NFPA update on PASS performance issues

PASS performance issues addressed in 2007 edition of NFPA standard
Safety Alert issued February 9, 2007
Background
 
In late 2005, NFPA published an alert notice entitled "PASS alarm signals can fail at high temperatures " on the NFPA Web site advising emergency responders, especially fire fighters, of high temperature exposures causing the loudness of PASS alarm signals to be reduced. This reduction in loudness can cause the alarm signal to become indistinguishable from background noise at the incident scene. This problem was brought to the attention of the NFPA Technical Committee on Electronic Safety Equipment by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.

NIOSH reported that during the investigation of four fire fighter fatalities that occurred from 2001 to 2004, the PASS alarm signals were not heard or were barely audible. The PASS had been certified as compliant to NFPA 1982, Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS), 1998 Edition, and involved both stand-alone PASS and SCBA-integrated PASS.

Laboratory testing of PASS by the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Fire Research Division has shown that this sound reduction begins to occur at temperatures as low as 300° F (150° C) and affected all PASS evaluated by NIST that were certified to the 1998 edition and earlier editions of NFPA 1982.

The 2007 edition of NFPA 1982
(Free online access or puchase the 2007 edition of this document.) 
The alert notice reported that the NFPA Technical Committee on Electronic Safety Equipment (the Technical Committee), in cooperation with NIOSH and NIST, was studying the issue and would incorporate revisions into NFPA 1982 as solutions were developed and consensus around addressing the issue was achieved. The Technical Committee has now completed the new, 2007 edition of NFPA 1982, which contains revisions providing for strengthened performance requirements and testing addressing the alarm signal degradation issue identified in the alert notice. The new edition also addresses other issues that have been brought to the attention of the Technical Committee by NIOSH and others, including problems caused by vibration, probably during transportation, and water ingress into the electronic and power supply compartments. The principal changes contained in the 2007 edition of NFPA 1982 are summarized as follows:
  1. new water immersion requirements and testing for PASS where PASS is exposed to 350° F for 15 minutes and then to water submersion in 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) also for 15 minutes for each of 6 cycles; and PASS examined to determine no water ingress, all PASS signals must function properly, and electronic data logging functions must operate properly; following this, PASS is re-immersed in the test water for additional 5 minutes with the power source compartment(s) open, and following the 5 minutes the PASS is removed from water and wiped dry, then the electronics compartment is opened and examined to determine no water ingress;
  2. new high temperature functionality requirements and testing to now have PASS mounted in a circulating hot air oven at 500° F for 5 minutes and the PASS alarm signal must function at or above the required 95 dBA sound level, electronic data logging functions must operate properly, and no part of the PASS can show evidence of melting, dripping, or igniting;
  3. new tumble-vibration requirements and testing for PASS where PASS is "tumbled" in a rotating drum for 3 hours and the PASS alarm signal must function at the required 95 dBA sound level and electronic data logging functions must operate properly;
  4. new "muffling" of the alarm signal requirements and testing for PASS where PASS is mounted on a test subject and evaluated in five positions (face down w/arms extended, supine left, supine right, fetal right w/knees drawn to chest, fetal left w/knees drawn to chest), and the alarm signal must function at or above the required 95 dBA sound level

Continued reporting of PASS performance issues encouraged
The Technical Committee anticipates that further knowledge concerning PASS performance will be gained as PASS designed and certified to the 2007 edition of NFPA 1982 become available and are put into use in emergency conditions. The Technical Committee, in cooperation with NIOSH and NIST, will continue to monitor the performance of PASS in order to assure that any issues and developments can be addressed through further revisions to NFPA 1982 as appropriate. Emergency services organizations and emergency responder personnel can greatly assist in this monitoring activity by reporting any PASS malfunctions and other problems with proper functioning of PASS directly to both the certification organization whose certification mark appears on the PASS, and to NIOSH – NPPTL. Be sure to give your contact information so they can follow up with you.

  • SEI, the Safety Equipment Institute (certification organization), can be reached by e-mail at info@seinet.org.
  • NIOSH – NPPTL, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – National Personal Protection Technical Laboratory, can be reached by e-mail at NPPTL_PASS@cdc.gov.

NIOSH will forward any relevant information that it receives to NFPA for the consideration of the Technical Committee in maintaining and updating NPFA 1982.


Previous NFPA Alert Notice (December 2005)

PASS alarm signals can fail at high temperatures

Exposure to high temperature environments may cause the loudness of PASS alarm signals to be reduced. This reduction in loudness could cause the alarm signal to become indistinguishable from background noise at the incident scene. This problem was brought to the attention of the NFPA Technical Committee on Electronic Safety Equipment by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.  

NIOSH reported that during the investigation of four fire fighter fatalities that occurred from 2001 to 2004, the PASS alarms were not heard or were barely audible.  The PASS had been certified as compliant to NFPA 1982, Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS), 1998 Edition, and involved both stand-alone PASS and SCBA-integrated PASS. 

Initial laboratory testing of PASS by the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Fire Research Division has shown this sound reduction may begin to occur at temperatures as low as 300° F (150° C) and could affect all PASS. Additional work is required to better characterize the thermal conditions (temperatures and exposure durations) that contribute to alarm signal degradation.

While the NFPA Technical Committee on Electronic Safety Equipment has been working to develop appropriate revisions to NFPA 1982 to address this issue, adequate solutions have not yet been presented. The Committee, in cooperation with NIOSH and NIST, will continue to study the issue and will incorporate revisions into NFPA 1982 as solutions are developed and consensus around addressing the issue is achieved.

PASS has always been a “last resort call for help” for emergency services personnel who are unable to otherwise notify others that they are in distress. Fire fighters should continue to activate and wear PASS whenever in hazardous areas of any incident, but should also be aware that high temperatures could cause degradation of the alarm signal. Incident command should continue to apply all personnel accountability measures at all incidents to assure the safe entrance and exit of personnel from hazardous areas. Direct supervision of operating companies or teams should provide for the safe operating locations of personnel and ensure that members do not “freelance” on the incident scene.

Emergency services organizations and emergency response personnel should report any PASS malfunctions and other problems with PASS functioning directly to both the certification organization whose certification mark appears on the PASS, and to NIOSH–NPPTL.  Be sure to give your contact information so they can respond to you.

  • SEI, the Safety Equipment Institute (certification organization), can be reached by e-mail at info@seinet.org.
  • NIOSH – NPPTL, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – National Personal Protection Technical Laboratory, can be reached by e-mail at NPPTL_PASS@cdc.gov.
NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)
1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02169-7471 USA
Telephone: +1 617 770-3000 Fax: +1 617 770-0700