects company executive, to three-year prison sentences. The special effects executive was also ordered to pay five plaintiffs, relatives of victims, a total of about $279,000 in compensation, according to press reports.
A 2007 Thai law required all public buildings, including bars and nightclubs, to undergo regular safety inspections. The BBC reported in April 2009 that about half of the 6,000 public buildings in Bangkok had been inspected, but that none were bars or nightclubs. Of the buildings inspected, only 200 had passed. The BBC also reported that police had filed dozens of charges against Santika for operating illegally from 2004 to 2006, whereupon the charges abruptly stopped; it was also reported that a senior police officer was a shareholder in the club and was clearly listed as such in company documents.
Following Santika, the Thai government called for the national adoption and enforcement of fire safety regulations based on requirements in NFPA’s codes and standards. In June 2009, NFPA signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bangkok Metropolitan Council for a collaboration to develop guidelines used to help enact fire-protection laws in Bangkok, especially for malls, theaters, sports arenas, and entertainment facilities.
— Fred Durso, Jr.
Proposed act would strengthen first-responder communication
On September 11, 2001, New York City’s first responders relied on commercial wireless networks to relay crucial instructions during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The chaos of the day, however, jammed the networks and prevented information from reaching the intended targets. Radio communication during rescue efforts was also problematic, since the incident command station received only sporadic information from teams sent into the buildings.
Two congressmen are using these examples as a catalyst to try to better the nation’s post-9/11 emergency communications. Rep. Steve Rothman (D–New Jersey, pictured at right) and Rep. Peter King (R–New York) announced in September that they had submitted a bill authorizing the Help Emergency Responders Operate Emergency Systems (HEROES) Act, which would establish a $400 million grant program administered by the Department of Homeland Security to assist local municipalities in purchasing essential communications equipment and radio upgrades.
Initially recommended in the final report by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission), the Federal Communications Commission in 2004 mandated first responders to upgrade their communications equipment and radio spectrum licenses by January 2013. Rothman says funding for the FCC mandate was eliminated due to a rash of budget cuts, adding that the HEROES Act would also reallocate a portion of the radio spectrum to public safety and provide funding for a national wireless network for first responder use. President Barack Obama announced the Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative this year, which aims to devote a wireless network solely for public safety operations.
Practice Makes Perfect
Survey shows deficiency in home escape planning
While most Americans have an exit strategy for evacuating their homes during a fire or other emergencies, they fail to practice what they plan.
Those are the findings of a survey conducted by First Alert, the manufacturer of residential fire and carbon monoxide detection devices, as part of a consumer education campaign tied to NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week and its theme “Protect Your Family From Fire.” Of the 1,000 adults queried during September, 80 percent of respondents said they have an escape plan in place. However, more than half of participants with an escape plan indicated that they’ve never practiced it, and only 30 percent of those who conducted drills have only performed it once. Furthermore, only a third of respondents created a plan with input from their family.
“Practicing the home fire drill will lead to confidence and proper response in a fire emergency,” says Judy Comoletti, NFPA’s division manager for Public Education. “Practice is an important part of the training process. A home fire escape plan is just not enough.”
NFPA recommends developing a home fire escape plan that includes two ways out of every room and an outside meeting place. A home fire drill should be held at least twice a year with all residents participating in the activity.
For more information on escape planning, visit nfpa.org/escape. For fire escape plans and related activities for children, visit sparky.org.