AUTHOR: Susan McKelvey

A clock and a smoke alarm

As Daylight Savings approaches, keep NFPA’s smoke alarm battery messages in mind

The long-standing “Change Your Clocks, Change Your Batteries” campaign (which was not created by NFPA, contrary to popular belief) encourages the public to change their smoke alarm batteries when turning back clocks in the fall and ahead in the spring. This year, on Sunday, March 14, states throughout the U.S. will be turning their clocks forward. Many people will use this event as a reminder to change their home’s smoke alarm batteries. Because working smoke alarms are a critical element of home fire safety, NFPA supports any and all efforts to reinforce the importance of working batteries. However, today’s smoke alarms are not all designed the same, making battery messaging more nuanced. Following is information to help make sure all smoke alarms have working batteries, accounting for the multiple types of smoke alarms on the market and their varying battery requirements: Smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away. Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away. When replacing a battery, follow manufacturer’s list of batteries on the back of the alarm or manufacturer’s instructions. Manufacturer’s instructions are specific to the batteries (brand and model) that must be used. The smoke alarm may not work properly if a different kind of battery is used. NFPA is sharing social media cards (from us and USFA) to help promote smoke alarm battery messages in coordination with Daylight Savings – feel free to use them on your social platforms as we all plan to spring forward!
Leaking pipes

Frozen and burst/compromised pipes prompt concern around electrical safety for homes and other occupancies in the aftermath of Texas storm

Last week’s winter storm in Texas left millions of people contending with loss of power and heat, and in many cases, frozen pipes. For residents whose pipes burst, understanding the potential hazards posed by electrical wires and electrical equipment that come in contact with water is critical to safety.  Power should remain off until a professional electrician has inspected the entire home and all appliances, as water can damage the internal components in refrigerators, washing machines and dryers, causing shock and fire hazards. A qualified electrician can help determine what electrical equipment should be replaced and what can be repaired. In addition, people should always be directed to a qualified electrician if they have any questions or concerns around their home's electrical system.  The impacts of the Texas storm have reached far beyond homes, however, with many industrial and commercial facilities also facing concerns about their building's electrical systems. For building owners and managers working to assess water damage, critical decisions need to be made about whether the electrical equipment can be salvaged or not. NFPA offers a checklist to help highlight and simplify key aspects of this decision-making process. The checklist builds off recommendations in chapter 32 of NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance (2019 edition), which includes: A list of disaster scenarios, which can inflict damage of varying degrees to facilities Steps for assessing equipment A priority assessment table Steps to help identify factors for replacement or repair  While the choice between repair and replace is not always an easy one, following these simple suggestions can help turn what can feel like an impossible task into an informed decision.  In addition, NFPA offers its free “Natural Disaster Electrical Equipment Checklist” which serves as a valuable resource to community officials being asked for electrical information and assistance in the aftermath of a storm or other weather-related event.    Last but not least, a Facility Executive article written by NFPA’s Derek Vigstol talks about how facility managers can prepare for, respond, and recover from a disaster. Vigstol says that it all starts with prep work leading up to an event, which includes creating a site-specific disaster plan. This helps ensure the least amount of down time and a speedy recovery. Additional disaster-related resources for specialists tasked with protecting people and property from fire, electrical, and other emergencies, can be found on NFPA's disaster webpage, including bulletins, related code information, articles, and more.

Texas winter storm contributes to tragic fires and CO poisoning

The massive winter storm and resulting power outages in Texas have contributed to home fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other tragedies as millions of people work to stay warm, keep rooms lit, and prevent pipes from freezing. Unfortunately, news reports indicate that more treacherous conditions are on the way for the region. Keeping communities safe under these circumstances is no easy task, but providing fire safety tips and recommendations to as many people as possible can make a substantive difference in helping people stay safe. As news stories continue to report on fires and other tragedies in recent days, here are messages that can help reduce the risk of fire and associated hazards, which include links to additional resources and information: Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called the silent killer because it can’t be seen, heard or smelled, but it can be deadly. Make sure CO alarms are installed and working properly. To prevent CO poisoning, make sure your home’s heating system is in working order; if it isn’t, do not use it. If the heat stops working, use extra layers of clothes and blankets to stay warm. If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow. Generators: Generators should be used outdoors and placed well away from windows and doors. Do not run a generator inside your garage, even if the door is open. Candles: Use battery-powered flashlights to light your home, not candles. However, if you must use candles, make sure they are attended at all times and kept out of reach of children and pets. Place candles on a sturdy surface that’s clear of clutter and keep them at least one foot away from anything that can burn. Blow out candles when you leave the room or go to sleep. Fireplaces: When using a fireplace, use a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Monitor a fireplace fire at all times; make sure it is completely out before going to sleep or leaving your home. When the fire is completely out, let the ashes cool and put them in a metal container that’s placed at a safe distance away from your home. Space heaters: If you have power and are using a space heater to keep warm, make sure it’s in good working order and placed at least three feet away from anything that can burn and in a location that it won’t be bumped into or knocked over. Keep children and pets well away from space heaters and never leave them unattended. Turn them off when you leave the room or go to sleep. Also, never use an oven or other cooking appliances to heat your home. Frozen pipes: The American Red Cross offers a wealth of consumer tips and recommendations for preventing frozen pipes and safely thawing them. NFPA and USFA work together each year to promote the “Put a Freeze on Winter Fires” campaign, which provides a wealth of information and resources that can be shared with communities to help prevent winter fires.

Condo blaze demonstrates public’s continued over-confidence toward fire

Residents’ slow response to a massive fire at a 24-unit condo in Boxborough, MA, last week reflects a continued over-confidence that perpetuates the public’s risk. Boston’s CBS affiliate (WBZ-TV) reported that getting residents to exit the condo, where a fire reportedly broke out in the building’s attic, was more of an issue than pulling water from nearby ponds (the town does not have a municipal water system) which presumably would have been the bigger challenge. “Actually, the challenging part was evacuating people… because people didn’t want to leave,” said Boxborough Fire Chief Paul Fillebrown. According to WBZ-TV, firefighters banged on doors several times to get people outside of the building. Whether the residents may initially not have seen signs of danger because of the fire’s origin or the winter temperatures dissuaded them from leaving their homes, a lack of urgency around prompt escape underscores a continued complacency toward fire among many people. Findings from past NFPA surveys show that home is the place feel safest from fire when, in reality, it’s the place they’re at greatest risk; more than three-quarters (77%) of all U.S. fire deaths occur in homes. While there is no one simple answer or solution to changing persistent attitudes and/or misperceptions toward fire, it’s clear that much more needs to be done when it comes to better educating people about how fast today’s fires spread and the critical importance of responding quickly. NFPA’s Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem reinforces this point, with an informed public serving as a key component of a full system of safety. Residents must understand their true risk to fire and take personal responsibility for protecting themselves from it. That means being properly educated about where fire risks are greatest, what’s needed to prevent them, and how to most effectively respond in the event of one. Learn more about NFPA’s Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem and use NFPA’s public education resources to better educate people in your community about critical elements of fire safety. Photo credit: Boxborough Fire Department's Facebook page
Fireworks-related injuries

Two men sustain debilitating injuries due to use of consumer fireworks, underscoring associated risks year-round

*Based on injuries during the month around July 4. Source: CPSC's 2018 Fireworks Annual Report by Tu and NG. Earlier this month, two men suffered debilitating injuries from fireworks exploding in their hands while at a car racing event in San Antonio, TX. This incident underscores the hazards associated with consumer fireworks, but also highlights the fact that fireworks are used throughout the year, requiring year-round concern and attention. According to local news reports, one man, 20, lost both hands instantly. The other victim, Michael Sexton, 19, lost several fingers and may potentially have permanent eyesight damage. Sexton told reporters that the 20-year-old man who was holding the firework didn’t know it had been previously lit and asked Sexton for a lighter. In the next moment, there was an explosion. The fire burned off part of the front of Sexton’s hair and eyebrows; one of his eyes is red where he says his vision is still blurred. NFPA’s fireworks report shows that people ages 15 to 24 are among the age groups at highest risk to fireworks injuries. Males are more likely to be injured by fireworks, accounting for nearly two-thirds (64%) of fireworks injuries. “Someone asked me for the lighter, simple as that, and it changed my life forever,” Sexton said. Sexton’s mother, Susan Gomez, noted in a news article that there needs to be more awareness about the dangers of fireworks. “I wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody else,” she said. Sadly, stories like this reinforce the risks associated with consumer fireworks and the serious, life-long injuries they can incur, and that simply choosing not to use them is the best way to avoid getting hurt. However, it also suggests that fireworks safety needs to be more actively promoted throughout the year, not just in and around summertime festivities.  
Apartment fires

Massive fire at apartment complex under construction in southwest Las Vegas reinforces critical importance of NFPA 241

Caption: Smoldering damage left on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, after a fire tore through an apartment complex under construction in southwest Las Vegas. (Photo: Clark County Fire Department) A massive structure fire occurred at an apartment complex under construction in the southwest Las Vegas valley last week, resulting in an estimated $25 to $30 million in property damage. According to local news sources, strong winds blew embers around the neighborhood, leading to reports of small fires outside the complex. Crews put out fires in trees, garbage bins and other parts of the surrounding area as far as a quarter mile from the complex. No injuries were reported, but local officers helped evacuate about 50 homes as crews responded to the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation, with the Clark County Fire Investigations Division requesting assistance from ATF. NFPA statistics show that three of every four fires in structures under construction involved residential properties. Cooking equipment is the leading cause of fires on construction sites, while electrical distribution and lighting equipment was the leading cause of fires in structures under major renovation. Like the many fires that have occurred at buildings under construction over the past few years, the incident that occurred last week in Nevada reinforces the critical value of NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, which provides requirements to mitigate the factors that often contribute to these types of incidents. NFPA offers a series of resources around buildings under construction to help contractors, building owners and managers, code official and enforcers, and AHJs better understand the requirements and guidelines within NFPA 241, and to more effectively ensure that all parties involved in the construction process have the tools and support to adequately adhere to them.
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