NFPA Today

Drones knowledgebase

NFPA launches a new Drone Knowledgebase; invites fire departments to add equipment, personnel, and other details to new crowd sourcing resource

While drones are being used more and more these days by fire departments to help with situational awareness during structural fires, wildfires, natural disasters, rescue efforts, and large public gatherings, there are many jurisdictions that still lack the knowledge and experience needed to establish, administer, operate, and maintain a cohesive public safety drone program. To help inform those that want to revisit or begin an effective drone program for emergency preparedness and response scenarios, NFPA has developed a Drone Knowledgebase that encourages information-sharing and collaboration. The easy-to-use tool asks questions about population, response types, pilot count, visual observers, waivers, drone makes and models, payloads, and remote image feeds so that administrators and operators can effectively create, manage, and maintain drone programs that are in sync with proper public safety protocols.  The resource is the latest drone deliverable from NFPA and can be found on the microsite nfpa.org/drones along with new online training for the fire service, NFPA 2400, Standard for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Used for Public Safety Operations, a training teaser video, research, and related content. NFPA received a FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety Grant to develop the Knowledgebase and a four hour online training program (released in September) so that the nation’s 29,000 fire departments have aerial technology insights. The Knowledgebase will only be as strong as the information received from fire departments. NFPA, however; is optimistic given the success of a similar crowd sourcing tool called Codefinder™, which gathers and shares the codes that are applied in certain countries, states, territories, and communities. Since it debuted in 2018, Codefinder draws thousands of visitors each month. Over time, the Drone Knowledgebase is expected to become more robust and valuable to fire departments. Visit nfpa.org/drones to learn about NFPA resources and to add your data to the new Knowledgebase. Also, be sure to invite neighboring departments to add their program details too. 
Energy Storage System

Battery Energy Storage Hazards and Failure Modes

Around the globe energy storage systems are being installed at an unprecedented rate, and for good reasons. There are a lot of benefits that energy storage systems (ESS) can provide, but along with those benefits come some hazards that need to be considered. This blog will talk about a handful of hazards that are unique to energy storage systems as well as the failure modes that can lead to those hazards. While there are many different types of energy storage systems in existence, this blog will focus on the lithium-ion family of battery energy storage systems. The size of a battery ESS can also vary greatly but these hazards and failure modes apply to all battery ESS regardless of size. HAZARDS As with most electrical equipment there are common hazards that need to be addressed as part of operation and maintenance such as a potential for electrical shock and arc flash. These should always be accounted for when working in and around energy storage systems. More information on how to work with electrical equipment safely can be found in NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. Thermal Runaway – Thermal runaway is the uncontrollable self-heating of a battery cell. It begins when the heat generated within a battery exceeds the amount of heat that can be dissipated to its surroundings. The initial overheated cell then generates flammable and toxic gasses and can reach a heat high enough to ignite those gasses. This phenomenon can cascade to adjacent cells and progress through the ESS, thus the term “runaway”. Off Gassing – The gasses that ae released from battery energy storage systems are highly flammable and toxic. The type of gas released depends on the battery chemistry involved but typically includes gases such as: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, ethane, and other hydrocarbons. If the gas is able to reach it’s lower explosive limit before finding an ignition source then there is the potential for an explosion. An example of this occurred in Surprise, Arizona back in 2019. Stranded Energy – Standard energy is the term used for when a battery has no safe way of discharging its stored energy. This commonly occurs after an ESS fire has been extinguished and the battery terminals have been damaged. This is a shock hazard to those working with the damaged ESS since it still contains an unknown amount of electrical energy. Stranded energy can also lead to reignition of a fire within minute, hours, or even days after the initial event. FAILURE MODES There are several ways in which batteries can fail, often resulting in fires, explosions and/or the release of toxic gases. Thermal Abuse – Energy storage systems have a set range of temperatures in which they are designed to operate, which is usually provided by the manufacturer. If operating outside an acceptable temperature range, the ESS may not work as intended, may result in premature aging of the battery, and can even cause a complete failure that can lead to fire and explosions. Thermal abuse is caused by external sources, it is the result of contact with burning or overheated adjacent cells, elevated temperatures, or exposure to other external heat sources associated with both storage of the cells or the environment in which the ESS is installed. Electrical Abuse – Electrical abuse takes place when a battery is overcharged, charged too rapidly, or externally short-circuited. This can also occur if the battery is discharged too rapidly or if the battery is over discharged below its specified end voltage. Electrical abuse can lead to an inoperable ESS, overheating, fire, and explosion. Mechanical Abuse – Mechanical abuse occurs if the battery is physically compromised when the battery is crushed, dropped, penetrated, or otherwise distorted to failure by mechanical force. Internal Faults – Internal faults can result from inadequate design, the use of low-quality materials, or deficiencies in the manufacturing process. It might be worth noting that the failure rate for lithium-ion cells is said to be on the order of one in a million. Environmental Impacts – Environmental impacts can lead to battery failure. This can be the result of ambient temperature extremes, seismic activity, floods, ingress of debris or corrosive mists such as dust (deserts) or salt fog (marine locations), or rodent damage to wiring.  Some locations subjected to rapid temperature variations such as in the mountains can experience dewing leading to damage within the ESS located outdoors if not well-controlled. While there are numerous applications and advantages to using battery energy storage systems it is important to keep in mind that there are hazards associated with these installations. Understanding the hazards and what leads to those hazards is just the first step in protecting against them. Strategies to mitigate these hazards and failure modes can be found in NFPA 855, Standard for the installation of Energy Storage Systems. NFPA also has a number of other energy storage system resources including the following: Fact sheet on ESS PV and ESS training ESS resource page Blog on residential ESS

Fire Break

Man raking

It's time to start working on your 2021 renewal application!

Did you know that being recognized by the Firewise USA® program requires annual commitment to action? Each year, participating communities engage in educational outreach and science-based risk reduction within their boundaries. This annual work improves the overall condition of homes and properties, increasing the odds of withstanding a wildfire.  Firewise USA sites share the work they've done through the annual renewal application, found on the Firewise USA portal. This sharing keeps them In Good Standing for the next calendar year. In 2021, renewal applications are due Friday, November 19, and can be started now. In addition to the regular criteria, some participants may need to update their Action Plan. The Action Plan is a prioritized list of risk reduction projects or investments for an induvial Firewise site, along with suggested homeowner actions and education activities that the community will strive to complete annually or over a period of years. The Action Plan should be broken down by year and reflect the community’s goals. This document is required to be updated at least every three years so that it best reflects your community’s needs and past accomplishments. As circumstances change (e.g., activities are completed, a fire or a natural disaster occurs, new construction in the community started, etc.), the action plan may need to be updated more frequently. The Action Plan update should be completed by the community's Firewise committee, which is comprised of residents and wildfire experts. The plan can be as short as one page but should address the components in the definition above. The plan should include some basic measurements for each goal, such as “Increase number of residents participating in meetings by 5 percent,” or “Increase number of homes completing all recommended actions in the 0-5 foot space by 10 percent.”  Some ideas to address in your plan can include, but are not limited to: Increase overall participation in risk reduction efforts within your community. Are there a few homes or sections of a neighborhood that are not participating? Increase the number of homes that have had a fire safety check-up or risk evaluation.  What percentage of homes have tackled the 0-5 foot space in making it non-combustible? Highlight those positive efforts, share with other community members, and work to increase the number of homes that have completed recommended actions in that area. What do your community’s gutters and roofs look like, are they covered in debris? Identify homes that are not doing annual cleanup work and find ways to encourage them – maybe they just don’t know, maybe the owners are older and need assistance, etc. What educational outreach plans do you have? Is there room for expansion of those plans?   The updated action plan is submitted with annual renewal application. Visit the portal today to check your status and get started.

Recognizing a need for clarification: Firewise recognition vs. certification

As wildfires ignite landscapes and communities during this active fire year, interest in community action to improve wildfire safety is at an all-time high. Folks are seeking out the Firewise USA® recognition program in greater numbers than ever before, with hundreds of new sites in the process of having their applications approved. This is great news, but when articles come out that a new site has met the criteria, the headlines often say that the community has become “Firewise-certified” or “earned their certification from Firewise.” What's in a name? And why doesn't “recognition” smell as sweet to copy editors as “certification?” Often, the brief articles I see celebrating a community's hard work to become safer from wildfire will use NFPA's information about Firewise verbatim, and will talk about the community being recognized for its efforts, even when the headline says “certified.” All this would be simply a fussy English major's headache, if it weren't for the real concern our program team has about what “certification” and “certified” imply. A quick web search showed a pretty consistent pattern that certification applies most often to people, not to groups, and implies a high professional standard of achievement that allows an individual to access a certain job role or professional qualification. Certified accountants come to mind. One of the few certifications I found applying to an organization had to do with the ability of organizations to access specific government funding. And of course, NFPA develops and provides certifications of various kinds to help fire inspectors, electricians, and others demonstrate technical competency in their fields. NFPA's national recognition of neighborhoods where residents organize and follow guidelines to become safer from wildfire doesn't apply to individuals (and certainly not individual homes). Yes, there are criteria that have to be met, but they are fairly flexible and are intended to encourage people living in high-risk areas to get started on a years-long, community-wide journey toward greater safety. Unlike a certification, Firewise USA recognition is not an end-point, nor the end-all-and-be-all of wildfire safety. The more we see “certified” and “certification” being tossed around in articles and online conversation, the more the perception of Firewise USA seems to become warped and conflated with individual homes meeting some mythical standard of safety or insurability. This perception is understandable, especially in California, where more and more people living in high-risk areas have experienced insurance rate increases or have had to shop for insurance when their carrier declines to continue covering their property. However, we simply can't claim that any given property is safer or its risk has been reduced just because the minimum community-wide criteria have been met on a voluntary basis. While we've seen positive effects on overall community safety over time, Firewise recognition is not a magic wand we wave to make a home with a flammable roof and overgrown vegetation safe from wildfire. Recognition is our encouragement and acknowledgment that communities have taken the first steps toward safety, and toward a sustained effort to change the results when wildfire strikes. Photo: Community members presented with Firewise USA Recognition sign, NFPA.

Safety Source

A full shopping mall

Situational awareness and responsiveness are critical to safety in public spaces

Because home is the place people are at greatest risk to fire, much of our collective efforts and focus understandably focus on fire prevention and safety at home. However, the deadly crowd surge that occurred at the Astroworld festival in Houston, TX last month was a grave reminder of potential safety risks in public spaces – and the importance of better educating people about how they can protect themselves when they’re out and about. Situational awareness is a critical element of personal safety no matter where you go. Whether you’re shopping at the mall, dining at a restaurant, attending a concert, or going to the movies, making sure the building features the proper safety provisions and measures, along with knowing how to get out of it quickly and safely in the event of an emergency, can make a life-saving difference. In addition, sounding alarms must be taken seriously and responded to immediately. Unfortunately, when alarms sound in public spaces, people often assume that it’s a false alarm, in part because they may not initially see visible signs of dangers. In reality, by the time smoke, fire or other threats are more clear, particularly in larger buildings like a mall or hotel, it may well be too late to escape safely. Similarly, tragic fire incidents have repeatedly shown that people over-estimate their safety in public spaces and are slow to respond. In the instance of the Station nightclub fire, people first assumed the fire was part of the show; it took a few minutes for many to realize the gravity of the situation, which contributed to the fire’s staggering death toll. While the pandemic continues to impact all of us, a lot of people will be out and about shopping and attending holiday events and activities in public spaces.Our Safety in Places of Public Assembly offers a wealth of tips and recommendations to help people stay safe as they venture out into the world this holiday season and beyond – make sure to share this resource with your communities!
Family Thanksgiving dinner

Following Simple Home Electrical Safety Tips Keeps the Focus on Family at Thanksgiving

November is likely my favorite month of the year. Aside from it being my birthday month, I love the crisp air, falling leaves, and watching college football games that impact championships. And I still have hope (albeit small) every year that my beloved Michigan Wolverines will be able to overcome those darn Ohio State Buckeyes! But the main reason I cherish November so much is the intentional reflection on all that we have been given in our lives and what we have to be thankful for. At the forefront of my list is always my family. Not only my wife and our four children, but our extended family and friends that have become like family to us. Life can be challenging at times, but we all have something to be grateful for - even if that is only our next breath. I forgot to mention that November also consists of two of my other favorite things – food and stretchy pants. Not necessarily placed in any particular order because both items are equally dependent on one another. If your kitchen is anything like ours while preparing the cherished Thanksgiving feast, it resembles chaos more than tranquility. Oven space is at a premium, so we turn to electric roaster ovens, hot plates, and Crockpots. Every new family member that arrives at the door has a Crockpot in their hands looking for a place to plug-in, which often leads to extension cords and multi-outlet splitters. As a general rule of thumb, any appliance that is intended to heat food draws a decent amount of electricity. When you start to add a multitude of appliances that produce heat, it can quickly wreak havoc on your electrical system. Not just in the form of overloaded, tripping circuit breakers but also on the components being utilized as well. Depending on what is being plugged in and where, it could also pose a risk to the personal safety of those within the vicinity. Here are a few items to be conscientious of that may help you to be safer and have a smoother transition from multiple food helpings to your post-meal nap: Appliances that are utilized to provide heat draw a sizable amount of electricity. For example, typical roaster ovens draw 10-12 amps, hot plates draw 8-12 amps, and Crockpots draw 2-6 amps. Kitchen 120-volt circuits are required by the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) to be 20 amp rated so it would only take a couple of these appliances to overload the maximum circuit ampacity. The NEC also requires that each residential kitchen has at least two 20-amp 120-volt circuits. One suggestion is to determine which kitchen plugs are on what circuit, and split the appliances up accordingly. Extension cords and multi-outlet splitters are never a good idea in the kitchen. Aside from electrical hazards, they also provide tripping hazards and can hang off of counters where a child may be able to grab ahold and pull an appliance down on themselves. In reality, some will still be willing to take those risks. At minimum, how extension cords and multi-outlet splitters are utilized should be considered. These items are easier to overload than electrical circuit wiring and do not offer overcurrent protection to trip and tell you they are overloaded, like an electrical circuit does. A standard light duty extension cord is typically rated around 13 amps. Plugged into a 20-amp circuit, that extension cord could be well overloaded without the circuit ever tripping, which would add another dimension of safety concerns to the equation – fire. Ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protection should always be utilized for any appliances operated or placed on kitchen countertops. The NEC requires that any kitchen receptacles that are installed to serve the countertop have GFCI protection. That may not be the case for an adjacent room or area where an extension cord could get routed to the kitchen. Not having the necessary GFCI protection is another reason to not utilize that extension cord. GFCI receptacles should also be tested to ensure they are working properly before each use. Thanksgiving in our home is a routine that I love. Minimizing risk when it comes to electrical safety is necessary to allow us to focus on spending time with one another without interruption or injury, giving us an opportunity to give thanks for the many blessings we have received in our lives.   “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” - Epictetus   NFPA is passionate about electrical safety and offers additional tips and resources for consumers to learn more about the topic.             

Fire Sprinkler Initiative

Firefighters watching virtual reality

Fire Sprinkler Side-by-Side Burn Brings Reality Closer to Home with New Virtual Reality Video

I did not truly understand just how effective fire sprinklers were until I saw the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s (HFSC) virtual reality live fire video demonstration. I have interned at NFPA for a few months, so I knew going in that fire sprinklers are key for fire safety. However, this video showed me that fire sprinklers are so much more effective than I originally thought and have the power to save one’s belongings, home, and even life. They should be installed in every home. The other week in Ashland City, Tennessee, the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) and HFSC teamed up to record a live fire video shoot at a single-family home. The video they made was produced for virtual reality, allowing the user to get a 360-degree view during the video so they can see every angle of the house and what is happening. In the past, fire departments have conducted side-by-side live burns to demonstrate the power of fire sprinklers. However, doing a live burn demonstration is not always practical. They would require at a minimum construction of the units and EPA burn approval. Having access to virtual reality technology brings fire sprinkler education to a whole new level that is not only more personal, powerful and memorable, but eliminates the added layer of physical set up, rehab and travel. The demonstration takes place in two identical rooms. One room has a fire sprinkler and the other doesn’t. Both fires were started on the window curtain. The video starts with the room with the fire sprinkler. The impact of the sprinkler is almost immediate. The sprinkler, activated by the heat of the fire, goes off after about 30 seconds. At this point, the fire has engulfed one side of the window curtain. When the sprinkler activates, the fire is put out entirely. Once the fire is put out, I could see that the damage from the fire is limited to a small corner of the room. While the room is soaked, the video notes that a family would be able to move back into the room within a couple of days. The video then switches to the room without the fire sprinkler. The fire again quickly engulfs the window curtain. However, with no fire sprinkler, there is nothing to slow the fire down. After one minute, the fire is raging. After 90 seconds, one side of the room is completely engulfed in flames. Flashover takes place just over two minutes. The room becomes completely black with smoke and so hot that one of the cameras stopped operating. The sheer speed that flashover took place was eye- opening. The video shows the aftermath of the room. It is completely destroyed. Everything is black. It is completely unhabitable. After watching the video, it is easy to see how fire sprinklers can save lives. This live fire video shoot further demonstrates the need for every home to have a fire sprinkler system installed. According to NFPA's "U.S. Experience with Sprinklers" report the civilian death rate was 81 percent lower in homes with fire sprinklers than in homes without them. the average firefighter injury rate was nearly 80 percent lower when fire sprinklers were present during fires. when sprinklers were present, fires were kept to the room of origin 97 percent of the time. the home fire death rate was 90 percent lower when fire sprinklers and hardwired smoke alarms were present. By comparison, this death rate is only 18 percent lower when battery-powered smoke alarms are present but automatic extinguishing systems weren't. The virtual reality video is scheduled to be completed later this year and will allow people to experience firsthand a fire with and without fire sprinklers, right in their own living room. A 2D version of the video will also be created for free, on-demand access via Internet. Watching the video will change your outlook on home fire sprinklers; I know it changed mine. Learn more about HFSC’s virtual reality education kit through this short video. Photos with captions are also available.

Lewes Becomes Second City in Delaware to Require Fire Sprinklers in all New Homes

The fight to put fire sprinklers in every home took a step in the right direction earlier this month as the city council for Lewes, Delaware approved an ordinance to require fire sprinklers to be put in every new home constructed in the city. This ordinance comes at the response of Lewes and the surrounding area having dealt with several major fires over the past few months. Lewes joins Newark as the only cities in Delaware to have strict requirements for fire sprinklers in homes. Council member Andrew Williams told Delaware Public Media that this new requirement helps protect the city as it continues to rapidly grow. “As the county develops and Lewes continues to develop and we rely on a volunteer fire team, many of them are coming from outside the city and it’s more congested for them to get to fires, therefore, it’s becoming more and more dangerous for our residents,” said Williams. Fire sprinklers have repeatedly been proven effective at preventing large scale fires, thus saving lives and properties. According to NFPA's "U.S. Experience with Sprinklers" report:  the civilian death rate was 81 percent lower in homes with fire sprinklers than in homes without them. the average firefighter injury rate was nearly 80 percent lower when fire sprinklers were present during fires. when sprinklers were present, fires were kept to the room of origin 97 percent of the time. the home fire death rate was 90 percent lower when fire sprinklers and hardwired smoke alarms were present. By comparison, this death rate is only 18 percent lower when battery-powered smoke alarms are present but automatic extinguishing systems weren't. By reducing the threat of a large fire, fire sprinklers also help protect firefighters from onsite injuries and cancer. Cancer in firefighters is a serious issue. According to two studies from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, they find that: Firefighters face a nine percent increase in cancer diagnosis. Firefighters also face a 14 percent increase in cancer related deaths compared to the general US population. Lewes took a step in the right direction to protecting their city. They join hundreds of cities across the country in requiring this life saving element. In addition, California, Maryland, and Washington D.C. require fire sprinklers in all new homes. Learn more about NFPA’s fire sprinkler initiative on our website.

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