Topic: Building & Life Safety

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Senior housing provides varying degrees of fire safety

Here's an article I wrote this summer, which speaks to the two fires that occurred at senior living facilities in California this week: Older adults are more vulnerable to fires compared to the general population; at age 65, people are twice as likely to be killed or injured by fire. That's why it's important for older adults to carefully consider their living environments, and to make sure they're adequately protected from fire and related risks. While it's often assumed that any residence for people ages 55 and older will include the fire and life safety provisions needed to maximize their safety, that's not necessarily the case. Depending on how a senior living residence is categorized, it may or may not include the fire safety measures, designs and features that other senior living occupancies such as an assisted living facility incorporate. Anyone either currently living in or considering a move into a residence that is advertised as senior housing or otherwise caters to older adults needs to be aware of what safety measures are — or are not — in place, so they can make an informed decision about where they live. The National Fire Protection Association developed NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, which serves as the most widely used source for strategies to protect people from fire and related hazards based on building construction and occupancy features. While NFPA 101 must be used by facilities that fall under certain federal guidelines, buildings identified simply as senior housing have no obligation to follow NFPA 101 unless the code is adopted at the state or local level. Buildings that fall under the federal criteria include assisted living facilities, long-term care and nursing home facilities. Although individual states can and do adopt NFPA 101 for other types of occupancies, Nevada is not among them. In a section of NFPA 101 called "Residential Board and Care," stringent requirements for assisted living facilities include the installation Of smoke alarm systems and fire sprinkler systems, as well as building construction features that ensure adequate means of egress in the event of a fire or other emergency. The building managers of assisted living facilities are also required to establish emergency evacuation plans and procedures for residents which are supervised by 24 hour on-site staff. Meanwhile, the residents themselves must be evaluated by qualified staff to determine whether or not they're capable of living in an assisted living facility. However, occupancies referred to as "senior housing" or "senior apartments" oftentimes are simply apartment buildings whose only requirement is that residents are 55 years of age or older. They offer no fire safety provisions specific to the needs of older adults, and the occupancy owners and managers of these residences are not required to follow NFPA 101 unless state or local adoption of the code is in place. This puts older adults living in those residencies at increased fire risk. Firefighters don't always have the ability to get multiple people, particularly those who are disabled or use medical equipment at home. This challenge is multiplied if the senior housing occupancy consists of multiple stories. Fortunately, there are many steps people living in senior residences can take on their own to reduce their risk of fire. One should talk with the building manager to learn what, if any, fire protection systems are installed in the building, and to find out about emergency evacuation plans that may be in place. Buildings with multiple stories that are protected with automatic sprinkler systems will be inherently safer than buildings that have no similar protection. Regardless of what features your building does or doesn't have, NFPA's Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities is a valuable resource that can be used for any specific situation. The Guide, addressing the main evacuation elements needed for the disabled community, can be easily applied to older adult communities and is available online for free. If a building manager doesn't have a plan in place, providing him or her with the guide will give them the information, guidance and resources needed to implement one. For more information on fire safety, visit www.nfpa.org. For information specifically on fire safety for at-risk populations, visit www.nfpa.org/disability. This article was originally published in the July issue of Health Care Quarterly/Las Vegas.
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New NFPA resources for students in grades 6-12 about wildfire

With more than 8 million students in grades 6-12 living in at-risk communities National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Young Minds Inspired (YMI) have teamed up to provide 3 no cost virtual field trip videos and accompanying lesson plans for teachers to help students better understand wildfires as well as empower them with the knowledge that they need to lessen that risk.  These videos and downloadable lesson plans meet Common Core requirements for English Language Arts, and can be used by educators (teachers and fire and life safety educators in fire departments) to help students learn more about wildfire and wildfire-related risks. The video series examines the aftermath of three major wildfires in the United States and short and long term impacts.  The purpose of the series is to help students understand why homes burn and learn what they can do to do to lessen their family's risk of loss due to a wildfire event. The first video from homeowners Peggy and Noble Kelly's perspective talks about what their experience was one year after the Okanogan County, Washington Fire and how they protected their home.  The next video features Wildland Urban Interface Specialist with Texas A&M, Kari Hines five years after the wildfire in Bastrop, Texas.  She informs students about how low-intensity wildfires are a part of the natural process, and steps people can take to mitigate or lessen their risk of loss to a wildfire.  The third features Kendall Bortisser, fire captain with CAL FIRE, ten years after the Cedar Fire in San Diego, California and Glenn Barley a Region Resource Manager for CAL FIRE in San Bernardino County. This story focusses on lessons learned after the Cedar Wildfire Event included the importance of homeowners maintaining the home ignition zone and damage a high-intensity wildfire event can cause to a watershed. The final video defines steps teens can take to reduce their family's risk of loss due to a wildfire event as well as the no-cost guide about potential community service projects available to youth as part of NFPA's TakeAction Initiative. Help students better understand wildfires and how wildfire events are a natural part of our ecosystem and empower them with knowledge to help their families become better prepared before an event occurs.  This science-based knowledge will help them understand how they can be a part of making their homes and communities safer during a wildfire event.
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NFPA 1: Minimum Number of Fire Hydrants for Fire Flow #FireCodefridays

Section 18.5 of NFPA 1 provides requirements for fire hydrants, including location, distribution, minimum number, clearance, marking, and testing and maintenance. Section 18.5 was revised in its entirety for the 2015 edition of the Code. Previous editions provided a performance-based requirement that the number and type of fire hydrants and connections to other approved water supplies be capable of delivering the required fire flow and be provided at approved locations. The former Annex E was deleted for the 2015 edition of the Code; in its place, Section 18.5 was revised by the addition of prescriptive, mandatory requirements for fire hydrant location and distribution based on the required fire flow determined in accordance with Section 18.4. To determine the minimum number of fire hydrants for fire flow, the following provisions should be followed: The aggregate fire flow capacity of all fire hydrants within 1000 ft (305 m) of the building cannot be less than the required fire flow. Table 18.5.4.3 provides the maximum fire flow capacity for which a fire hydrant can be credited. Example: Determine the number of required fire hydrants for a proposed, new manufacturing building with a fire area of 50,000 ft2 (4650 m2) and a construction classification of Type II(000) (noncombustible and unprotected). The building will be protected throughout by an approved automatic sprinkler system with standard response sprinklers. Sample Solution: Test results indicate the theoretical available fire flow is 3500 gpm. Based on the procedures as outlined in Section 18.4, the required fire flow is approximately 1200 gpm. A designer chooses to locate one fire hydrant on the existing public water mains at a distance of 350 ft (107 m) from the building, which meets the maximum 400 ft (122 m) distance criterion of 18.5.3(1). Using Table 18.5.4.3, it is determined that a hydrant located 400 ft (122 m) from the building can be credited with not more than 1000 gpm (3785 L/min). Because this is less than the required fire flow of 1200 gpm (4500 L/min), one additional hydrant is required within 1000 ft (305 m) of the building. (Or the designer could choose to extend a private fire service main onto the property and locate a hydrant at a distance of not more than 250 ft (76 m) from the building.) In accordance with Table 18.5.4.3, such a hydrant would be permitted to be credited with up to 1500 gpm (5678 L/min), which exceeds the required fire flow of 1200 gpm (4500 L/min). If the designer chooses to add a second hydrant on the public main, they should be spaced so the distance between them does not exceed 500 ft (152 m) in accordance with 18.5.3. The AHJ should require an additional flow test following the installation of the new hydrant or hydrants to verify they are capable of delivering the required fire flow. A little over two weeks until the NFPA 1 Second Draft meeting, next week I will talk about issues the committee will be addressing in Milwaukee on October 3-4 (check out the agenda at www.nfpa.org/1next) You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA. 
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NFPA 1: Furnishings and decorations in educational occupancies, #FireCodefridays

It's back to school time.  Time for teachers to prepare their classrooms for the upcoming school year and welcome students back to classes.  Where does the summer go?  Soon artwork will cover the walls, student projects will be on display, and lockers will be overflowing with books and supplies. Educational occupancies, defined in NFPA 1, Fire Code, as "an occupancy used for educational purposes through the twelfth grade by six or more persons for 4 or more hours per day or more than 12 hours per week" include preschools, elementary schools, high schools, and the like.  These facilities are inspected frequently and kept under a close watch by code officials.  The day to day activities of a school can be greatly impacted by a document such as the Fire Code. One area that educational occupancies must play close attention to is furnishings, decorations, and interior finish.  NFPA 1 provides the following requirements with respect to these materials: Draperies, curtains, and other similar loosely hanging furnishings and decorations have to meet specific performance criteria from NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. Clothing and other personal supplies cannot be stored in the corridors unless the corridor is sprinklered, has a smoke detection system, or where the supplies are stored in metal lockers that do not interfere with the egress width. Clothing hung on hooks along corridor walls or on racks in school lobbies greatly increases the combustible load and will generally allow flame to spread quickly. Artwork and teaching materials can be attached to the walls but cannot exceed 20% of the wall area in a non-sprinklered building and cannot exceed 50% of the wall area if the building is fully sprinklered.  Because the combustibility of the artwork cannot be effectively controlled, the quantity, in terms of the percentage of wall area covered, is regulated to avoid creating a continuous combustible surface that will spread flame across the room. It may be advantageous not only to limit the quantity of artwork displayed but also to avoid placing such materials near a room's exit access doors. (Requirements noted above are extracted into NFPA 1 from NFPA 101, Life Safety Code) Enjoy the last official weekend of summer, and stay safe. I look forward to discussing more seasonal Fire Code issues in the coming weeks. And, check out these past Fire Code Friday posts for guidance on how to stay safe and help others stay safe this Labor Day weekend! You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA. 
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Is a tiny house safe? Codes and issues facing tiny houses

What is a tiny house? While the definition varies depending on who you talk to, typically it is considered any house under 400 sq ft. You could fit 6.5 tiny houses inside the average American home (which is around 2,600 sq ft). The tiny house movement is quickly spreading across America. For some buried in student debt, it is viewed as the only way to achieve the American Dream of owning your own home and for others, it is about getting rid of the excess and living more simply. Whatever the reason is, are they safe? Some tiny homes have foundations or are built off-site and tied down to a foundation. Since these sit on a foundation, these have to meet local building code requirements. Safety concerns are related to the large number of tiny homes being built on wheels. You'll see these referred to as THOWs (Tiny Houses on Wheels). These are presenting a problem for AHJs. Local building codes are not enforceable because they aren't built on foundations. Although you might think they should be considered RVs, they are not. The RV standards make it very clear that RVs are only meant for temporary living, not permanent. These tiny houses seem to have created a large problem in the codes and standards world. Many in the tiny house movement like that they are living "outside the law". People build their own tiny homes with their needs in minds. This allows for arguably the most efficient use of space. But, they are technically illegal. While I'm not sure I'm ready to trade in my "large space" for a tiny home, I see the potential. Many have suggested using them to house the homeless or as women's shelters. I've even heard of military families using them. Before we consider using them for such great causes, we need to know they are safe. Some of the major concerns with THOWs: Required number of means of escape Use of ladder in the means of escape Size of windows if they are provided as a means of escape Requirements for smoke alarms and sprinkler systems Lack of foundations Minimum room sizes Plumbing requirements (many THOW owners want to use composting toilets which are largely illegal) Are you ready to trade your "large home" in for a THOW?  Have you seen these in your communities? This seems to be a movement that isn't going anywhere. What safety concerns have you heard regarding these tiny spaces? Picture Credit: The Move | A Tiny House on the Prairies
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NFPA 1: Occupant load vs egress capacity, why these numbers are so important to our safety, #FireCodeFridays

Yesterday, NFPA's Nicole Comeau wrote a fantastic post about assembly occupancies, the dangers of crowds and the importance of enforcing fire and life safety codes at these venues. Thanks, Nicole! Let's talk about the Code requirements behind this concept of occupant load. NFPA 1, Fire Code, is a valuable resource for fire marshals and AHJs when determining occupant load and the egress capacity of a space.  The direction provided by the fire Code helps prevent overcrowding and potential insufficient egress capacity. So, how exactly does a building determine its "occupant load" and why is it so important that these requirements are adhered to? It is a basic concept of the Code that the means of egress system be sized to accommodate all people occupying a building. Sizing is accomplished by matching the occupant load of a floor with the calculated egress capacity of the egress components serving the floor. Capacity = The number of people the egress system can accommodate safely during an emergency. Occupant Load = The total number of persons that might occupy a building or portion thereof at any one time. Per NFPA 1: 14.8.1.1.1 The total capacity of the means of egress for any story, balcony, tier, or other occupied space shall be sufficient for the occupant load thereof. [101: 7.3.1.1.1]   Therefore, Egress Capacity ≥ Occupant Load   The number of people or occupant load for which the means of egress system must provide egress capacity is calculated per the requirements set forth in NFPA 1 or otherwise determined. The occupant load is to reflect the maximum number of people anticipated to occupy the building rooms or spaces at any given time and under all probable situations. The occupant load is the maximum of either the calculated value OR the maximum probably number of people expected in the space.  Egress capacity is calculated based upon the available width of egress components (doors, stairs, corridors, walkways, etc.)  Further requirements in Chapter 14 of NFPA 1 provide the details for calculating egress capacity of the space. When the occupant load of a building or area exceeds what is was designed for, the egress capacity cannot accommodate the occupants safely and efficiently.  Queuing, bottle-necking, slow egress are all a results of improperly designed egress systems. When all is said and done, it is critical that overcrowding be prevented and prohibited and that the fundamental concept of egress be upheld: Egress Capacity ≥ Occupant Load You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA. 
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