By Fred Durso
Sam Davis can’t recall the exact moment when he realized home fire sprinklers make perfect sense. Perhaps it was when his neighbor was displaced for a year from a kitchen fire that spread to the roof. Or maybe it was when Davis, the president and CEO of Island Harbor Construction in Cape Coral, Florida, became increasingly concerned about residents in his company’s five-story condominiums effectively escaping a fire.
Whatever the reason, Davis is an anomaly in his field — a homebuilder that, instead of joining many of his peers in fighting legislation to require home fire sprinklers in residences, has championed for the installation of these systems. As an added bonus to Floridian homeowners and sprinkler advocates nationwide, he’s been offering these systems for free since 2009.
His actions have made Davis one of NFPA’s newest Faces of Fire, a component of NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative that uses testimony from individuals affected by fire to promote sprinkler systems in one- and two-family dwellings.
"We’re not building a ton of homes, but we’re doing a ton of remodeling and placing [fire sprinklers] in those remodels," Davis says of his company, which is currently installing sprinklers in four renovated homes. "Down here [in Florida], building codes protect our homes so a hurricane doesn’t blow them down, but we don’t do much to protect people against fire."
Davis is the only builder who sits on his town’s Sprinkler Initiative Committee, which is pushing for an ordinance in Cape Coral that mandates fire sprinklers in new single- and multi-family homes in accordance with NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. (Florida’s municipalities currently have the authority to create their own sprinkler rules.) His stance on this issue has received praise from Jeffrey Collins, president of the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association. In a letter of commendation to Davis, Collins wrote, "I consider you an industry leader in life safety because of your conscientious and controversial decision to include automatic fire sprinklers in the new homes you are constructing."
Some may call Davis’ decisions admirable, but the builder says he’s only practicing common sense. "Why would you go through the process of building a home and not install a fire sprinkler system?" he asks. "It’s just ridiculous. I’m waiting for the day — I hope it never happens — when one of our systems go off. If it does and if it saves one life, it’s well worth the investment."
Visit firesprinklerinitiative.org for a video of Davis.
By Fred Durso, Jr.
Safety shortfalls at garment manufacturing facilities were once again thrust into the spotlight following a November fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh that killed more than 100 people. The fire is now considered the country’s deadliest industrial incident, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The situation at Tazreen eerily mirrored conditions at a garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan, where a fire in September the deadliest fire ever recorded in a manufacturing or industrial facility, according to NFPA killed more than 250 people. The Tazreen facility, according to various news reports, lacked working fire extinguishers, had illegally stored yarn and fabric near electrical generators, and lacked a fire escape and fire sprinklers. The smoke alarms did sound, but managers told employees to disregard the noise and continue working. More than 1,100 people were inside the building during the fire, which fire officials believe was caused by an electrical short circuit.
Building inspectors did document their concerns following previous inspections at the factory, which produced garments for U.S. and European companies. The Associated Press reports that the facility was given a "high risk" safety rating after a May 2011 inspection and a "medium risk" rating in August 2011. However, the fire exposed a "glaring disconnect" between clothing companies, the safety "checks" that are supposed to protect workers, and the factories filling the orders, states The New York Times.
The New York Times also reports that more than 600 garment workers in Bangladesh have died in similar fires since 2005, and countless others have perished in overseas operations since the U.S. strengthened safety in its own garment facilities following the Triangle Waist Co. fire in New York City in 1911. That fire led to sweeping reforms, including the creation of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®. For more information on what has changedand what hasn't since the Triangle fire, visit nfpa.org/trianglefire.
By Fred Durso, Jr.
NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division has partnered with Esri, a geographic information systems (GIS) developer, to produce the Firewise Mapper, an online tool primarily designed to identify and locate recognized Firewise Communities/USA® sites in the U.S.
The interactive map allows users to "zoom" in on the more than 800 Firewise Communities and gain specific information about a location, including the number of residents and contact information for NFPA’s Firewise advisors. Integrated into this tool are additional layers providing real-time, satellite data on active wildfires and wildland fire risk potential developed by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.
This information proved helpful in May when a wildfire entered Crown King, Arizona. The wildfire forced residents to evacuate and destroyed four structures and more than 16,000 acres. During the event, NFPA used the Firewise Mapper to observe the fire’s progression and reach out to local Firewise representatives and responding agencies.
"As this map is enhanced, it could be used as a community fire planning and operations tool where areas of high wildland fire risk, water sources, firefighting resources, roads, safety zones, and evacuation points and routes are identified and mapped," says Hylton Haynes, NFPA associate project manager for the Wildland Fire Operations Division, who is overseeing the new tool.
Access the Firewise Mapper at firewise.org/communities/firewise-map.aspx.
Firewise surpasses 800
The number of recognized Firewise Communities grew to more than 860 last year, with neighborhoods in 40 states now taking action to reduce their wildfire risks.
One of the latest communities — Vansant Mobile Home Park #2 in Cullman County, Alabama — is the first to showcase the efforts of a state forestry staffer whose commitment included mitigation work on her property. Coleen Vansant, Alabama’s liaison to the Firewise Communities Program and a public information manager with the Alabama Forestry Commission, inherited the mobile home park from her father. When vegetation from a nearby timber company began encroaching on the park’s boundaries, Vansant used some ingenuity to mitigate the land.
"I had a resident who was behind on his rent," says Vansant. "He wanted to work off his debt, and I knew we had a potential fire problem if the area around these properties was allowed to accumulate more fuel in the form of vegetation. He did a great job clearing out the dead material and trimming back plants."
More than 65 other communities became recognized by Firewise last year.
Visit firewise.org for more information.
By Fred Durso, Jr.
Firefighters responding to a 911 call at Gracie Dunston’s New Jersey home in November found her unconscious on the second floor. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) were detected in the house, prompting medics to rush her, three adults, and four children to a nearby hospital. Dunston, 59, never regained consciousness, and the others were treated for symptoms of CO poisoning. The culprit was a generator placed in the basement that spewed deadly fumes throughout the home, according to The Times of Trenton.
The incident mirrors other occurrences last year involving Sandy-induced power outages along the East Coast and Midwest and improper use of generators. While the Consumer Product Safety Commission does look into all generator-related fatalities, the Commission could not provide a count on the number of storm-related deaths and injuries involving CO, an invisible and odorless gas created when fuels burn incompletely. News reports, however, indicate CO exposure during Sandy was responsible for at least 15 deaths, many of them involving generators.
Released last year, NFPA’s "Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Incidents" report also underscores some CO trends. Between 2006 and 2010, fire departments responded to an estimated 72,000 non-fire CO incidents, a figure that has increased over time. Most of these incidents occurred in residential settings. In 2008, for example, the report states that nearly 670 people died of unintentional non-fire exposure to gases, and the report links many of these deaths to CO exposure from generators. CO-related deaths from generator use have also increased from 1999 to 2009.
NFPA advises against placing generators in attached garages and nearby areas where fumes can enter a home. To further prevent CO exposure, generators should be used in well-ventilated, outdoor locations — away from all doors, windows, and vent openings. NFPA also recommends installing CO detectors outside of sleeping areas and on every level of a home as an added level of safety.
NFPA has developed a new method for verifying the authenticity of the digital versions of its codes and standards. A special stamp now appears on downloaded PDFs, indicating an authorized and accurate version of the document. Containing an NFPA member’s customer number and live link to a verification database, the stamp protects against counterfeit or tampered documents without interfering with usage rights or the process of downloading or storing the document.
The most reliable way to ensure an NFPA document is authenticated is by downloading it from NFPA’s website or via authorized resellers. Since NFPA codes and standards are widely used in design, construction, and enforcement, NFPA staff experts say an alteration or omission can mean the difference between life and death. For more information on NFPA’s Authenticity Program, visit nfpa.org/authenticate.
— Fred Durso, Jr.
By Fred Durso, Jr.
Fire departments in nearly 20 U.S. cities received 50,000 free smoke alarms thanks to a partnership with NFPA, Home Depot, and Kidde, the world’s largest manufacturer of fire safety products.
A challenge at Home Depot stores last year turned employees into fire safety advocates by having them sell as many Kidde smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors as possible. The stores with the most sales were able to donate up to 2,500 smoke alarms to local fire departments. Several of the stores in winning cities — including Miami, Phoenix, and Honolulu — invited the public to fire safety events where the departments received the devices.
Home Depot and Kidde also made a $25,000 contribution to The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Be a Hero, Save a Hero Initiative, a campaign that educates the public on taking simple steps to reduce fire risks. For more information on the partnership, visit nfpa.org/homedepot.
New Website Memorializes Cocoanut Grove Fire
NFPA has launched a website aimed at gathering and preserving personal anecdotes and other memorabilia from the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire. The site, cocoanutgrovefire.org, is a product of the seven-member Cocoanut Grove Coalition that was organized last year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Boston fire that killed more than 490 people. The incident remains the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.
The new site includes downloadable documents pertaining to the fire — including fire department reports and burn treatment analyses of patients — as well as photos of artifacts and survivor testimonies. NFPA members that have artifacts or insight about the fire can contact NFPA librarian Sue Marsh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Fred Durso, Jr.
Several core capabilities of the program will be maintained as part of the program plan, including website operation, regular articles, customized search requests, and the Near-Miss Matters electronic newsletter, to be distributed monthly in place of the Report of the Week.
Keep anything that can burn at least three feet (0.9 meters) away from heating equipment, and have a three-foot (0.9-meter) "kid-free zone" around open fires and space heaters. Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters, and central heating equipment according to local codes and manufacturers’ instructions, and have heating equipment and chimneys inspected and cleaned each year by a qualified professional. Always use the fuel specified by the manufacturer.
Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed. If you have a fireplace, make sure it has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Make sure ashes are cool before putting them in a metal container, and keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
Test smoke alarms monthly and replace the batteries once a year or when the alarms begin to chirp. Install carbon monoxide alarms outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, and test them monthly. For additional safety tips, visit nfpa.org/winter.
New Hazard Scale for Wildland Fires
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Forest Service have created the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Hazard Scale to link accurate assessments of wildland fire risk to improved building codes, standards, and practices.
The scale is designed to measure the expected risks of a WUI fire at individual locations by accounting for variations in fuel, topography, and weather. The ratings can be used to create a map of the community’s levels of risk and pinpoint protective measures. Though the scale currently considers fire and ember exposure only from wildland fuels, researchers plan to include exposure from burning structures, ornamental vegetation, and vehicles.
NTSB Urges Fire Suppression Upgrades for Air Cargo
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December to require fire suppression systems in all aircraft cargo compartments and improve fire detection in cargo containers and pallets.
The recommendations followed three fire-related accidents over the last six years. UPS, the global package delivery company, has worked with NTSB, the FAA, and the Independent Pilots Association to pioneer fire-resistant package containers and covers for cargo on pallets. UPS is also installing oxygen masks in the cockpit that can be put on quickly.
Child Safety Program Updated
NFPA’s Learn Not to Burn® (LNTB) Preschool Program, which teaches young children about fire safety, was recently upgraded to include revised teacher lesson plans and parent/caregiver activities. The program’s songs also received an update.
Primarily taught in schools, LNTB is most appropriate for four- and five-year-olds, but its lessons are also relevant for kindergarteners. For more information about the program, visit nfpa.org/education.
In this Section:
|Prepping for the Worst
Hurricane Sandy tested emergency procedures at health care facilities all along the East Coast. Can new provisions in NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities, help ensure things go smoother during the next big storm?
|Long Time Coming
On the eve of a new requirement that all U.S. nursing homes be sprinklered, a look back at 50 years of progress and the new challenges that continue to emerge.
|Rebuilding a Hospital
How key lessons learned from the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, are being incorporated into the design, construction, and emergency planning of the new Mercy Hospital Joplin.
|Chicago View: A Preview of the 2013 NFPA Conference
Scores of education sessions and seminars, hundreds of displays of products and services, and countless opportunities forprofessional networking on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan.