From Tragedy, Opportunity
In the wake of a deadly nightclub fire, NFPA discusses possible code adoption with fire officials in Brazil
NFPA Journal®, March/April 2013
By Scott Sutherland
The front of the Boate Kiss nightclub, or what remains of it, is boarded up, a long stretch of plywood running along Andradas Street in the Centro neighborhood of Santa Maria, a college town in southeastern Brazil. Much of the wall is covered with remembrances of the people who died in a fire at the club in the early-morning hours of January 27, a blaze that began when members of a band that was performing waved lit flares, igniting the club’s interior finishes. As of February 25 the death toll stood at 239, making it, according to NFPA data, the third-deadliest nightclub fire in world history, behind only the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire (492 deaths) and a disco fire in China in 2000 (309 deaths). It is also Brazil’s deadliest fire in more than 50 years. Officials in Santa Maria estimated that at least half of the people who died were students at the local university.
The wall is emblazoned with other messages, too, including one that stuck with NFPA’s Jim Dolan. “It said, in Portuguese, essentially ‘the state did not protect us,’” says Dolan, director of the Fire Code field office, who visited Santa Maria in February. “But it’s not a criticism of the fire service or of fire prevention inspectors — it’s a criticism of the fire codes in Brazil, which are out of date and don’t give fire inspectors much to work with.”
Dolan, along with Jaime Moncada, a fire protection consultant who directs NFPA’s professional development program in Latin America, traveled to Brazil to do two things: visit Santa Maria to learn more about the Boate Kiss fire, and meet with local and state fire officials in Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul, the state where Santa Maria is located, to discuss how NFPA can help Brazilian authorities update their fire protection and life safety codes. They weren’t able to enter the nightclub — a local prosecutor had ordered the site closed to visitors, citing an ongoing investigation — but they were able to meet with fire officials in Santa Maria, as well as with the fire chief in Porto Alegre, who is heading the fire invesigation of the Boate Kiss incident.
It was their stop in Rio de Janeiro that was especially encouraging. The state of Rio de Janeiro had recently contacted NFPA with a request for support services on its codes, and Moncada says he assumed Brazilian authorities would use the information to update their own documents. “We met with the fire marshal for the state, and right away he said, ‘We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. It would be most expeditious if we could adapt your codes,’” Moncada says. “We are very encouraged by this — we have a window here, and it may represent an opportunity for adoption of NFPA codes in Brazil.”
That window has been created in part by the approaching 2014 soccer World Cup — Rio de Janeiro will host a number of preliminary rounds as well as the championship — and by the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will also be held in Rio de Janeiro. The Boate Kiss nightclub fire has brought international attention to fire safety in the country, and Dolan says the attention only underscores the desire of Brazilian fire officials for modern and effective codes — especially NFPA 1, Fire Code — with standardized rules and regulations that would help them keep buildings and facilities up to date.
“NFPA 1 would give them all the tools for the enforcement part of the job,” says Dolan, a former state fire marshal for New Jersey. “It’s all there: automatic sprinkler protection, interior finishes, crowd management, occupant load calculations, everything you need to make sure a building or facility is safe.”
NFPA has expressed interest in working with Brazilian authorities and is exploring ways to further the adoption process in the country, including translating codes into Portuguese. Moncada says one possibility is that the documents, if they were adopted and amended by the state of Rio de Janeiro, could serve as model codes for other Brazilian states.
That includes Rio Grande do Sul, where fire officials in Santa Maria also articulated a desire for codes that could help with enforcement. “With the Boate Kiss fire, their hands were tied,” Moncada says. “The building had been inspected, and even with some of the problems — combustible foam on the ceiling, essentially only one exit, no sprinkler protection—the inspectors couldn’t change anything, because of the existing codes.”
The approach being considered by the state of Rio de Janeiro — wholesale change — is the right one, Moncada says, and is supported by many inspectors and fire service members throughout the country. “NFPA can have a tremendous positive impact in Brazil,” he says of the code adoption discussions. “I hope we can keep the conversation going.”
Young + Fire Smart
NFPA develops a youth program on wildfire safety
By Fred Durso, Jr.
What would you do in the event of a wildfire and no adults were around?
That was one of the questions posed to teenagers in a recent series of workshops organized by NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division, part of its efforts to develop a new NFPA wildfire youth program. The results were informative and surprising, organizers say — and filled with what educators like to call “teachable moments.”
In one “what if?” scenario, for example, fire was encroaching upon a home where a teenager was babysitting two young children, and no adults could be reached. To the question “What would you do?,” one teen respondent said they would get behind the wheel of an available car—even though they were too young for a driver’s license and had never driven before—with kids in tow and attempt to outrace the fire to safety.
Such responses — cringe-inducing and otherwise — are outlined in a new report, Engaging Youth in Wildfire Risk — Community Conversation Workshop Findings and Research, which offers an overview of workshop feedback and offers insights into how to effectively communicate wildfire safety messages to the more than 8.8 million students in grades 6 through 12 who live in the wildland/urban interface (WUI).
“The educational focus has been on adults for a long time,” says Cathy Prudhomme, associate project manager for NFPA’s Wildland Fire Youth Education, who is overseeing the new program. “We’re recognizing the need to reach future generations of WUI homeowners and landowners, so it’s important to provide skills that become their lifelong tools. Plus, it’s easier to change behaviors at a young age rather than when they become adults.”
Prudhomme and her colleagues had been hearing from state and local partners about the need for educational materials focusing on wildfire preparation and mitigation for youth. One of their first steps was to go directly to the target audience in the form of six “community conversation workshops,” which included 105 students and parents in Colorado and Texas—states recently impacted by record-breaking wildfires. The goal was to obtain feedback on the types of wildfire information and resources youths want and need.
Prudhomme was surprised by the students’ feedback on how they want safety messages delivered. “They felt like hearing that message from someone their own age would be enough motivation for them to do something,” she says. “They were very strong in their stance that they didn’t want it from a government official or celebrity.”
Or from any adult, possibly. Parents interviewed during the workshops said that they talked with their children about wildfire, but the students’ responses did not reflect these apparent conversations. In a questionnaire, many school teachers said they did not possess the necessary tools to teach wildfire preparation.
Prudhomme foresees the new program including an online component that utilizes social media (another resounding suggestion from the interviewees), classroom lessons, and community activities. NFPA will pilot the program during the Wildfire Preparedness Day of Service on May 4 in Colorado, which aims to get youths active in mitigation projects.
Prudhomme hopes to produce similar events in 2014. “We’re helping them find ways to get active in their communities,” she says. “That’s what they said: ‘We want projects we can do, but nobody tells us of opportunities, nobody gives us ideas and where we go to accomplish them.’ They just need a little bit of guidance.”
Download the Engaging Youth in Wildfire Risk report at firewise.org, and click on the “Youth and Families” tab.
As government officials investigate fires involving lithium-ion batteries, research efforts continue to evaluate the popular technology
In January, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner passenger jets following two incidents involving lithium-ion batteries: an auxiliary power battery on a Japan Airlines 787 caught fire while parked at Boston’s Logan Airport, and an All Nippon Airways plane made an emergency landing in Japan after smoke alarms detected a battery fire near the front of the plane.
The incidents are under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which discovered that one of the battery cells inside the Japan Airlines plane short-circuited and caused “thermal runaway,” or fire spread to other cells, according to the Los Angeles Times. NTSB officials said at a news conference in February that they are still determining the official cause of both fires.
Meanwhile, research continues into this increasingly popular energy source. Some of that work draws upon findings from a 2011 life cycle hazard assessment of these batteries. Commissioned by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the report, Lithium-Ion Batteries Hazard and Use Assessment, identified the potential causes of battery failure, including defects leading to short circuits and cell manufacturing flaws. Following the release of the report, the Foundation hosted a workshop to discuss the findings with organizations interested in the issue, including the FAA, NTSB, and the Airline Pilots Association, International. Although the focus of the Foundation’s work was primarily on batteries in the warehouse storage context, members of the airline industry participated in the workshop to gain a better understanding of the basics of battery performance.
In response to the Hazard and Use report, the Foundation initiated a study last year to identify flammability characteristics of three types of lithium-ion batteries in storage settings: packaged power tool battery packs, polymer-type batteries (used in laptops), and 18650 format cylindrical batteries (found in cell phones). The test results were made public after press time, but the Foundation told NFPA Journal in early February that the preliminary findings indicate that more work is needed to determine the appropriate ceiling sprinkler protection criteria for storage protection.
For a report on the test results, visit nfpa.org/foundation.
— Fred Durso, Jr.
Playing with Fire?
A new fire-themed video game has safety experts on edge
By Fred Durso, Jr.
“Hey kids! Do you like toys? Know what’s more fun than playing with toys? Setting them on fire!”
That’s the opening line to a promotional video for “Little Inferno,” a PC- and iPad-compatible downloadable game that was launched in November alongside Nintendo’s handheld Wii U console. The clip has bug-eyed children dancing near a fireplace as they chuck objects into the flames while singing “shove them in the fire and breathe in the flaming potpourri.”
The marketing tactic and the game’s premise are raising eyebrows among fire safety experts, who are concerned that children may mimic “Little Inferno’s” risky behavior. Players, for example, are instructed to purchase an array of items — logs, toys, and batteries, to name a few — and toss them into their “little inferno entertainment fireplace” for coins that are cashed in for more flammable objects, each possessing unique burn characteristics.
“If you look strictly at the promotion of the game, you can see why we’re alarmed,” says Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Communications. “From where we sit, we see the other side of fire, which are the unfortunate incidents involving young children, who are at higher risk of burn injuries. We see the statistics of children playing with fire and the associated losses. We are pretty sensitive to that, and we have a mission to talk about fire safety and try to prevent tragedies from occurring.”
Statistics from the NFPA report Children Playing With Fire back these concerns. Between 2005 and 2009, fires started by children resulted in 110 deaths and 880 injuries annually. While most fire-play fires began outside, most associated deaths were in home structure fires, adds the report.
Tomorrow Corporation, the game’s independent developer comprised of three friends who met at Carnegie Mellon University, admits fire is a vital component of “Little Inferno,” but also notes that playing with fire is ultimately characterized as foolish and unproductive behavior as the game progresses. Even before the game begins, a warning appears: “Do not play with fire.”
“For a game whose central metaphor involves fire, I believe it’s handled responsibly, with an attitude that ultimately condemns playing with fire in a way that I hope allows the fire safety community to feel at ease,” says Tomorrow developer Kyle Gabler, adding that the game has received a T (for “Teen”) rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and is intended for this age group or older. “‘Little Inferno’ also portrays the idea of playing with fire as something that very much exists in this world, but that is very clearly not in one’s best interest.”
Carli is concerned that children will not comprehend the subtext. “We know that kids have a general fascination with fire,” she says. “I think the [ESRB] rating and parental responsibility are important. Unfortunately, sometimes kids get around those controls, so we’re doing everything we can to make sure they’re safe and don’t have access to things that are potentially harmful.”
Download the Children Playing With Fire report and a safety tipsheet by visiting nfpa.org/children.
Free presentation identifies construction safety concerns
Since their emergence 25 years ago, lightweight construction materials have become a popular choice for builders due to their lower cost and natural-resource-saving features. But as use of the materials has become more widespread, so have concerns on the part of safety experts and others, who warn that lightweight construction components can pose serious risks when impacted by fire.
These concerns are outlined in a new NFPA PowerPoint presentation, “The Threats of Lightweight Construction and Modern Furnishings to Firefighters,” which includes factoids on the materials, video testimonials of firefighters impacted by fires in structures using elements of lightweight construction, and statistics on how home fire sprinklers can reduce the dangers associated with these materials. Fitting a home with sprinklers, for instance, reduces the chance of death by fire by 80 percent and reduces property loss by 71 percent.
The presentation, which was developed for NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative, is the outcome of several studies revealing problems associated with lightweight materials when exposed to fire. “Lightweight construction poses hazards to firefighters that must be considered before firefighting operations begin,” says Ken Willette, NFPA’s division manager of Public Fire Protection. “An uncontrolled fire within such a building will compromise the structural integrity, increasing the risk of structural collapse as firefighting operations commence. Home sprinklers minimize that risk and increase the odds for firefighters and occupants alike to survive the incident.”
To view the free presentation online or to request a copy, visit firesprinklerinitiative.org/firefightersafety.
Chet Schirmer, 1928–20130
Chester (“Chet”) William Schirmer, who devoted years of distinguished service to NFPA, died on February 19. He was 84.
Born in 1928, Schirmer was the son of Robert Schirmer, who founded Schirmer Engineering Corp. in 1939. Chet Schirmer later became CEO of the company, which became Aon Fire Protection Engineering Corp. in 2010.
Schirmer chaired NFPA’s Board of Directors from 1984 to 1986. He served on a number of NFPA technical committees, including Building Service and Fire Protection Equipment as well as the Automatic Sprinkler Systems Correlating Committee. He contributed to a set of sprinkler-related test data that formed the basis of an older standard that became an important component of NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems. He served on the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and in 1992 he was awarded the Standards Medal, the most prestigious award given by NFPA’s Standards Council.
Standards Council Members Named
NFPA’s Board of Directors appointed two new members to the association’s Standards Council, a 13-member body that oversees the NFPA codes and standards development process.
James E. Golinveaux of North Kingston, Rhode Island, is a senior fellow of Water Suppression Products for Tyco Fire Protection Products. He has served on the NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, Technical Committee for 18 years, chairing the storage task group for 13 years.
Bonnie E. Manley, a resident of Norfolk, Massachusetts, is a regional director for the American Iron and Steel Institute. She is currently a member of the NFPA Correlating Committee on Building Code and the Technical Committee on Structures, Construction, and Materials.
Regional Fires Analyzed in New Report
NFPA’s new report, “U.S. Fire Experience by Region,” analyzes fire trends and problems in four major sections of the United States between 2007 and 2011. For example, the report includes differences in relative risk and in leading ignition causes.
Key findings from the report shed light on concerns in the South and Midwest. For instance, these regions had the highest overall rate of fires per thousand people and the highest annual average fire death rate per million people during the five-year period. Moreover, the death rates in home fires are nearly 30 percent higher in the Midwest and nearly 25 percent higher in the South than in the country as a whole. Download the full report at nfpa.org/usfire.
Jensen Award Winner Announced
The Springfield, Massachusetts, Fire Department received the 2013 Rolf H. Jensen Memorial Public Education Grant. The $5,000 grant is awarded yearly to a local fire department to fund a fire and life safety education program or campaign.
The grant will support the department’s Multi-Language Public Education Fire Safety Initiative that concentrates on the city’s growing population of international immigrants. The initiative will also focus on residents over the age of 65.
Austin FD Receives Educational Grant
The Austin (Texas) Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Response Team received the 2013 Warren E. Isman Educational Grant. Awarded annually by NFPA, the grant honors teams demonstrating effective leadership qualities, communication abilities, and training in accordance with NFPA 472, Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents, and NFPA 473, Competencies for EMS Personnel Responding to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents.
In 2011, the Austin team responded to more than 1,700 hazmat-related incidents. The $5,000 grant will fund the team’s trip to the International Association of Fire Chiefs International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference in Baltimore in June.
Tip Sheet for Portable Fireplaces
NFPA has developed safety tips for portable, ethanol fireplaces that have spiked in popularity in recent years. NFPA recommends never pouring ethanol fuel in a device that is lit or not completely cool, since it may result in injury or fire. Also, allow the device to cool down for at least 15 minutes before refueling. Download the safety tip sheet listing other recommendations at nfpa.org/safetytips.
Child Safety Program Expanded
Initially intended for preschoolers, NFPA’s Learn Not to Burn® (LNTB) Program has been updated to include lesson plans to help first graders learn to recognize and avoid fire risks.
LNTB Level 1 now delivers the original program’s fire safety curriculum to older students, providing teachers with six safety messages — including “Smoke Alarms are Important” — using classroom lessons, activities, and home connections, according to Judy Comoletti, NFPA division manager for Public Education.
“Learn Not to Burn is flexible,” says Comoletti. “It can be taught as a standalone fire-safety curriculum, or it can be incorporated into a language arts program.”
Download the free program at nfpa.org/lntb.
2013 NFPA Annual Meeting notices
The 2013 Annual Meeting of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) will take place on Monday, June 10, at 1 p.m. at the Arie Crowne Theatre, Chicago, Illinois. In addition to such other business as may properly come before this Meeting, notice is hereby given that the following will take place:
Report of the Nominating Committee
The Report of the 2014 Nominating Committee will be submitted for action by the NFPA Membership. The report of the Nominating Committee can be viewed and downloaded at www.nfpa.org/nominatingcommittee.
Amendment of the NFPA Bylaws
Proposed amendments to the NFPA Bylaws have been recommended by the NFPA Board of Directors and will be submitted for a vote of the NFPA Membership in accordance with Section 11.1 of the NFPA Bylaws. A copy of the proposed amended NFPA Bylaws can be viewed and downloaded at www.nfpa.org/proposedbylaws. A copy may also be obtained by written request via U.S. Mail to Dennis J. Berry, Assistant Secretary, NFPA, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02169-7471.