Massachusetts lawmakers still seeking reform on hot work after two Boston firefighters died in tragic Back Bay fire caused by welders

Lawmakers, fire service leaders, fire prevention professionals, and NFPA representatives participated in a legislative hearing last week seeking reforms for hot work, cutting, and welding after two Boston firefighters were killed in a fast-moving fire in a Back Bay brownstone in 2014. The proposed bill will better protect people, property, and first responders by ensuring that those who perform hot work have met necessary qualifications and those who have not participated in this program are appropriately penalized. 

S.1381 An Act implementing the recommendations of the Walsh-Kennedy Report was initially proposed by Senator Nick Collins (S1554) of Boston. Collins is seeking implementation of the recommendations that were made by a special commission in 2015 after welders prompted a fatal fire in a building next door that killed Lieutenant Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy. The commission was charged with determining whether the current state fire code provides adequate protection when it comes to trade workers in the Bay State performing hot work or any work that involves sparks or fires.

According to WWLP News, Boston Fire Department (BFD) Commissioner John Dempsey said at the hearing that current fines and penalties for violating cutting, welding, or hot work regulations are “not even a slap on the wrist.” Dempsey said the state needs to implement an initial fine that gets the attention of violators and then institute increasing penalties for second or third offenses. “The fines are so minimal that smaller companies, if they roll the dice, the fine is so little, if they get caught it’s cheaper to pay the fine than it is to hire a fire watch or maybe even pull a permit,” he said. “So, I believe by increasing the fines, this will get their attention.”

NFPA research shows that US fire departments responded to an average of 4,580 structure fires involving hot work per year in 2014-2018. These fires caused an average of 22 civilian deaths, 171 civilian injuries, and $484 million in direct property damage per year.

Shortly after the Back Bay fire, NFPA worked with the City of Boston and others to create a custom training model based on NFPA 51B Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and other Hot Work, a well-known standard within the fire prevention community. The training was developed with input from those who would be responsible for implementing and enforcing the new ordinance and features specific content so that the training is relevant, targeted, and applicable in the workplace. Trade workers earn a NFPA Hot Work Safety Certificate after successfully learning about hazards and safeguards that can be applied to limit ignition potential from any planned hot work. Workers’ can then apply their understanding and knowledge when reviewing project plans that include hot work. The model has since become a statewide requirement and can be adjusted for other jurisdictions seeking to collaborate with NFPA on safer hot work practices.

Nearly 35,000 individuals in Massachusetts have taken the NFPA hot work classroom training and more than 8,000 have met the requirements via an online program. For more on hot work resources, visit nfpa.org/hotwork.

Jurisdictions and businesses interested in better protecting people and property from hot work through an initiative similar to those in place in Boston and the state of Massachusetts, can contact Monique Manning.

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Cathy Longley
Communications Manager, informing stakeholders about NFPA thought leadership, subject matter expertise, resources, initiatives & research.

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