Author(s): Kathleen Almand Published on January 1, 2012

Safe Cookin’
Cooking-fire prevention technologies and marketplace barriers to entry

NFPA Journal®,  January/February 2012 

A lot has been written about the challenges facing new-product entry into the construction marketplace. The labor and training-intensive nature of the field, the relatively slow pace of product turnover, and the plethora of regulations governing this market are a few of the many barriers to entry for new products. The Foundation recently conducted a project to look at a relatively new technological approach to reducing cooking fires, the country’s leading cause of fire injuries. The project was technical in nature, but it illustrated the new-product entry barriers in the residential construction market.

 

FROM THE ARCHIVES

November - December 2011
Understanding the hazards posed by lithium ion battery storage

September - October 2011
Is the teaching of codes and standards redundant or out of date?

July - August 2011
Identifying fire protection challenges in telecom/IT centers

May - June 2011
The ongoing research effort behind the codes and standards process

March - April 2011
Using research to help insurers address industrial fire safety

January - February 2011
The value of talking to industries beyond the fire safe community

Our historical approach toward reducing cooking fires and injuries has relied on education programs to improve cooking-related high-risk behaviors, such as unattended cooking. Even though the number of cooking fires and related injuries and deaths have fallen over the years, they remain the leading cause of residential fires and fire injuries in the home.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the home appliance industry undertook a comprehensive review of strategies to mitigate death, injury, and property loss from cooking fires, with a focus on cooking-range technologies. In 2010, a workshop was held in Washington, D.C., where participants recommended that an additional study be undertaken to identify the barriers to using these technologies and to develop an action plan for improving cooking fire safety.

NIST asked the Foundation to take the next steps to develop this plan. Elements of the study included an assessment of cooking fire statistics and scenarios, a review of current and emerging technologies, and the development of an assessment methodology to consider the utility and effectiveness of mitigation technologies against a range of fire and use scenarios and other criteria.

Last summer, approximately 30 leaders in the fire safety community met to review the study results and develop an action plan for research, product development, and technology transfer to mitigate fire loss from cooking through technology. The key action items from the workshop did not focus primarily on technology development, but rather on addressing barriers to deployment.

Among them were the need for standards and performance measures to evaluate this new technology, since none exist; the need to demonstrate societal costs and benefits; the need to develop technologies that do not adversely affect cooking performance while improving fire safety; and the need to market this technology as a choice for high-risk situations.

All product developers share some of these barriers, and some barriers are unique to fire safety. I am reminded of the early days of the fire-safe cigarette campaign, where lack of standards, concern about their impact on the smoking experience, and the need to develop a market for the technology were all seen as barriers to this new fire safety product entry.

The cooking safety action plan outlines practical steps the fire safety community can take, such as the development of a suite of “standardized” cooking fire scenarios to serve as the basis for developing performance criteria. More significantly, we need to develop a marketing strategy that provides incentives for the commercialization of these technologies to ensure their widespread implementation.

The success of the fire-safe cigarette campaign continues to give us hope that technology solutions can be part of an overall fire loss reduction strategy.


Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSFPE, is the executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.

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