NFPA builds on its electric vehicle emergency-response training and research as a leading EV maker deals with a high-profile roadway fire
By Fred Durso, Jr.
In October, video footage appeared on the Internet of a car stopped at a rainy intersection in Kent, Washington, near Seattle, its front end engulfed in flames. It was no ordinary automobile, however; it was a Tesla Motors Model S, a high-performance, all-electric car with a base price of around $70,000, and offered with options that can push the price north of $106,000. There were no reported injuries from the fire, but the video went viral and reignited discussions over how to safely deal with fires involving electric vehicles (EVs).
What the video doesn’t show is the painstaking efforts by emergency responders to control the fire. After firefighters successfully extinguished the fire in the car’s engine compartment, it reignited under the vehicle. They eventually used a jack to turn the car on its side and applied water to the burning battery, according to the incident report highlighted in The New York Times. Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated in a company blog post that the fire was the result of the car hitting a large metal object at “highway speed,” puncturing the armor plate on the car’s underside and damaging the vehicle’s battery pack.
A company spokesperson told ABC News that Tesla has delivered more than 13,000 vehicles since June 2012, that those cars have been driven more than 83 million miles, and that this is the first recorded fire. She added that there were no fires observed during the Tesla crash tests performed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Tesla was among the EV and hybrid automobile manufacturers who provided NFPA with specific instructions on how to handle their vehicles in an emergency, information that was included in NFPA’s EV Safety Training Project, which offers emergency responders guidance on an array of EVs via print and online materials. “We’ve done a lot of work on these issues through the EV Safety Training Project and the Fire Protection Research Foundation,” says Ken Willette, NFPA’s division manager of Public Fire Protection. “We have a lot of resources to offer stakeholders in EV safety.”
In October, NHTSA announced it would not investigate the Model S incident, saying there was no indication that the fire was caused by a safety defect or that there was any violation of federal vehicle safety standards. NHTSA had previously investigated fires involving EVs from other makers; NFPA helped it develop interim guidelines for emergency responders, tow truck operators, consumers, and storage facilities in the event of a hybrid-electric or EV fire.
A recent report, “Best Practices for Emergency Response to Incidents Involving Electric Vehicle Battery Hazards,” offers additional insight into EV battery fires. Issued in July by the Research Foundation, the report details full-scale testing of large-format lithium-ion batteries found in EVs. The report documents the batteries’ behavior, and offers best practices for emergency-response procedures. The findings will enhance components of the EV Safety Training Project.
Download the Foundation report at nfpa.org/research/batteries.
Cars may get most of the attention, but other forms of EVs are traversing U.S. roadways. According to FedEx, the company’s delivery fleet includes 560 hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles. According to UPS, the company’s fleet includes 380 hybrid-electric trucks. Many large cities now include some form of EV bus in their public transportation fleets.
This variety showcases an embrace of environmentally conscious vehicles for an assortment of uses, and also raises a question: Will standard-response tactics used for fires involving conventional vehicles apply to their greener counterparts?
NFPA addressed similar concerns for passenger vehicles through its EV Safety Training Project, which was funded by a $4.4 million grant from the Department of Energy. NFPA has received an additional $440,000 this year from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters–Fire Prevention and Safety Grant to address safety concerns for electric and hybrid-electric trucks, buses, taxis and other fleet vehicles, as well as fuel cell cars. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has also contributed funding to incorporate this information into NFPA’s EV safety website, evsafetytraining.org; the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Emergency Field Guide; an online course; and new app for smart devices. The upgraded programs and reference materials will be available by August.
“The new training is exactly what the fire service, law enforcement, and tow and salvage communities need,” says Andrew Klock, senior project manager for NFPA’s EV project. “Emergency responders need to know how to best attack incidents or fires involving these vehicles.”
For more information on the EV Safety Training Project, visit evsafetytraining.org.
A landmark study finds higher overall cancer rates in firefighters
By Fred Durso, Jr.
If there were any doubts surrounding the cancer risks of a firefighter’s job, a new report is placing those uncertainties to rest.
The report, “Mortality and Cancer Incidence in a Pooled Cohort of U.S. Firefighters from San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia (1950–2009),” was published in October on the website of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine and is considered one of the largest investigations ever done on cancer in career firefighters. The study, conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and elsewhere, examined cancer incidences and deaths of nearly 30,000 firefighters employed since 1950 in the three cities. The subjects had higher overall rates of several types of cancers — including respiratory, urinary, and digestive — than the U.S. population as a whole.
Firefighters also had a higher rate of mesothelioma, which was likely based on their exposure to asbestos, a known cause of the disease. Their exposure to combustion byproducts, including benzene and formaldehyde, are also known or suspected carcinogens, adds the report.
Since the findings are consistent with smaller studies on this issue, researchers believe the new results firmly strengthen the link between firefighting and cancer. “This is an important study that confirms what many in the fire service have suspected for years,” says Russ Sanders, director of NFPA’s Central Regional Office and secretary of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, which helped researchers identify cities for the study. “The results of this study will benefit NFPA staff and technical committee members who continue to work to protect first responders through the codes and standards development process, as well as any complementary work by the Fire Protection Research Foundation.”
The report can be downloaded at oem.bmj.com.
Faces of Fire
||“ONCE BURNT . . . ” Mayer and Sheryl Fistal, retirees from New Jersey, had lived in their new, custom-built dream home in Maine for three months when it burned. “What do we need a sprinkler system for?” Mayer recalls asking during construction. Suffice to say their rebuilt home includes a sprinkler system. Learn more at firesprinklerinitiative.org.
International study determines when children grasp self-preservation
By Fred Durso, Jr.
In 2009, a fire at the ABC Day Care in Hermosillo, Mexico, killed 49 children ages three or younger. The facility lacked fire sprinklers, fire alarms, smoke detectors, and accessible exits, according to a 2012 report published in the Journal of Burn Care & Research, which also found that an inadequate number of supervising adults — six caregivers overseeing 148 children — was responsible for leading kids to safety.
Mexico isn’t the only country with concerns over day-care safety. From 2005 to 2009, there were a reported 590 annual fires at U.S. day-care centers that resulted in a yearly average of eight deaths and $4.5 million in property damage, according to NFPA statistics.
The Fire Protection Research Foundation recently asked researchers from the Technical University of Denmark to analyze day-care safety procedures, as well as evacuation characteristics of preschool children — a topic that so far has received scant attention. The new report, “Determining Self-Preservation Capability in Preschool Children,” will give the NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, Technical Committee on Educational and Day-Care Occupancies better guidance on protecting this population.
Code provisions have addressed this concept for the past two decades. In the 1990s, a task group was formed to revamp and modernize the day care center occupancy requirements for the 1994 edition of the Life Safety Code. The task group determined that kids younger than 24 months were incapable of self-preservation — the ability to evacuate without carrying, handholding, or continued bodily contact by an adult — and developed code provisions to safeguard this group. Other code-making bodies, however, have varying age ranges for self-preservation.
The new Foundation study revisited the issue by surveying nearly 90 psychologists and teachers at day-care centers in seven countries. The study indicated that the majority of children have self-preservation capabilities at 30–36 months. They can, for example, follow simple instructions, walk down stairs, and traverse horizontal surfaces without physical support.
Surveyors also calculated the recommended adult-child ratio at day cares in specific countries. The results highlight the importance of having enough adults to assist an evacuation and provide younger children with extra help.
The report adds that staff trainings for evacuations and fire drills are more frequent in U.S. day cares than in Europe. U.S. respondents, however, didn’t seem to follow the Life Safety Code requirement of monthly fire drills.
The research “will provide the technical committee with exactly the type of information that we need to support the development of an even better and more technically sound code,” says Alex Szachnowicz, chair of the Educational and Day-Care Occupancies Technical Committee. “I expect the results of this study will be one of the main elements that the technical committee will consider in shaping our discussions” for a future edition of the Life Safety Code.
Download the full report at nfpa.org/preschool.
A new report links fire-safe cigarettes to a decline in smoking-material fires and deaths
Fire-safe cigarettes are the main reason for a 30 percent decline in smoking-material fire deaths from 2003 to 2011, and an important factor in a 73 percent decrease in the annual number of smoking-material fires in the U.S. since 1980.
Those are just two of the highlights contained in a new NFPA report, “The Smoking-Material Fire Problem,” which attributes a significant portion of the decline to the nationwide development and distribution of fire-safe cigarettes, which have a reduced propensity to burn and can self-extinguish if left unattended. The report also credits fire-resistant materials used in upholstered furniture, as well as fewer people who smoke, as important factors in the dramatic drop in smoking-material fires.
NFPA coordinated the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes in 2006 to promote legislation for the production and marketing of these cigarettes. In 2011, fire-safe cigarette laws went into effect in all 50 U.S. states.
Those efforts contributed to a 30 percent decline in smoking-material fire deaths from 2003 to 2011, according to the report. “It seems clear that the change in the cigarette has been the principal driver” in the reduction of those deaths, adds the report.
“It’s good news to see this 30-year low and fewer people dying in smoking-material fires,” says Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “Lives were saved and will continue to be saved as a direct result of efforts of the Fire Safe Cigarette Coalition.”
Learn more about the coalition at firesafecigarettes.org, and download the new report at nfpa.org/research/statistical-reports/major-causes/smoking-materials.
— Fred Durso, Jr.
THE ADVENTURES OF SPARKY THE FIRE DOG
Bright Lights, Big City, Hot Dog
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS Sparky and his mates yuck it up in Times Square as part of Advertising Week festivities, held in September in New York City.
Sparky®, NFPA’s official spokesdog, and more than a dozen of his closest mascot chums delighted New York City’s masses during the 10th anniversary of Advertising Week in September.
Traveling via MINI Cooper convertibles, double-decker buses, or by foot — or should we say paw? — the marketing mascots took part in the event’s annual Walk of Fame Icon Parade, hitting such iconic hotspots as Madison Avenue and the NASDAQ site in Times Square (pictured). The public was asked to select its favorite mascot during an online competition; Sparky didn’t win, but top honors went to a couple of his good buddies, StubHub’s Ticket Oak and Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World.
But the experience was still a winning one for Rachel Abrams, NFPA’s project administrator for Meetings and Conferences, who donned the Sparky costume for the Advertising Week festivities. “A lot of people tried to hide their amusement with half-smiles,” she said of her encounters with jaded New Yorkers, “but when you see Sparky walking down the street, accompanied by some of the biggest mascots in advertising, it’s really hard to keep your composure. Sparky even got a few high-fives out of the deal.”
— Fred Durso, Jr.
An Update, and Thanks
Metro Chiefs endorse a paper on active shooters. Plus, a farewell to our longtime fire service columnists.
At the end of their September/October feature on the fire service and mass-casualty shootings [“Strength in Numbers”], authors Russ Sanders and Ben Klaene invited readers to check back in this issue for the results of the Urban Fire Forum, the September meeting of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association that included discussion of proposed guidelines for shooting events.
At that event, the UFF–Metro Chiefs group endorsed the “Active Shooter and Mass-Casualty Terrorist Events” position paper on fire service strategies, tactics, and tasks for mass-casualty shootings. The guidelines can now be issued so that fire departments around the country can begin developing standard operating procedures and training programs for safely dealing with shooter events.
“The emerging threat of terrorism and asymmetric warfare, specifically small unit ‘active shooter’ and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, is a concern for the fire service,” the paper says. “An attack by radicals armed with weapons in public areas, such as schools, shopping malls, churches, or any other locations where people congregate is a real threat to a sense of security and daily lives.” The paper is at nfpa.org/research/resource-links/first-responders.
The Journal article by Sanders and Klaene came in the wake of shootings involving the fire service, and called for an integrated response involving police, firefighters, and emergency medical services to shooter events.
In addition to our promised update, we also wanted to bid farewell to Russ and Ben, who write the “Structural Ops” column in Journal. As two of the most respected names in the fire service, they have shared their insights on structural firefighting with Journal readers for 13 years. This issue’s column will be their last, and we want to thank Russ and Ben for all their contributions, not least of which was coming in ahead of deadline for just about every issue. For that we can’t thank them enough.
NFPA names new regional director
Shayne Mintz has been named NFPA’s regional director for Canada. Mintz has more than 35 years of experience in the fire service. He spent nearly two decades as a firefighter, rescue technician, and captain before becoming fire chief for cities in southern Ontario.
In his new role with NFPA, Mintz will focus on improving fire, building, and life safety in Canada by working with provincial and local authorities to promote NFPA services and the adoption of NFPA codes and standards.
Sparky’s website wins award
The Sparky the Fire Dog® website has been named a winner of a Parents’ Choice Award honoring family-friendly toys and media for children.
The accolade is awarded by the Parents’ Choice Foundation, a nonprofit that guides quality books, video games, DVDs, and other forms of media for children.
Judges evaluated the Sparky site for design and function, educational value, long-term play value, and the benefits to a child’s social and emotional growth and well-being. Fewer than 20 percent of the products submitted to the awards program received recognition.
“Sparky’s website strives to help children learn life-saving fire safety information through educational activities that make learning fun,” says Judy Comoletti, NFPA’s division manager of Public Education.
Visit the site at sparky.org.
Grant supports child fire safety, EVs
NFPA has received $990,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program to support a fire safety education program for children and new electric vehicle (EV) safety training.
The grant will fund the new project, “A School Year of Safety,” which includes fire safety materials for children in preschool through third grade. Materials will be available at sparkyschoolhouse.org throughout the 2013–2014 school year.
The funds will also support “Firefighter Training for Electric, Hybrid, and Fuel Cell Fleets, Trucks, and Buses,” which trains emergency responders on how to properly and safely respond to these vehicles during an incident.
Canada adopts pro-qual standards
Firefighters in Ontario, Canada, will be able to achieve certification that meets requirements in NFPA standards.
Beginning next year, Ontario will offer accreditation through the National Board of Fire Service Professional Qualifications, which recognizes organizations that use NFPA’s professional qualification standards to develop training programs for uniform members of career and volunteer fire departments. The new accreditation is intended to provide a consistent learning experience for students, establish a modernized process, and meet requirements of the province’s legislation.
For more, visit nfpa.org/training.
SUPDET event slated for March 2014
The Fire Protection Research Foundation will host its annual Fire Suppression, Detection and Signaling Research and Applications Conference in Orlando, Florida, on March 4–7, 2014.
The conference, known as SUPDET, will address the latest developments in research, technology, and applications for the fire protection community. The event will be held in conjunction with the International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference, hosted by the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida.
Wildfire service day announced
NFPA’s first national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, which links residents nationwide with projects that can reduce their wildfire risks, will take place on May 3, 2014.
The new event includes projects as small as mowing a lawn to larger efforts involving a full day of service by individuals or groups. Potential projects include hosting a chipping day, distributing wildfire safety information to neighbors, organizing brush cleanups, and more. U.S. communities officially recognized through the Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program can count their preparedness day activity as their “Firewise Day” event.
For more information, and to obtain a list of possible project ideas, visit nfpa.org/wildfirepreparednessday.