AUTHOR: Corey Hannahs

DIY projects

Five D.I.Y. Electrical Wiring Suggestions to Help Prevent Your Home from Going Up in Flames

It was one of those emails that just makes you cringe. Followed by a knot that just sits in the bottom of your stomach. A coworker had sent me yet another link to a major news publication’s Ask the “Expert” article. Only they didn’t put expert in quotes like I did. The publication really wanted the reader to believe that they were getting knowledgeable electrical advice from someone other than – an expert. While I am mostly certain that the intent was good, the advice unfortunately was not. Spending years in and around the construction trades does not make someone an expert in all areas construction. Being a master electrician with nearly 30 years of experience working alongside other trades does not provide me with the knowledge necessary to tell someone how to frame the structure of their home. I know many do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) homeowners reach out to others for advice and something branded as getting answers from an expert certainly seems appealing, but electricity and errors don’t mix. When it comes to electrical installations, even one small error can set ablaze an inferno of devastating consequences. With this week being Fire Prevention Week, it seems like the perfect time to discuss why proper electrical wiring is so crucial to preventing fires in the home. In March 2019, NFPA conducted a research study analyzing home electrical fires on data captured between 2012-2016. One of the key findings from the study stated, “Home fires involving electrical failure or malfunction caused an estimated average of 440 civilian deaths and 1,250 civilian injuries each year in 2012-2016, as well as an estimated $1.3 billion in direct property damage a year.” When you look at this statistic knowing that people and property are likely the things you hold most dear, it would seem self-performing electrical wiring may pose too great of a risk. However, many still choose to take on that risk often based on the premise of saving money. But when it comes to protecting your family and possessions, money should not be the only determining factor. Getting the job done properly and safely needs to weigh heavily into the equation. Electricians spend years learning code requirements and the skills needed to perform installations in order to meet those code requirements. They are also required to take continuing education classes to keep up on current codes as a condition for license renewal. Without getting too Liam Neeson on you here, they have a special set of skills that they have acquired over the course of their careers that enable them to do the job properly. Skills that cannot be gathered from reading a how-to book or getting your questions answered from an Ask the “Expert” column in a periodical.   I will pose this question: would you let your closest loved one be operated on by a doctor who had never performed their residency? If your answer was “no,” then how can wiring a home without the skills acquired during a 4 to 5-year electrical apprenticeship be justifiable. Also considering that there are likely to be many more lives at stake when wiring a home versus a single person undergoing a surgery, it could be argued that doing so would be unfathomable. Yet it happens every day, many times over, by homeowners that choose to take that risk. This is not a sales pitch to ensure that electricians get all of the work, either. There is more work available in the foreseeable future than there are electricians to complete the work. My plea is solely based on safety and for homeowners to see, and fully consider, the immeasurable amount of risk they are applying to themselves, their families, and their possessions by performing electrical work that they are not properly trained for. And while I know I won’t be able to prevent everyone from performing their own electrical work, I can offer the following suggestions to help mitigate some of the risk: Hire an electrician. One last attempt here, because it is that important. Electricians have been specifically trained in code requirements and possess the skills necessary to perform a code compliant installation. If you still choose to perform your own work, you can always come back to this advice. At any point you feel you are too far over your head, you can always throw in the towel and call an electrician to ensure the job gets done properly. Don’t assume just because it works, that it is safe. Just because you performed the work and the light comes on, does not mean that the installation was done properly. Maybe the wire that runs from the light switch to the light fixture has a small nick in it where a staple was installed that pinched the wire too much. Now the area where the wire is pinched is starting to arc behind the wall where it can’t be seen and is coming close to igniting the paper backing on the insulation in the wall next to it. I have been on countless service calls in my years as an electrician where, after fixing the problem(s), I left the home wondering how it hadn’t gone up in flames. Follow the latest version of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®). Updates are made to the NEC on a 3-year cycle. As of the date of this blog, the 2020 NEC is the most current version with the 2023 NEC to be published sometime in the Fall of 2022. In some local jurisdictions, they do not use the most current version of the NEC. In some cases, jurisdictions will eliminate some parts of the NEC from being enforced. Often this happens at the urging of special interest groups that are not necessarily looking out for the safety of the consumer, but more so the bottom-line dollar value. For example, some states have removed the arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) requirements for specified areas of the home. Know that, regardless of the code cycle your local area is on and what may have been excluded, the NEC is the minimum requirement, and you can always do more. So, if you read up on the safety that AFCI protection provides and decide you want to install them in your home, by all means do so. Pull permits and get inspections. Electrical inspectors, also known as the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), are the final checks-and-balances piece for ensuring electrical safety regardless of who performed the work. They are the last line of defense for homeowners as to whether or not their home is safe from an electrical standpoint. While many D.I.Y. projects often go without the proper permits being pulled and inspection being performed, electrical is most definitely not an area where you want to go this route. It is also against the law and can result in heavy fines should you get caught. Not to mention the additional assumed risk you are taking by possibly having an insurance claim denied due to a negligence clause, should your home catch on fire or someone becomes injured due to improper electrical wiring, and no inspections were performed. Ask a REAL expert. If you are going to do the work yourself and seek out the answers to your questions, find a real expert to give you accurate answers. I have found often that electrical inspectors are more than willing to answer questions on how to perform an installation before actual work gets done. That can save on the costly expense of additional labor and materials associated with redoing the same job twice. Asking around, you may also find an electrical contractor who is willing to perform a service call to check your work and give you advice. The point is, whomever you choose to seek out for the answers to your questions, make sure he/she is an electrically knowledgeable source. When it comes to electrical installations, there is little room for error. While we all must make personal decisions as to the amount of risk we want to assume, we also have the ability to seek out the information needed to help manage any assumed risk. Although homeowners are often legally allowed to do their own electrical work, hiring a licensed electrician to do the work would be the best choice to mitigate risk. If they still choose to do the work themselves, it can be better managed by understanding the current code requirements and seeking out any advice needed from credible sources. With people and property involved and so much weighing on a proper electrical installation, it is crucial to get it right. To err is human but electricity does not know forgiveness. Important Notice: Any opinion expressed in this correspondence is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the official position of the NFPA or its Technical Committees. In addition, this correspondence is neither intended, nor should it be relied upon, to provide professional consultation or services.
Rethinking electrical safety  - a man in front of a city skyline

Rethinking Electrical Safety Because Lives Depend On It

Electrical safety is without question a critical component to a successful electrical installation. Yet many seem to have differing viewpoints on what is safe and what risks should be taken. At the root of every electrical safety incident is a person who made a choice, based on the information they had available. Sometimes proper training is not provided and at other times, proper training may have been provided, but chosen not to be utilized by the individual. Either scenario can end in a fatal result, or a non-fatal physical or mental injury that continues to impact the victim for years to come.  Even when the incident proves to be non-fatal, long-term sequalae, or lingering effects, from a previous electrical injury have been known to produce neurologic, psychological, and physical symptoms. With so much at stake, it is crucial that electrical safety training continue to be reevaluated by all involved to determine where we can improve. Having proper knowledge of how to perform electrical tasks safely is a solid foundation. NFPA 70E® Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® should be the cornerstone that electrical safety training is built upon, as it provides guidelines and procedures for working safely around electricity. Something to consider, is how the training of processes and procedures take place. Looking at the apprenticeship model in my home state, there is a minimum of 576 hours of classroom-based related technical instruction (RTI) required. Of the 576 required hours of RTI, 450 hours are mandated to have so many hours trained on specific components. The safety component requirement is 10 hours of the 450. There is also no mandate that those 10 hours be electrical safety training such as NFPA 70E, as it could revolve around first aid, CPR, AED, OSHA training, etc. and still meet the requirement specifications. All things considered, an apprentice could go through an entire 576-hour program and receive only 10 hours - equating to 1.74 percent of the full program hours - of safety training that may or may not be electrical safety based. Sure, there are 126 hours additional flexible RTI hours of training available to train on electrical safety, after the 450 required hours, but there is no mandate that electrical safety is part of those additional hours. And my state is likely not unique to this arrangement of electrical apprenticeship hours, as many states utilize similar templates provided by governmental organizations, such as the United States Department of Labor, as a baseline to create their individual state Standards of Apprenticeship.   Analyzing the previous examples and thinking about where electrical safety can be improved upon, two things come to mind: First, there has to be more emphasis placed on the need for safety training that is specific to working around electricity within apprenticeship programs. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standard 1910 has specific rules to help keep individuals safe when working around electricity, like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Subpart I, that are often met by using procedures within NFPA 70E. But training on these rules are not always built into apprenticeship programs themselves. Where required, employers often look to outside resources to train on NFPA 70E procedures that will help meet OSHA requirements. Apprenticeship programs need to be designed so the applicable electrical safety training is built into their programs and employers can train additionally, as needed, for job-specific or industry-based tasks. The second item digs a little deeper and relates to how electrical safety training is actually delivered. In the previous example, safety training is one of many components within the program. But electrical safety is a critical part of many of the processes and tasks that are learned in other areas of an apprenticeship. How can a defective circuit breaker be changed out safely if electrical safety procedures aren’t followed as part of the process? Teaching electrical safety as part of the specific task process, instead of as a stand-alone component, would allow apprentices to learn safety as a step that is already built into the task. Just as it is learned that you turn a screwdriver to the left to loosen a screw that holds a circuit breaker in place, it could also be learned that establishing an electrically safe work condition (ESWC) is an integral step in safely changing out a defective circuit breaker. Understanding electrical safety is part of the process but knowing how and when to apply it as part of routine installation procedures will help individuals to return home safely each night. Electrical safety is ever evolving and no one person holds all the answers. It becomes necessary to look at and evaluate what becomes the norm, eliminate any complacency, and be open to rethinking how we train electrical safety. College football coach Bo Schembechler was known for saying, “Every day you either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same.” When it comes to electrical safety, I believe that also holds true. We must continue to use every new day as an opportunity to get better on how we train electrical safety. Lives depend on it.   Learn more about NFPA 70E training that is available to help with your electrical safety training needs. 
Ready scrabble tiles

Generator Safety: Being Prepared When It’s Needed Most

For many of us, it is hard to fathom the devastation that a natural disaster like Hurricane Ida can cause and what it is like to personally live through that experience. Living in the Midwest my entire life, I have only seen the destruction as depicted on news channels. While I am grateful that I never personally experienced a hurricane, my empathy runs deep every time I see those that are impacted by these catastrophic events. One of the things that strikes me the most is what people must feel during the anticipation, knowing that the hurricane hitting landfall is inevitable. Some of the first footage that news channels typically start showing is the community preparation before the storm arrives. Boarding windows, filling sandbags that create barriers, gathering supplies, or even helping to get one another out of the impacted area. Individuals working together for a common goal of minimizing the potential damage of the unknown. It truly is remarkable how collectively communities work together to be prepared for an event that’s sole aim to tear them apart. As I wrote this blog, it made me start to think more about how I would handle my own preparedness should I ever be faced with this situation. Where do you even start? Where most searches start in the year of 2021 – Google. A quick internet search leads to great hurricane resources like those found at ready.gov which is a website overseen by the United States government. This month also happens to be National Preparedness Month, sponsored by ready.gov to provide tips to help be prepared for disasters. But my natural innateness as an electrician drives my thoughts to the inevitable power loss that communities face with many natural disasters. Then, the immediate need for power restoration to be able to maintain and restore when the event subsides. Without question, generators are a necessary part of this equation. Generators not only need to be well maintained so they are ready to operate, but they also need to be utilized in a safe manner when they are called to action. Here are the first things that come to mind when it comes to operating a generator safely: Proper connection to the premises wiring. Temporary connections of the generator to premises wiring system will likely lead to more safety concerns. For example, hooking up a generator to a home where it back-feeds through the home wiring and back onto the utility power lines is a major safety concern. With utility line workers working diligently to restore power after storms, having voltage imposed back onto the electrical grid they are repairing can be fatal. Buildings and homes should always have listed transfer devices installed to National Electrical Code® (NEC®) standards by a licensed electrician. When installed properly, a transfer device will make a clean switch between utility power and back-up generator power. Having a listed transfer device is critical to safety, regardless of the generator being portable on wheels or a stationary “whole-house” generator that are commonly installed these days. Test ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCI’s) before each use. The NEC has requirements that generator manufacturers install GFCI protected receptacles in generators to disconnect power when a ground-fault is detected. The faults can commonly occur from items such as damaged extension cords or contact with water. GFCI receptacles should be tested based on manufacturer’s instructions but ideally before each use of the generator receptacle. GFCI receptacles that do not function properly should not be utilized until they can be replaced. Generator location placement is critical. Generators need to be operated outside, in an area where they are not subject to rain saturation whenever possible. Aside from electrical concerns, operation of a generator also emits carbon monoxide which is a major concern. With carbon monoxide being odorless, areas that are unventilated can expose individuals to carbon monoxide poisoning which can often result in death. A little over a month ago, at a three-day concert being held in Jackson, Michigan, three young men died due to carbon monoxide inhalation emitted from a generator assumed to be placed in a poorly ventilated area. A tragic event that reinforces how crucial it is to place generators in a spot that provides proper ventilation. While we can’t always anticipate the destruction a natural disaster may bring, we know that each event comes with a new day and a time to rebuild. Utilizing generators to help with the process is necessary, but preparation must be done to ensure they can be operated in a safe manner when needed. As part of being prepared, there are some great resources available to help with the process. Here at NFPA, we offer a generator safety tip sheet that offers additional advice as well additional resources on carbon monoxide safety. Taking advantage of resources that are available will help you to be better prepared when disaster strikes. While the storm itself can seem unbearable, there is rarely more beauty than the rainbow that awaits on the other side. Preparing to be safe is a necessary component that ensures we are able to see the beauty that the new day brings.
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Finding Your “Why” for Working Safely Around Electricity

I could have been a statistic. I should have been a statistic. Looking in the mirror through the eyes of a young electrician, I was invincible. Now reflecting through the eyes of a more experienced electrician, I know that I was not invincible – I was lucky. Maybe the decision to hold cardboard inside live switchgear to deflect metal shavings from hitting the bus, while my coworker drilled out the enclosure was not the best idea. If you have worked in this industry long enough you have either seen these poor decisions made by others, made them yourself, or likely both. It isn’t the fact that I was young then and now I am an older, wiser man that helps me to see that my decision was wrong. I could have seen that at any age, if I actually wanted to look for it. Hindsight is always 20/20. But foresight might be the missing component needed, regardless of age, to help ensure electrical safety in the workplace. Maybe the shift needs to focus on why we need to be safe, in order to push ourselves to follow through on how to be safe. In order to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements, NFPA 70E® Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace provides the methods and procedures for how to be safe when working around electricity. Without question, the most important component of personal safety, and even the safety of others, is being trained and qualified to perform specific tasks. But “why” exactly does a person feel the need to be safe? While there are some risk takers, personal injury would likely be at the forefront of most people’s minds. Financial impact, such as OSHA fines, for not working safely also come into play. Personal well-being and financial considerations are great starts to the reason for “why” to be safe, but finding the driving forces will likely require a deeper dive on a personal level. What is reason that you want to return home safely after your work shift is over? The answer to that question will be different for everyone. Likely as a young electrician, it will change as you grow older and have more life experiences and responsibilities placed upon you. Earlier in my career, my “why” would likely have been going home to ride my motorcycle with my friends that night. Being older and with life’s priorities shifting, my “why” now revolves around going home to be a husband to my wife and father to our four children. Aside from the why changing with age, it may change when your role changes. When I became a foreman in charge of other employees, it was important to remain safe not only to be there for them but also to be a good example to help them make choices to keep them safe. As a contractor responsible for more than 200 employees, the “why” behind safety was to ensure that everyone made it home to their individual “why” reason each night. I never wanted to have to make the call to an employee’s spouse or family member to let them know that their loved one had been injured on the job. Keep in mind, this is not a test. There is no right or wrong answer when finding your “why” to want to go home safely. Everyone who chooses to find their own “why” may arrive at a different answer, but we all must take the time to determine what the answer is. Whether your “why” stays the same for 30 years, or changes every time you put your boots on in the morning to go to work, does not matter. What matters is that you spend time every day to determine what your why is. Then use that “why” as the driving force to work safely around electricity, in order to get you home safely each night. When it comes to electrical safety, it's critical to not only have the knowledge on how to be safe but ensure you know the reason “why” you choose to be safe. The why is up to you. Learn more on how to be safer when working around electricity by seeking out available training on NFPA 70E. NFPA 70E the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) is now available in NFPA LiNK™, the association’s information delivery platform with NFPA codes and standards, supplementary content, and visual aids for building, electrical, and life safety professionals and practitioners. Learn more at nfpa.org/LiNK.   
Kitchen counter GFCI receptacle

5 Ways to Check Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupters to Help Ensure Continued Safety in Homes

If you’re not a follically-challenged individual like me, there's a good chance your hair dryer or curling iron has one time or another quit working while you’re getting ready for work or going out with friends. A quick glance at your electrical panel shows all your fuses or, more commonly, circuit breakers, are intact leaving you puzzled as to what the problem could be. But don't jump online and order a new hair dryer just yet. The next step you should take is to look around your house for ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) receptacles. What are GFCIs? You are looking for rectangle shaped receptacles with the "test" and "reset" buttons in the center of the receptacle itself.  The 2020 National Electric Code® (NEC®) section 210.8(A) requires residential homes to have GFCI receptacles located in bathrooms, garages, outdoors, crawlspaces, basements, kitchens, sink areas, boathouses, bathtub/shower stalls, and laundry areas.  So why does the NEC require so many of these receptacles in so many different areas? The defined purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity. It doesn’t get a whole lot more hazardous than using plugged in electrical devices in these potentially damp or wet locations. Spending nearly 30 years as a master electrician, I have been called out many times to troubleshoot receptacles that are not working in a home. Many times, the culprit is a tripped GFCI receptacle the homeowner did not know about or was unable to locate. The call often resulted in me spending 10 minutes finding the tripped GFCI and 10 seconds to push the reset button, then handing a one-hour minimum service charge invoice to the homeowner. That conversation was never enjoyable and always left me with an empty pit in my stomach as I accepted their payment and headed back to my truck. To help avoid a professional service fee for simply pushing a reset button, here are some tips for a homeowner that may help them in troubleshooting GFCI receptacles prior to making the call for help: Tip 1 – Check the receptacle itself. If the receptacle that stopped working is a GFCI receptacle, unplug all devices in the receptacle, and try pushing the reset button. If it resets, test the receptacle by trying a known working device. Tip 2 – Look for a nearby GFCI receptacle. If the receptacle that isn’t working is not a GFCI receptacle, look for a nearby GFCI receptacle that may be tripped. It is permissible for electricians to install a standard receptacle in places that require GFCI protection and protect them with another GFCI receptacle. For example, in a bathroom vanity that has double sinks, the NEC requires a receptacle at each sink basin. Often, electricians will install a GFCI receptacle at one of the locations and then use that GFCI to protect a standard receptacle at the second sink receptacle location. Tip 3 – Look for a faraway GFCI receptacle. While the NEC does say what areas require GFCI protection in section 210.8, it doesn't necessarily specify where the GFCI itself has to be physically installed. For example, in some cases electricians may install a GFCI receptacle in a first-floor bathroom and then continue to run the GFCI circuit to a second-floor bathroom where a standard receptacle is installed but is GFCI protected from the first-floor bathroom GFCI receptacle. In the case where the second-floor standard receptacle causes the first-floor GFCI receptacle to trip, the homeowner would need to find, and reset, the first-floor GFCI receptacle. This can also be common in outdoor receptacles where one GFCI receptacle can feed multiple other outdoor standard receptacles. So for instance, a front porch GFCI receptacle could protect a standard receptacle that is located on the back of the home. Tip 4 – Check your electrical panel. This is often the first thing many people do, and that is okay. Your receptacle may have stopped working due to the circuit breaker tripping because the circuit was simply overloaded. In that case, unplug all devices and try resetting the circuit breaker. Another option to provide GFCI protection of receptacles as required in NEC section 210.8 is to utilize standard receptacles throughout the required areas, but provide the required protection through a GFCI circuit breaker installed in the electrical panel. If you find this scenario in your home, you can unplug all devices on the circuit, turn the GFCI circuit breaker completely off, and then try to turn the GFCI circuit breaker back on. If the issue that caused it to trip is cleared, it should turn back on. As always, if the troubleshooting tips above don't lead you to a solution, or make you feel uncomfortable on any level, you should reach out to a licensed electrician for help. If a GFCI circuit breaker or GFCI receptacle is deemed to be defective, you should also engage a licensed electrician to replace the defective item. One last tip, and in my opinion, the most important: Tip 5 - Test all GFCI receptacles and GFCI circuit breakers regularly to ensure they are in working order and reliable to provide the necessary safety protection. While the manufacturer’s instructions for testing GFCI’s should always be followed, it is recommended to test monthly, at a minimum. In the case where you are plugging directly into a GFCI receptacle, it takes little effort to test them before each use to help ensure your personal safety. It is hard to refute the fact that GFCI protection has helped to reduce electrical safety incidents. Since GFCI protection was first required in home applications by the 1971 National Electrical Code, electrocutions have been reduced by 81 percent overall and by 95 percent in electrocutions specifically caused by consumer products, such as those used in bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoors. Doing your part to ensure that your home has functional GFCI protection in the necessary locations will help to ensure your personal safety, and the safety of others, and can help keep this remarkable statistic trending in the right direction. More information on GFCI protection can be found on the NFPA electrical circuit-interrupters webpage.  
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2023 National Electrical Code Aims to Make the World Safer, Collectively Through Public Feedback

As NFPA celebrates its 125th anniversary, we thank all of you for helping us protect this world, making it a safer place. We cannot be successful without your important contributions. One such example is the first draft of the 2023 NFPA 70 National Electrical Code® (NEC®), which posted publicly on June 28. Over 4,000 public inputs for the 2023 NEC were received and evaluated by the NEC Code Making Panels (CMP), producing the first draft of the standard. The next step in the NFPA Standards Development Process is the public comment stage. Between now and August 19, the public has an opportunity to review the 2023 NEC first draft and have their voice heard by submitting a public comment. If you did not submit a public input, now is the time to review the 2023 NEC first draft and become engaged in the process. While it would be difficult to elaborate here on all the topics for the 4,000-plus public inputs that were submitted, there are certainly some you would expect, and maybe a few you might not. Inputs were received on ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI’s) and arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCI’s), which are common within each cycle and always generate a lot of discussion. There were also inputs introduced in the public input stage around cyber security and cannabis oil systems, topics that are tied directly to the changing world around us.  Whatever your passionate about, your voice needs to be heard. You have a right in the process; don’t let the 2023 NEC be fully developed without adding your public comment and expertise. While on the topic of your voice being heard, there is more needed than just commenting on the 2023 NEC. Now is the time to contact legislators to ask that the most current codes and standards are being utilized in your community. The NEC is developed in three-year cycles in which the latest safety needs and technologies are addressed and implemented. Operating on older cycles of codes and standards denies the public their right to safety. After all, “Development and Use of Current Codes” is one of the eight key components of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem that must all be utilized in conjunction to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. As of June 1, 2021, there are only 11 states that have adopted the 2020 NEC, which is the most current published code, and we are well into development of the 2023 NEC. There isn't a better time than now to reach out to legislators and explain why it is so important that we adopt and utilize the most current, safest codes to achieve electrical safety. The NFPA Standards Development Process is recognized for being transparent and ensuring the ability for public input. The 2023 NEC is taking shape and accepting public comment through August 19. Whatever your role may be within the electrical industry, your voice needs to be heard. Not just regarding the 2023 NEC, but also requesting that legislators adopt the latest codes and standards in your local area. If the last year has taught us anything, it's that personal and public safety is key to our survival. It's a big world. Let's protect it together. NFPA 70 is now available in NFPA LiNK™, the association’s information delivery platform with NFPA codes and standards, supplementary content, and visual aids for building, electrical, and life safety professionals and practitioners. Learn more at nfpa.org/LiNK.
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