Author(s): Robert Solomon, Fred Durso Published on September 1, 2011

COMMENTARY
Safe Gathering
How an underutilized Life Safety Code tool can improve safety at outdoor assembly venues

NFPA Journal®, July/August 2011

By Robert Solomon, P.E. 

A number of events this summer, including a stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair and the death of a fan who fell from the stands at a baseball game in Texas, have drawn attention to the sometimes overlooked aspects of NFPA’s fire, life safety, and building codes. I have been surprised at some of the media coverage of these events, where people have said that such mishaps can’t be planned for or that the codes don’t cover them.

That’s not true — both incidents are covered by NFPA codes, including NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®.

The Indiana collapse, which killed seven and injured 40 when a stage came down August 13 in high winds, was just one of a handful of similar events. Five concertgoers died and more than 140 were injured when winds caused a stage collapse at a music festival in Belgium on August 18. Earlier in August, wind toppled a lighting rig at a music festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and lightning brought down a stage that was being assembled near Quebec City. In July, three people were hospitalized when high winds blew down a stage at a music festival in Ottawa.

July was also the month that firefighter Shannon Stone reached over a left-field railing at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, to catch a ball tossed up by a player. Stone lost his balance, fell 20 feet to a concrete surface below, and later died. He was at least the second fan to fall from the stands at a Major League Baseball (MLB) park this season.

All of these incidents occurred in outdoor assembly venues. Some of the media coverage following the stage collapse in Indiana questioned the applicability of the codes to temporary or outdoor venue structures, or the ability of organizers to predict events that might require additional safety measures. Questions remain as to who had inspection authority for the temporary stage structures, and in some cases investigations have been commissioned to root out answers. MLB, meanwhile, has asked teams to look at the railing heights in their stadiums — just one of many provisions that are governed by the codes.

If a unique tool found in the Life Safety Code had been fully implemented by venue organizers and authorities having jurisdiction, the outcome in some of these incidents might have been different. That tool, called the Life Safety Evaluation (LSE), made its first appearance in the 1994 edition of the code. The LSE precisely sets the boundaries of what needs to be considered in certain assembly occupancies — including permanent and temporary ancillary structures, as well as operational controls throughout the venue, including in the spectator areas. NFPA 101 defines the LSE as "a written review dealing with the adequacy of life safety features relative to fire, storm, collapse, crowd behavior, and other related safety considerations."

The LSE is a comprehensive evaluation of an event, and includes more than 100 factors that must be considered. Those factors fit into one or more of the broad categories from Sections 12/13.4.1.2 for the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code and include: nature of the events and the participants and attendees; access and egress movement, including crowd density problems; medical emergencies; fire hazards; permanent and temporary structural systems; severe weather conditions; earthquakes; civil or other disturbances; hazardous materials incidents within and near the facility; and relationships among facility management, event participants, emergency response agencies, and others having a role in the events accommodated in the facility.

Many Life Safety Code users may not realize the conditions under which the LSE is applicable. A variety of circumstances trigger the LSE in the code for assembly occupancies, including venues that hold more than 6,000 occupants, those that utilize festival seating or general admission seating, and those structures that incorporate the special use of the smoke-protected assembly seating rules.

The LSE applies equally to new construction and existing buildings, both permanent and temporary structures as well as indoor and outdoor venues. The parts of the code that deal with assembly occupancies (Chapter 18, "New Assembly Occupancies," and Chapter 19, "Existing Assembly Occupancies") feature highly specialized rules because of the nature of assembly occupancies, which can be characterized by large concentrations of people in relatively confined areas.

The LSE is not a simple one-page evaluation; it requires a thorough and systematic assessment of the entire operation and cannot be completed by most code practitioners. By design, the LSE is not a checklist. It requires a comprehensive appraisal of the building design, construction, and system features, and a deep drilling into the operational aspects of the event: information on the type of event, the characteristics of the occupants, and the relationships among the venue owner, venue operator, event promoter, performers, and attendees. These relationships and the interface with law enforcement, venue security, and the usher staff must be set ahead of time.

That’s the way it should be. But Paul Wertheimer, founder of Crowd Management Strategies and a member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies, describes the hodgepodge of operational regulations currently used by assembly venues as the "wild west." Few communities have laws addressing crowd safety until they have a disaster, according to Wertheimer, and other communities adopt laws and standards addressing crowd safety, including NFPA’s Life Safety Code, but overall it’s inconsistent. At the Indiana State Fair, he says, there was no effective emergency evacuation plan and no call for an emergency evacuation, even though a severe storm was bearing down on the fairgrounds. The event’s evacuation plan had nine bullet points, but none of those points addressed a crowd out in the open.

Wertheimer says a difficulty for authorities having jurisdiction is that they don’t know how to address the crowd safety aspect, and he urges stakeholders to double their efforts to make sure that the components of the LSE are complete and comprehensive.

Thousands of concerts, sporting events, exhibitions, and other activities drawing large crowds are held safely and successfully across the country every year. But it is important that a more standardized approach to using the LSE should be a goal of all those who own, operate, and manage these events. The hardware or infrastructure elements of the code, such as the means of egress, fire alarm systems, sprinkler systems, and building construction features, are absolutely critical, but the operational aspects of events—a fan leaning over to catch a ball, severe weather bearing down on an outdoor event, plans for proactive responses to emerging situations—must be considered as well. The LSE is the precise tool to accomplish this goal.


Robert Solomon is NFPA’s department manager for building and Life Safety Codes. 

Free NFPA Codes and Standards From NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is offering more than 60 of NFPA’s codes, standards, and handbooks for free as part of a pilot project addressing emergency responder needs.

Through October, emergency responders with a .gov or .mil email address will be able to view or download nearly 1,000 standards developed by NFPA, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and ASTM International. NFPA codes offered range from NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, to NFPA 1906, Wildland Fire Apparatus.

NIST’s Law Enforcement Standards Office is gauging which standards are most utilized and how it can better serve first responders on the federal, state, and local level through use of these documents.

NIST plans to share the information gathered from this project with NFPA and other standards development organizations in a report early next year. For more information on the program visit nist.gov/oles.

 

Stepping Up to the Plate
The Toronto Blue Jays help spread NFPA safety messages

By Fred Durso, Jr.

In June, 50 firefighters attending Fire Safety Day at Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, greeted nearly 27,000 children with a gift — a free pack of baseball cards with statistics on each Blue Jays player, as well as fire and life safety tips, including "If there is smoke, get low and go!" Toronto Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek threw the first pitch, and the six-story Jumbotron screen displayed NFPA’s spokesdog, Sparky, roaming the field with the Jays’ mascot, Ace, in tow. In between innings, public service announcements (PSAs) featuring NFPA’s educational messaging were broadcast throughout the stadium. 

Fire Safety Day was one of many events taking place during the Swing Into Summer Safety Campaign. Developed in part by Canada’s Fire Marshal’s Public Fire Safety Council, which establishes partnerships with the fire service and public to promote fire safety awareness in Ontario, the campaign was resurrected after a similar, 10-year endeavor ended in 1993. The new campaign educates families on fire safety and injury prevention through a series of PSAs and materials involving Blue Jays players and NFPA educational messaging. More than 200 fire departments in Ontario used their own ingenuity to disseminate the campaign’s giveaways and messages — whether through school visits, presentations at summer fairs, or appearances at Little League games. 

With the help of sponsors, the Council was able to underwrite the production costs of all campaign materials. Those materials included nearly 150,000 packs of playing cards, 500 banners featuring Blue Jays infielder John McDonald, and 10,000 posters featuring McDonald with Tim Beckett, the president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs. A campaign wrap-up event at Rogers Centre and new PSAs featuring Blue Jays players underscoring fire safety tips are anticipated for September. 

"The messaging we’re using in the campaign conforms to messaging approved by NFPA’s Educational Messages Advisory Council," says Art Pullan, executive director of the Canadian Council and NFPA public education advisor. "We’re trying to use new ways to get these messages out [to the public]."

Pullan also offers advice to other fire departments that may want to develop similar partnerships in their communities. "The campaign shines light on the fire service while providing our partners with an opportunity to showcase their commitment to public safety," he says. "Share with them the advantages — what’s in it for both the team and public safety. And try not to reinvent the wheel, since there’s already a model in place."

For more information on the Swing Into Summer Safety Campaign, visit safetyinfo.ca.

Orlando Redux
Code experts return to Florida for NFPA’s Fire and Life Safety Conference

Attendees at the inaugural NFPA Fire and Life Safety Conference last year lauded the breadth of information supplied by NFPA’s codes and standards specialists. This year’s event, December 12–16 in Orlando, promises more of the same, plus a handful of noteworthy additions.
 
Presenters will offer their technical know-how in more than 60 education sessions divided into four tracks: building and life safety, codes and standards, detection and alarm, and suppression. For example, Tracy Golinveaux, NFPA’s associate fire protection engineer, will outline the development of the new NFPA 92, Smoke Control Systems. Joe Collins, life safety specialist at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, is presenting on integrating public address, voice evacuation, and mass notification systems. Staff from NFPA’s Public Fire Protection Division will present on infrastructure implications of electric vehicles. Participants are eligible to receive continuing education units toward professional certification during each session.

The conference also offers one- and two-day post-conference sessions discussing updates to the 2012 versions of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, and NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities.

For more on the conference, including the most up-to-date event schedule, visit nfpa.org/flsconf.

Gel Threat
NFPA issues an urgent warning on the use of gel fuel.

By Fred Durso, Jr.

In May, a family from Madison, Alabama, was lounging in their backyard next to a ceramic fuel pot, which is a decorative tabletop device that uses gel fuel to feed its open flame. When the flame died down, more fuel was poured into the pot—causing an explosion that sprayed the burning gel onto the face, neck, and upper torso of a 24-year-old victim. More than 40 percent of his body was covered in first-, second-, and third-degree burns.
 
 Similar incidents this year involving gel fuel have prompted NFPA to issue a safety warning on the substance, which is also used for personal fireplaces and some patio torches. "It can be very difficult to see that the fuel is actually burning," says Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Communications. "You might see the heat waves, but you may not see the flames. Another area that’s particularly troubling is that if the gel fuel splatters on clothing, stop, drop, and roll may not extinguish this type of fire." NFPA recommends using a dry chemical extinguisher or baking soda for extinguishment.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has already logged 57 injuries and two deaths involving gel fuel this year. By comparison, CPSC documented only six injuries in 2010. "The use of gel fuel appears to have grown in popularity," says Scott Wolfson, director of CPSC’s Office of Information and Public Affairs. "We’re investigating the makers and sellers of fuel gel and fire pots and conducting a technical investigation into how this product performs. We’re looking at whether there should be further enforcement of companies that make and sell [these products]."

In the meantime, NFPA has offered a number of safety tips when using gel fuel devices. For instance, keep your face away from the device when refilling, and allow it to cool 30 to 45 minutes before refueling. For additional safety tips, visit nfpa.org/gelfuel.

CAMPUS FIRE SAFETY
Remembering A.J.
New app offers campus fire safety tips for college students and parents

With the overwhelming amount of back-to-school preparations that college-bound students have to attend to, fire safety is a topic that can be easily overlooked.

But Barret Cohen knows too well the grave consequences that can have for college students and their families. In 2000, Cohen lost his 21-year-old brother, A.J., to a house fire at the University of Dayton.

Since his brother’s death, Barret, 36, has created a concept for a fire-safety mobile app tailored to college students and their parents. The A.J. Cohen Campus Fire Safety Prevention App was released in June and is available free of charge on iPhone, Android, Windows, and Blackberry.

The app features safety tips for students in case of a dorm or house fire, and a "Parent Qs" section offers questions parents should ask their child’s university about campus fire safety.

The app also includes a personal "About A.J." section, informational videos, and a refreshable newsfeed with current campus fire news.
 
— Courtney Flynn

FIRE PREVENTION WEEK 2011
Safety’s Universal Language
FPW focuses on immigrants, families, high-risk groups

NFPA will spread fire safety messages to immigrant groups and communities at higher risk of fire deaths and injuries during its 89th annual Fire Prevention Week (FPW), October 9–15.

Debuting on NFPA’s FPW website(fpw.org) this year are tips on communicating fire safety messages to recent immigrants. "We’re focusing on outreach to immigrants because so many communities around the country, large and small, are experiencing a growth in new immigrants who speak languages other than English," says Sharon Gamache, NFPA’s senior program manager for High-Risk Outreach Programs. "These populations may not be knowledgeable about various cooking or heating appliances and fire prevention practices, such as the use of smoke alarms and home fire drills."

The FPW site also provides a lesson plan for adults with developmental disabilities and ways to conduct an FPW open house for older adults, where they can receive information on escape planning, smoke alarms, and cooking safety.

For educators, NFPA has expanded its partnership with Scholastic, the global publishing and education company for children, to produce new lesson plans for preschoolers. The accompanying posters and activities use a team of fairy tale characters to teach students about family fire safety — tying into this year’s FPW theme of "Protect your family from fire." Scholastic is also conducting a contest to win a free Sparky classroom gift bag for participating schools that throw a Sparky party using NFPA’s free party materials. A digitized Sparky also makes an appearance in three new public service announcement videos that can be downloaded for free.

Available for purchase this year is an updated version of NFPA’s FPW in a Box, ideal for open houses and community outreach events. The package’s banners, posters, brochures, stickers, magnets, and newsletters cater to this year’s FPW theme.

For an overview of all FPW materials, including a guided tour of the website, register for NFPA’s free FPW webinar on September 14, noon–1 p.m., at fpw.org. To order items from the FPW catalog, visit nfpa.org/catalog.

— Fred Durso, Jr.

EV Summit Reminder
Register now for the 2nd Annual Electric Vehicle Safety Summit, September 27–28 at the Marriot Detroit Renaissance Center Hotel in Detroit, Michigan. 

Sponsored by NFPA and SAE International, a global association of aerospace, automotive, and commercial vehicle experts, this year’s summit is a continuation of the dialogue begun at last year’s event, where three areas were selected for development: vehicle charging infrastructure, battery hazards identification and protection, and training for emergency responders. There will also be a forum for the development of new action plans regarding the safety codes and standards related to electric vehicles. To register, visit evsafetytraining.org/summit or sae.org/events/nevss.

IN BRIEF

IAFF President Elected to NFPA Board
Harold A. Schaitberger, the general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), was elected to NFPA’s Board of Directors in June. The IAFF represents more than 85 percent of career firefighters and paramedics in the U.S. and Canada.

"Harold is one of the most respected leaders in the fire service, and we are delighted that he is joining the NFPA board," says NFPA President James Shannon.

Massachusetts Hosts First Electric Vehicle Safety Training
NFPA and the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy hosted the first state-level electric vehicle safety training session on July 28. Part of NFPA’s national Electric Vehicle Safety Training Program, the event informed firefighters on how to handle emergency situations involving extended-range electric vehicles.

The session consisted of eight hours of classroom and hands-on training, including live demonstrations outlining appropriate cut points on a Ford Escape Hybrid and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. For more information on the training and upcoming sessions across the U.S., visit evsafetytraining.org/training.

Fire Safety Students Awarded Scholarships
NFPA’s Fire Safety Educational Memorial Fund Committee has awarded scholarships to four fire safety students based on their contributions to fire safety activities, academic achievements, and leadership abilities.

Pamela Herald, a University of Maryland junior, received the Arthur E. Cote Scholarship; Richard Emberley, a senior at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, received the John L. Jablonsky Scholarship; Penelope Ingles, a student at Columbia Southern University, received the George D. Miller Scholarship; and Kevin Frank, a student at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, received the David B. Gratz Scholarship.

New Report on Respiratory Protective Equipment Released
Additional firefighter training on the limitations of protective equipment was one of a handful of priorities outlined in the new Fire Protection Research Foundation report "Emergency First Responder Respirator Thermal Characteristics."

Spurring the report was a workshop hosted by NFPA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in July that identified performance needs and established research priorities to address thermal characteristics of respiratory protective equipment used by emergency first responders. The workshop and subsequent report will provide guidance to research and testing centers to address important real-world problems directly affecting firefighters. The report can be downloaded at nfpa.org/foundation.

New Certificate of Educational Achievement Program Launched
NFPA seminar attendees can earn additional continuing education units via a new Certificate of Educational Achievement Program. Six of NFPA’s fire and life safety seminars have been expanded by an additional day to include a review session, self-assessment exercises, and a performance exam. Upon successful completion, attendees receive their certificates.

Available topics include Life Safety Code® essentials with a focus on occupancies, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, and installation of sprinkler systems. For more information, visit nfpatraining.org/certificates.

HFSC lands FPS grant
The nonprofit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) has received a $976,500 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant to underwrite a multi-faceted U.S. educational program.

HFSC says it will use the Fire Prevention and Safety Grant funding to develop programs that will help fire departments promote home fire safety and the value of installing home fire sprinkler systems. It will also educate homebuilders and others to refute common myths about sprinklers and to generate interest in life-saving sprinkler technology.

The funding was awarded to HFSC through the Grant Programs Directorate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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