AUTHOR: Angelo Verzoni

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Podcast rerelease: A 2016 NFPA Journal Podcast examines the impact of civil unrest on first responders

In light of the mass protests in Minneapolis, NFPA Journal Podcast is running an episode that first aired on January 12, 2016, which explores the many implications of civil unrest and mass protests for city fire departments. Most of the audio in the episode is from fire officials in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, who discussed their experiences putting out fires amid gunshots and other challenges during the dramatic protests that occurred in their cities after two African American citizens were killed by police officers in 2014 and 2015. The presentations are from the 2015 NFPA Responder Forum. Listen to the podcast here. Additionally, a November/December 2016 NFPA Journal article, "Civil Action," explored how a fire chief in Charlotte, North Carolina, dealt with the fatal police shooting of a black man and subsequent protests in that city in September 2016. The chief was coincidentally attending the 2016 Urban Fire Forum at NFPA headquarters when he was notified of the shooting, and the Metro Chiefs had been discussing past protests. (Read the white paper they endorsed here.) Now, similar events to the ones that occurred in Ferguson in Charlotte are unfolding again. Last night, demonstrations erupted in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in response to the death of a 46-year-old African American man named George Floyd. Video had emerged days earlier of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck for at least seven minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face-down on the road. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. As part of the protests that followed, angry citizens have looted stores and set numerous fires, including to a police precinct. While the demonstrations have been most pronounced in Minneapolis, protests have erupted across the country, including in Louisville, Kentucky, Denver, Colorado, and New York City. On the re-aired NFPA Journal Podcast you'll hear the accounts from firefighters involved in responding to the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. They share what they learned, and how they did their jobs in the face of a very difficult situation.
Hand sanitizer in the snow

Can hand sanitizer spontaneously ignite in a hot car?

As we head into the summer months and our thermometer readings tick higher and higher, we all know the discomfort involved with getting into a sweltering vehicle that's been sitting in the sun. Under such circumstances, interior car temperatures can climb to over 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It's certainly unsafe to leave a person or a pet inside a vehicle that hot, but what about a bottle of hand sanitizer? After all, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are considered flammable liquids.  Despite some information currently being released on social media and in the news, the short answer is no. From a fire safety standpoint, it is not unsafe to leave hand sanitizer inside a hot vehicle. Here's why. Flashpoint does not equal ignition temperature  While it's true that most hand sanitizers have a flashpoint around room temperature, that doesn't mean the liquid will all of a sudden catch fire if it reaches that temperature. Flashpoint is a technical term used to characterize the propensity of a liquid to burn. It defines the temperature at which a liquid gives off enough vapor to become ignitible in the air. At that temperature, however, you still need an ignition source like a flame from a candle or a lighter for ignition to occur.  This point became muddled through a recent news story from Wisconsin. A fire department there publicly shared an image from an incident that reportedly occurred in Brazil, showing a burned car door after hand sanitizer being stored in the vehicle was exposed to a flame. Many erroneously interpreted the department's warning as saying hand sanitizer can spontaneously ignite inside a hot car, which is untrue. "Simply be careful and realize that a product we all use very frequently can be dangerous if it contacts open flame of any kind, but specifically cigarettes or those from grills," the department clarified.  Spontaneous ignition, on the other hand, involves a substance self-heating to a point where it ignites, without the need for any outside ignition source like a flame. Hand sanitizer is not subject to self-heating and would require temperatures to reach over 700 degrees Fahrenheit to spontaneously ignite, according to Guy Colonna, director of Technical Services at NFPA.  "Spontaneous ignition would be an ignition source independent of a flame or a spark, [and] it requires a material that is reactive to do what's called self-heat," Colonna says in a new video interview on the topic (above). "Internally, it undergoes a reaction and changes its properties, and when changing its properties, it releases lots of heat energy. Hand sanitizer, the alcohol [in it], is a material not inclined to do that. ... The ignition temperature of the alcohols are going to be something in excess of 700 degrees Fahrenheit."  In other words, while hand sanitizer gives off ignitable vapors at roughly room temperature or above, that vapor-air mixture still needs to be exposed to very high temperatures to ignite. A flame can do it. A hot car can't. Still a fire hazard  All of this said, hand sanitizer still presents fire safety concerns, especially when stored in bulk quantities. For any storage amount over 5 gallons, NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, would apply. That was the message included in a Learn Something New (LSN) video released last month.  "What we're seeing during [the coronavirus] pandemic is a lot of hand sanitizer being stored in places you might expect, like hospitals, but also in places that haven't traditionally stored such liquids," I say in the video. "A Tennessee man, for example, made headlines in March for having stockpiled almost 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer." In doing so, Colonna says in the video, these individuals or companies may be compromising safety, if protection systems designed to protect the storage of such quantities of flammable liquids are not in place.  Watch the full LSN video here.
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New video content, NFPA Journal article explore the persistent global problem of facade fires

June 14 will mark the three-year anniversary of the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire, during which smoke and flames raced up and around the sides of the London high-rise at an astonishing pace, killing more than 70 people. There were many safety deficiencies within the building, from a lack of fire sprinklers to faulty alarms to just one exit stairwell. But in terms of fire spread, the most significant factor was the 24-story apartment building's combustible exterior wall assembly, which included plastic-laden cladding and insulation. So what have we learned about facade fires and exterior wall assemblies like Grenfell's since then? Turns out, not as much as many fire safety experts had hoped. And fires involving combustible exterior wall assemblies continue to occur worldwide.  Just last week, a 49-story building in Sharjah, a city near Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, was aglow with flames. Dozens of worried onlookers captured footage of the blaze (pictured right), which clearly showed the building's facade burning readily, with huge chunks of it breaking loose and smashing the ground and even parked vehicles below. "There was so much smoke coming from the building, you could see the speed at which the fire raced up the building ... you could see big pieces of the cladding falling down," Birgitte Messerschmidt, director of Applied Research at NFPA, told me in an interview this week. "It had all the telltale signs of a facade cladding fire." Parts of my conversation with Messerschmidt is featured in a new episode of Learn Something NewTM that highlights the persistent global problem of facade fires. In the video, she answers questions like, what led to the proliferation of combustible exterior walls in the first place and why is there no quick fix to the problem? Messerschmidt also penned a recent NFPA Journal article on the difficulty of obtaining data related to facade fires. "A surprising fact is that the only way researchers know about the increase in these types of fires is from the media—even after events like Grenfell, there is still no coordinated global effort to collect data on these or any other fire incidents," she writes in the piece.  My full conversation with Messerschmidt—as well as with Anas Alzaid, who is NFPA's representative to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region—can be viewed below. In the video, both Messerschmidt and Alzaid discuss the most recent fire in Sharjah and go into detail about why many of these facade fires over the past decade or so have occurred in the Middle East. The tremendous growth of the region in recent years is one factor, says Messerschmidt. While failures in testing and code compliance is another, adds Alzaid. "This is not the end of the issue," he says in the video.
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Russian hospital fires underscore importance of not losing sight of fire safety during pandemic

A fire at a hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia, today killed five patients being treated for COVID-19. (Reuters) Six people are dead after two fires in just three days torched hospitals treating COVID-19 patients in Russia. The incidents underscore the importance of not losing sight of fire safety, even during unprecedented circumstances such as the global coronavirus pandemic. The first fire occurred in Moscow Saturday, killing one patient and forcing the evacuation of 200 others. The second occurred today in St. Petersburg, killing five patients and forcing the evacuation of 150 others. Both blazes appear to have been started by faulty ventilators, and Russia has announced it is launching a criminal investigation into the incidents. "The ventilators are working to their limits. Preliminary indications are that it was overloaded and caught fire, and that was the cause [of today's fire]," a hospital source said, according to BBC News. Media reports on the first fire suggested a similar cause. The news comes less than a week after Reuters published an article saying Russia's stock of ventilators was "plentiful," but the devices are "old and sometimes broken." Across the globe, health care facilities have been strained by the coronavirus pandemic. They've been forced to rapidly convert areas never intended for patient care at all into makeshift intensive care units, which require complicated assortments of equipment and building systems working in conjunction with one another. At the same time, temporary hospitals have been established in areas like city parks, convention centers, hotels, and sports arenas, raising similar challenges. With these actions has come some level of risk associated with the need to forgo compliance with parts of established codes like NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code, in order to get things built quickly. It's unclear what, if any, code compliance relaxations had been put in place ahead of the two Russia fires, but the incidents still serve as a warning to all jurisdictions that certain aspects of codes can't be ignored, even during the COVID-19 crisis.  NFPA 99, for example, includes provisions that could have addressed issues like the ones suspected of sparking the Russia fires. "The code includes general safety information on electrical equipment that, when combined with manufacturing standards, should address things like this," says Jon Hart, an engineering technical services lead at NFPA. In the United States, many repurposed and newly constructed health care facilities established in recent months to meet the demand in patients sickened with coronavirus have still adhered to parts of NFPA codes deemed most necessary—such as requirements for fire alarms, electrical safety, and medical gas and vacuum systems—while not always adhering to parts of the code deemed less necessary—like requirements for hallway width and occupant load. A new article in the May/June issue of NFPA Journal examines how some jurisdictions are striking this delicate balance.  "Everybody's concerned, but we have to play with the hand that's been dealt," Robert Solomon, director of the Building and Life Safety Division at NFPA, says in the article. "You can still make these facilities safe, to a degree, without adhering to every bell and whistle in the codes and standards—at least on a temporary basis." NFPA released a white paper and a fact sheet in early April to help facility managers, designers, and AHJs navigate the situation. Both documents indicate, for instance, that portions of NFPA codes and standards can still be used to enhance safety at health care facilities without those facilities meeting the codes in their entirety. Unfortunately, the Moscow and St. Petersburg blazes—as well as a fire in a nursing home that killed 11 people in the tiny Russian town of Krasnogorsk yesterday—build on the country's poor record of fire safety in hospitals and nursing homes. In general, many countries outside of the US lack the development, use, and enforcement of codes and standards necessary to protect patients and health care workers from fires. A December article from NFPA Journal explored the fire problem in international hospitals.  "Hospitals in low- and middle-income countries often lack strict building codes, certification processes, and regulatory oversight," Robyn Gershon, an occupational and environmental health and safety researcher at New York University's College of Global Public Health, says in the article. "Everything from poor construction to a lack of emergency preparedness within the hospitals can lead to adverse outcomes in staff, visitors, and the most vulnerable population—patients—during fires or other emergencies."

Deadly South Korea blaze underscores need for construction site fire safety

More than 400 firefighters and 120 emergency vehicles were deployed to the scene of a fire in a warehouse under construction near Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday. The blaze killed at least 38 workers who were inside the structure at the time. (Getty Images)  At least 38 people are dead after a fire tore through a four-story warehouse under construction in South Korea earlier today. The blaze occurred in Icheon, about 50 miles southeast of the capital city of Seoul, and was the third "devastating workplace fire" in the East Asian country in recent years, according to the New York Times. Chilling images from the incident showed dozens of ambulances lined up in front of the charred structure, waiting to treat victims. According to the Times, only about half of the workers who were inside the warehouse when the blaze broke out escaped. "We presume that an ignition of oil mist caused an explosion and that the sudden combustion gave the workers no chance to escape," said Seo Seung-hyun, head of the Icheon Fire Department, according to the Associated Press. Construction site fires are a global problem. A simple online search this morning revealed 10 such fires in regions spanning from Asia to the United States to the Middle East in just the past two weeks. In the US alone, NFPA data shows that fire departments respond to more than 17 fires in buildings under construction or undergoing renovations every day. These fires cause an annual average of 12 civilian deaths, 101 civilian injuries, and over $400 million in direct property damage. While some of these incidents have been blamed on specific construction materials—namely, lightweight wood—the truth is any construction site, regardless of the materials being used, is at high risk for burning. Common construction site activities like hot work, combined with the fact that security and fire protection measures are often lacking at these locations, prime buildings under construction or undergoing renovations for fires.  "Construction sites are often unsecured, are home to many kinds of ignition sources, and are largely unprotected in terms of fire protection systems," said Nicole Comeau, an NFPA segment director. "These vulnerabilities make it critical that safety programs are implemented and followed at all times to protect workers, civilians, first responders, the site itself, and surrounding sites." NFPA 241 and other resources   An important tool for mitigating the fire hazards of construction sites is NFPA 241, Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations. The standard outlines measures to reduce the risk of fire in buildings under construction, as well as those being renovated or demolished. It requires building owners, who are tasked with implementing it, to designate a fire prevention program manager to make sure the correct fire safety measures are being followed during the entirety of a construction project. NFPA 1, Fire Code; NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code; the International Building Code; and the International Fire Code all require compliance with NFPA 241. The use of NFPA 241 is a key step in preventing construction fires, according to Meghan Housewright, director of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute. "Make sure your community enforces the most recent [edition] to keep up to date as construction practices change," Housewright wrote in a blog posted last year, after a series of three costly construction fires occurred in the US. The current version of NFPA 241 is the 2019 edition, which replaced the 2013 edition to include, among other updates, added provisions supporting the need to secure temporary heating and cooking equipment at construction sites. Cooking equipment is the leading cause of construction site fires in the US, according to the NFPA data. Housewright also said ensuring written fire prevention plans are included in the local construction permit process and having local policymakers engage in conversations with local fire officials and site managers to urge they go above and beyond the minimum safety requirements are essential to creating fire-safe construction sites. In addition to NFPA 241, NFPA has also created a training program for construction workers who perform hot work. Hot work is any work process that involves welding, soldering, brazing, cutting, grinding, drilling, burning, or melting of substances capable of creating a spark or flame. It's the fifth-leading cause of construction fires in the US. While it's important for policymakers, fire officials, and construction managers and workers to utilize resources like the ones offered by NFPA year-round, the current international COVID-19 crisis is raising new and unique questions about construction site fire safety. If sites have been temporarily abandoned because of the pandemic, for example, have they also been secured to prevent trespassers and would-be arsonists? Intentionally set fires are the fourth-leading cause of US construction fires. In mid-April, NFPA released a tip sheet to guide construction site safety during these unprecedented times.  It's unclear what impact, if any, the coronavirus pandemic had on Wednesday's deadly construction fire in South Korea. For some of the more than 400 firefighters who responded to the blaze, it likely recalled a similarly horrific incident that struck Icheon in January 2008, when a fire sparked in a cold-storage warehouse under construction killed 40 workers. In response to that incident, South Korea's largest newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, lambasted safety regulations in the country. "No matter how much our economy grows, a country where people's lives are wasted this way cannot be called an advanced nation," the paper said, according to Reuters. 

The Augusta project: A groundbreaking active shooter and hostile event response program kicks off in Georgia

As the sun rose in the city of Augusta, Georgia, this morning, over 250 people gathered inside the historic First Presbyterian Church downtown to attend the First Annual Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Training Symposium.  The January 16 symposium marked the start of a yearlong project for Augusta––a city of 200,000 situated on the eastern edge of Georgia, about 60 miles west of Columbia, South Carolina—to implement NFPA 3000 (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program. About eight months ago, Augusta became the first city in the world to approach NFPA and ask for its involvement in helping to implement the standard, which was released in May 2018. "This is one of the most significant training opportunities our community has ever been a part of," Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr. said during his opening remarks at the symposium. "In Augusta, our emergency response agencies are already collaborating and working together, but to bring NFPA and all of these community partners and stakeholders together here today is incredible. Real events are taking place all across this nation, [and this project] will make Augusta a strong community for years to come."  The symposium, which lasted about eight hours, drew a crowd from multiple fields and areas of expertise, from the emergency medical and fire services to medicine, higher education, law enforcement, and city government—a testament to the need for unified command and integrated response during active shooter and other hostile events, which are concepts taught in NFPA 3000.  Dr. Richard Kamin, a trauma surgeon who responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, speaks during the First Annual Central Savannah River Area Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Training Symposium in downtown Augusta on January 16.  After attendees learned the basics of NFPA 3000 and heard stories from individuals who responded to some of the nation's deadliest, most well-known mass shootings, like Sandy Hook and Las Vegas, the day's afternoon events consisted of breakout sessions in which attendees separated into groups and discussed topics ranging from what civilians can do in the event of an active shooter or hostile event to how health care facilities can prepare for the flood of patients during these incidents.   The project will culminate with a large-scale simulation next winter, and the hope is for not only Augusta to grow stronger from the experience, but also for the community to serve as a model for others hoping to become better prepared.   "You are a model for the rest of the country," John Montes, the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 3000, said during the symposium, speaking to the many locals in the audience. "We can't wait to show other communities how strong Augusta is and how Augusta became even stronger." NFPA Journal will be providing periodic coverage of the Augusta project, in videos and magazine articles, throughout the year. Our last issue included a short piece previewing the project, and our March/April issue is slated to include a more extensive article on the project. 

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