Topic: Research

Static electricity
A green building

Fire Safety Challenges and Attributes of ‘Green’ Buildings

In recent years, there have been several major fire events, which have involved ‘green’ materials, systems, and features in buildings, including the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London involving combustible insulation; the Dietz & Watson cold storage warehouse in Delanco, New Jersey involving photovoltaic panels and combustible insulation; and the 2019 energy storage system (ESS) explosion and fire in Surprise, Arizona. While each of these incidents can be categorized in many ways, they (and many others) include materials, systems, and features that are considered ‘green’ or sustainable. These events have prompted major advances (related to fire challenges) in ‘green’ and/or sustainable building materials, systems, and features in areas such as: research, regulatory requirements, engineering approaches, risk mitigation strategies, and firefighting tactics. Given the increased interest, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA, conducted a fundamental review of the aforementioned considerations to better understand the extent to which the unintended fire hazards and risks associated with ‘green’ attributes of buildings have been addressed, considered, or are being monitored as new incidents emerge. The study found that while fire hazards and risks have been addressed in many regards, fire safety is still considered relatively late in the design process and when considered, efforts don’t always carry through to the operational phase of a building.  Further, the design of ‘green’ buildings is fundamentally rooted in sustainability -  environmental, economic, and social – not necessarily focused on fire resiliency. The Foundation’s review suggests there is a need to broaden our understanding of societal objectives and include resiliency into the context of ‘Sustainable and Fire Resilient’ (SAFR) buildings and communities.  The idea is to include risk and performance considerations into overall assessments of whether structures meet design criteria across all societal dimensions so that ‘safer’ solutions for buildings, fire service personnel, and the community are ultimately achieved. The study developed a set of recommendations for future work to address gaps and to advance the concept of SAFR buildings and communities. They include: Integrating ‘green’/sustainable attributes of buildings into fire incident reporting systems Developing more robust and appropriate test methods, which yield engineering data, for assessment of material, component, and systems performance Incorporating fire performance considerations into sustainable materials, technologies, research, and development features Creating robust risk and performance assessment methods and tools, which are founded on broad expert stakeholder knowledge and experience, available data, and expert judgment where data are lacking Designing better tools for holistic design and performance assessment, taking advantage of building informational modelling (BIM) and other technologies that are defining the future of the construction market Transitioning to more holistic, socio-technical systems approaches for building regulatory systems, which consider the diversity of societal and market objectives for building design, construction, and lifetime operation Furthering SAFR building concept development and articulation, as well as its societal and economic benefits You can read more about this topic in two reports from the Foundation, the original 2012 report and the 2020 update.  As noted above, there is certainly a lot of work to be done to advance fire safety considerations in ‘green’ buildings, so be sure to attend the Global Trends and Research one-day conference on November 2, 2021 to hear more about this study, its findings, and the SAFR concept.  The session on green buildings is just one of eight forward-thinking discussions being offered that day as part of the NFPA 125th Anniversary Conference Series (sessions are available for one year after the live date, via on-demand).
The world

As populations grow and new hazards emerge, an understanding of global trends and research can help us chart the course

More people living on the planet creates pressure, on so many levels, in society. Fire and life safety is one of those pressures. Some fire safety challenges are directly related to the increase in population and urbanization, while others stem from our desire to mitigate the impact of having more humans on the planet. Population  growth overall has precipitated an upward shift in the number of people living in urban areas. In fact, the UN estimates that the world’s population living in urban settlements will increase to 60 percent by 2030 with one in every three people opting to reside in cities that have at least half a million inhabitants. Furthermore, it is projected that 2.5 billion will be added to the world’s urban population by 2050, with almost 90 percent of this growth happening in Asia and Africa. The magnitude of this population growth puts enormous pressure on our built environment and has already spurred the construction of more tall buildings and denser cities. As population grows, it is important that we mitigate the impact we have on our planet by ensuring that current and future development is done in a sustainable way. This shift has resulted in significant changes to our built environment in recent decades, and has ushered in new products, alternative energy sources, unique energy storage solutions, and the use of more lightweight materials with higher levels of insulation. The need for sustainability and energy efficiency is clear but unfortunately prioritizing the impact on our fire and life safety in the process is less so. We continue to see solutions developed with sustainability and/or energy efficiency in mind but fire and life safety components for these technologies are not being adequately explored. Need some examples? Just think about the dramatic fires we have seen running up the facades of high-rise buildings in the last decade. Or explosions in modern energy storage systems. How about the car fires that are challenging parking garage structures? And don’t forget the fires caused or complicated by the integration of photovoltaic panels on our buildings. While fire and life safety should always be at the forefront, we must also choose solutions that are sustainable for the long haul. When identifying and implementing new fire protection solutions, it is most critical to avoid any “substitution regret”. Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFF) are an example of a solution, which had been used as dominant Class B firefighting foams for decades, and eventually were found to have an adverse environmental impact due to its chemical composition. Today, replacements foams and agents are tested and studied for its effectiveness to satisfy the immediate needs, as well as the long-term safety of all involved. To complicate matters further,  life safety challenges are often most prominent in areas where income levels are lower. So, with rapid growth in cities, it is inevitable that there will be insufficient affordable housing thus prompting larger numbers of people to live in informal settlements where housing may not comply with planning, building, and safety regulations. It is tempting to dismiss this as a systemic issue in low- and middle-income countries but the fact is that low income areas exists in all countries, including the United States, and are often where the fire problem is the most significant. If we want to eliminate the fire problem, we simply cannot ignore its impact in low-income areas. Reading all this, one can easily get discouraged and think that we will never be able to eliminate the fire problem. But do not despair, because researchers have been working on all the issues mentioned above and more, so that we can continue to come up with solutions that will help us to improve safety. Join us for the Global Trends and Research program on November 2nd, part of the NFPA 125th Anniversary Conference Series, so that you can learn from leading researchers and professionals from around the world about the work being done to keep global citizens safe from persistent problems and emerging hazards.
Firefighter PPE
Putting out a fire

NFPA Recognizes Work to Enhance Fire and Life Safety

Each year, NFPA presents awards that pay tribute to outstanding achievements in fire and life safety. Two of those awards are the Harry C. Bigglestone Award and the Research Foundation Medal, given out by the Fire Protection Research Foundation (Foundation), the research affiliate of NFPA. The Harry C. Bigglestone Award recognizes a paper that appeared in Fire Technology. The chosen contribution best represents excellence in the communication of fire protection concepts and honors Harry C. Bigglestone, who served as a trustee of the Fire Protection Research Foundation. Bigglestone was a fellow and past president of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. The award is accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize from NFPA. The winning paper is “20 Dwelling Large-Scale Experiment of Fire Spread in Informal Settlements,” by Nico de Koker (PhD, BScEng, BSc), a computational physicist and structural engineer, who works as an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The paper’s co-authors were R.S. Walls, A. Cicione, Z.R. Sander, S. Loffel, J.J. Claasen, S.J. Fourie, L. Croukamp (all from the Department of Civil Engineering, Stellenbosch University), and D. Rush (School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh, U.K.). The Research Foundation Medal recognizes the project  that best exemplifies the Foundation’s fire safety mission, technical challenges that have been overcome, and a collaborative approach to execution (the hallmark of all Foundation projects). Representatives from the Foundation Board, Research Advisory Committee, and NFPA technical staff reviewed  18 eligible project summaries and conducted staff assessments of how they meet each of the criteria. The project, Evaluation of the fire protection effectiveness of fluorine free firefighting foams earned the 2020 Foundation Medal. This project addressed the need to inform end users about alternatives by evaluating the firefighting capabilities of fluorine free, Class B firefighting foams on fires involving hydrocarbon and alcohol fuels. More than 165 fire tests were conducted to determine foam application rates and foam discharge densities as a function of a range of test parameters, including discharge types, foam qualities and aspiration ratios, fuel types, water types, and fuel temperatures. Information on the proper application of fluorine free foams (FFFs) was lacking for the fire service. In part, the study highlighted the importance of following the listed parameters while applying FFFs. The research team,  project sponsors (American Petroleum Institute, Angus International, Chevron USA Inc., Exxon Mobil, Johnson Controls, Marathon Petroleum, Philipps 66, Shell Oil Company), and the project technical panel are all recognized with this honor. The award will be presented to the research team during the 2022 Conference & Expo in Boston next June led by Gerard G. Back, senior fire protection engineer, Research & Development, Testing & Evaluation at Jensen Hughes (Md.), and John Farley, director of Fire Test Operations at the Naval Research Laboratory’s Navy Technology Center for Safety and Survivability (Va.). Congratulations to this year's impressive winners!      
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