Topic: Building & Life Safety

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Should you sleep with your bedroom door closed? NFPA's Educational Messages Advisory Committee will discuss this issue at its March 2016 meeting

Recent media coverage and new Underwriters Laboratories (UL) research has brought to the forefront again the issue of whether fire and life safety educators should be saying people should sleep with bedroom doors shut to be safer from fire. NFPA's Educational Messages Advisory Committee (EMAC) has reviewed the issue in the past and determined that if residents sleep with bedroom doors closed, it is important that they have interconnected smoke alarms. EMAC will meet March 30-31 at NFPA headquarters in Quincy, MA and is slated to discuss the topic again. And whether or not sleeping with the bedroom door closed should be added to EMAC messaging. EMAC will review new UL research documents, media clips, and other documentation submitted before making a determination on NFPA's official position. NFPA is accepting comments for revision to the EMAC document through February 26, 2016. UL research shows how a closed door can keep smoke out of a bedroom longer as well as change the flow of heat and toxic gases, acting as a shield for someone trapped and unable to get out of a fire. NFPA stresses the importance of having a working smoke alarm inside each bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of the home. For the best protection, smoke alarms should be interconnected so when one sounds they all sound. Read the full story and watch the videos of each of the UL tests for more information.
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A little boy dressed up as a smoke alarm is an inspiration

Schoolchildren across the nation are not only reading their favorite books all this month during National Reading Month, they're dressing up based on the characters and themes from the stories. A little boy in San Antonio, Texas, offers inspiration for children reading stories with a fire safety theme, like The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms, or Sparky's Birthday Surprise on the Sparky School House website. When three-year-old Noah Keck's parents asked him last year what he wanted to dress up as for Halloween he said he wanted to be a smoke alarm. His father, Chad Keck, was not surprised. “Noah has leukemia and spent a lot of time in the hospital when he was originally diagnosed and was also stuck at home and started noticing things that others might not pay attention to.” He says Noah was initially afraid of the smoke alarms, but he and his wife, Zahra, assured Noah that the alarms were there to protect him. Chad says these days, nearly everywhere they go, Noah–who is now four years old–points out the smoke alarms and asks if they have fresh batteries. Whenever they pass the neighborhood fire station, Noah loves to check on the trucks. They are either “sleeping” or out “helping” someone because of a fire. Noah's costume was made by his grandmother. “He did go trick-or-treating on our street and the reactions were overwhelming,” said Chad. “Nearly everyone wanted to take a picture of Noah and his costume. Many said it was the best costume they'd ever seen.” Chad says Noah is doing well. He's been on daily treatment for his illness since his first birthday, spending months in the hospital and since then has had almost daily clinic visits. If all goes well, his treatment will be tapered off later this year. His parents say he has been an inspiration to many other children at the clinic. He is also a little fire safety ambassador who found a creative way to spread the message about the importance of having working smoke alarms, whether for Halloween, National Reading Month, Fire Prevention Week, or any other time of the year.
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February, the month of love ... and kitchen safety!

I came across a great little article today in the Eastwood & Kimberley Advertiser (out of England) called "Make sure you guard against fire this Valentine's Day." It caught my eye because of its focus on kitchen fire safety in the month of February. So, okay, maybe we don't celebrate Pancake Day or National Chip Week here in the States this month, but we do celebrate Valentine's Day which beckons plenty of bakers and would-be home chefs to take a stab at putting together creative and tasteful dishes for the ones they love.  According to the article, the Brits love their fish and chips so it stands to reason that during National Chip Week (February 16 - 22 for those who want to partake), the risk of a cooking fire accident increases because of the many hot, oily pans used. Well, the same can be said for those of us doing a bit of frying here in our own homes. Let's face it, cooking with hot oil can be dangerous any time, anywhere, if you don't follow a few important rules: Always stay in the kitchen when frying on the stovetop. Keep an eye on what you fry. If you see wisps of smoke or the oil smells, immediately turn off the burner and/or carefully remove the pan from the burner. Smoke is a danger sign that the oil is too hot. Heat the oil slowly to the temperature you need for frying or sautéing. Add food gently to the pot or pan so the oil does not splatter. Always cook with a lid beside your pan. If you have a fire, slide the lid over the pan and turn off the burner. Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again. Let the pan cool for a long time.  So no matter what kitchen you find yourself in this month, and especially on Valentine's Day, if you plan on creating a meal that includes hot oil, please play it safe and focus on the task at hand (ahem, cooking!). Save the gifts and kisses for after the dishes are done! Happy Valentine's Day everyone! For more information about cooking fire safety, check out NFPA's Cooking Fire Safety Central webpage today.

Slow cookers, crockpots and (small) appliance fire safety, oh, my!

No matter where you look these days, the use of slow cookers and crockpots are on the rise. From stews to soups and even desserts, there's nothing better than applying that “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to preparing meals for families on the go. But did you know that while slow cookers are generally safe, we still need to be mindful of the dangers they pose. According to NFPA, slow cookers were involved in an estimated average of 150 reported home structure fires per year from 2007 - 2011, resulting in an average of 10 civilian injuries and $2 million in direct property damage annually. In terms of accidents, it ranks up there with other smaller household appliances you may not ever think of like your coffee maker or teapot, food warmer and hotplates, and kettles. While the chance of an accident happening while using a slow cooker or crockpot is somewhat low, our fire safety experts here at NFPA suggest some great tips to consider whenever you're using some of these smaller appliances: Inspect plugs and cords to make sure they are not frayed or broken (replace if necessary), which will help keep electrical fires at bay Keep the crockpot and slow cooker (or other small appliance) away from the edge of the counter so hands and elbows don't push it off the edge causing burns or scalds from the hot liquid and food inside Follow instructions for recipes carefully using the right amount of liquid and heat when preparing your meal to prevent overheating So the next time you find yourself using your slow cooker (and if you're like most of us here in New England these days, you're probably using it regularly to ward off the cold!) follow these simple tips above to keep yourself and your family safe. Learn more about kitchen fire safety on NFPA's Cooking Fire Safety Central webpage. Interested to learn about this and other cooking equipment fires? NFPA's Home Structure Fires by Equipment Involved in Ignition report can be found in our research/reports section of the website.
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The problems with modular homes: Built to burn?

When we discuss the problems with modern methods of construction, mainly lightweight/engineered wood components, we usually think about the site-built homes. In a Fire Engineering article Chief Kevin Gallagher of the Acushnet (MA) Fire & EMS Department considers the problems of modular homes, which are factory-built and then towed in sections to be installed at a permanent location, and range from “simple capes to multibox McMansions.” The chief recounts a fire in a two-story, prefabricated/modular residence in 2008 and says; “Despite our department's best efforts, the structure was a complete loss…we never had a chance to save it. Fox Boston covered the fire incident in a previous report. He tells us that research to learn about the methods of construction used by the modular industry has been the subject of several other Fire Engineering articles. He says very serious concerns were discovered; mainly:”large void spaces between levels of habitation, the use of flammable adhesives as the sole means of attaching gypsum to wood ceiling joists, and the presence of holes used to assist in lifting modular boxes onto the foundation, which can create an easy pathway for fire spread.” He adds; “Our goal has been two-fold. First, we identify the flaws with the construction methods used. Second, we fight for change through the code development process. Third, we spread the word to any and all fire service members of these hazards and the tactical changes the hazards require.” The problem was documented in a Fox Boston report. Chief Gallagher concludes; “Do we have a problem? My answer, since the moment I pulled up on a fire in a modular structure, is an emphatic YES! My sense is that those firefighters who have dealt with fires in these types of buildings would agree.” He says he will “dig deeper, share valuable information and, hopefully, provide you with an awareness and appreciation for the hazards within modular construction” in the following months. Although Chief Gallagher does not talk about fire sprinklers as a way to offset the problem in this particular issue, it should be a major consideration for home fire sprinkler advocates. Get a free copy of the dangers of lightweight construction presentation.
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Seven workers die in Confined Space Accident at Corona Brewery

Well, my confined space blog may have slowed down a bit in the past couple months due to other ongoing work, but unfortunately the confined space fatalities have not slowed down... In April, seven workers were killed in a tank that was undergoing maintenance and cleaning at a plant in Mexico City operated by Corona beermaker, Grupo Modelo.  It is believed that four victims were maintenance contractors and three victims were other Modelo employees.   There are few details available on the incident.  It is speculated that the deaths were due to “unspecified toxins” and that the three Modelo employees had entered the tank in an effort to rescue the other four contract employees.   Mexican authorities are reportedly investigating the incident.   Confined spaces are or should be clearly recognized in the beer industry.  The large numbers of tanks that are entered for maintenance and cleaning, combined with hazardous atmospheres including carbon dioxide produced during fermentation, inert atmospheres, and ammonia from refrigeration systems creates significant confined space entries and hazards.   These incidents do not just happen in foreign countries, and wine makers are also not off the hook when it comes to confined spaces.  A confined space death occurred just two years earlier at Napa California at Ancien wines when a worker was overcome by nitrogen and argon gases inside a tank.   Workers entering into tanks in the beer and wine industries should be intimately familiar with confined space entry procedures.  Even if contractors were always used to perform confined space entry work, it is unclear why Modelo employees would have entered the tank if they had been trained to recognize the confined space hazard.  The Modelo company has been in operation since 1925 and is the maker of the number 1 imported beer in the United States.  This confined space incident has the largest loss of life in one entry that I am aware of.  While it is not uncommon to lose 2-3 workers, this incident claimed the lives of 7 workers.  Confined space entry hazards continue to claim lives despite improved recognition of the hazards and despite regulations and guidelines available to prevent such incidents.   The National Fire Protection Association is developing a Best Practices document for confined space entry. This document will address gaps in existing standards and will be more prescriptive in describing things like how to test the atmosphere in and around confined spaces prior to entry.  The NFPA document is looking to go beyond the minimum standards and to provide those looking to develop a “gold star” confined space entry program with the information they need to do so.  Please email me at npearce@nfpa.org for further information and/or leave a comment below for discussion.  I look forward to hearing from you!
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