Topic: Research

Fire Safety for Electric Vehicles and Other Modern Vehicles in Parking Structures

In spite of the global supply chain issues and loss of vehicles in the Felicity Ace cargo ship fire, the sales of electric vehicles (EVs) has been on the move, hitting 6.6 million in 2021, which is more than triple their market share from two years earlier. While this might be good news for our environment, it also brings unique fire challenges to both first responders and fire protection designers. The lithium-ion (or similar) batteries inside of these vehicles fail and burn in a much different way than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. When lithium-ion batteries fail, they go through a process called thermal runaway, where a single cell failure can cause the production of heat and oxygen as well as flammable and toxic gasses. This then spreads to adjacent cells causing potential rapid fire growth or explosion. To give us some perspective about the size of this issue, it is estimated that there are around 16 million electric cars on the road worldwide, and studies have identified nearly 300 EV fires globally between 2010 and 2022. Compare this with ICE vehicle fires and we find that EV vehicle fires are less common of an occurrence, but more complicated of an event, since EVs fires can last longer and have the potential for electrical shock and reignition. While a majority of vehicle fires occur on the road, it’s the fires that occur in parking structures that lead to large economic loss as evidenced by recent fires at Liverpool’s Echo Arena (UK) and at the Stavanger Airport (Norway). What makes a parking garage or parking structure unique? Parking garages, often called parking structures in code books, are a unique type of occupancy. They can be located underground or above ground and are usually located in congested urban areas where large open parking lots aren’t feasible. They can be public or private and store anything from motorcycles and cars to trucks and buses. There might be access for each vehicle to enter and exit or there might be vehicles covering the entire floor area. RELATED: Read a 2019 NFPA Journal feature story about the risks introduced to parking garages by modern vehicles  There can also be several different types of technology integrated into parking structures, such as car stackers or automated parking systems which store and retrieve vehicles without a driver. These types of technologies increase the efficiency of the space being used but also increase the potential hazard by placing vehicles closer together. With all of these variables already existing in parking structures, the introduction of electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations adds more considerations that need to be made when designing and protecting these occupancies. What do the codes say? What do the current codes and standard say about electric vehicles in parking garages? While they don’t go into much detail, there are some requirements in NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®) and NFPA 88A, Standard for Parking Structures, that address certain safety concerns. The NEC is the go-to code when looking to protect people and property from electrical hazards and so, as appropriate, it has requirements for installing EV charging stations, or “Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment,” as they call it in the code. When conducting service load calculations, Article 220 requires EV Supply Equipment to be calculated at either 7,200 watts or the nameplate rating of the equipment, whichever is larger. This is to ensure the electrical supply will be able to handle the extra load put on by EVs charging. Most of the other requirements for electric vehicle charging stations are going to be located in Article 625, Electric Vehicle Power Transfer System. While this article contains many requirements, some of the highlights include requirements for EV charging equipment to be listed, to have a disconnecting means, and for charging coupling to be a minimum distance above the ground. The other major standard that addresses EVs in parking structures is NFPA 88A. Similar to NFPA 70, it requires the charging stations and equipment to be listed but it gives more details into the exact listing standards it needs to meet. -        Electric vehicle charging stations need to be listed to UL 2202, Standard for Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging System Equipment. -        Electric vehicle charging equipment need to be listed to UL 2594, Standard for Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment. -        Wireless power transfer equipment needs to be listed to UL 2750, UL LLC Outline of Investigation for Wireless Power Transfer Equipment for Electric Vehicles. Impact of modern vehicles The introduction of EVs into the ecosystem isn’t the only thing to consider when looking at how to properly design and protect parking structures. The fire characteristics of modern vehicles are also changing to include more plastics and other combustibles than ever before. While this benefits the fuel economy and lowers vehicle price, it increases the fuel load and fire growth we see in parking garages. A recent Fire Protection Research Foundation report dives into details about the fire hazard modern vehicles represent to parking garages and marine vessels. In addition, there have also been updates to various standards in response to these increased fire hazards found in parking garages.    The 2022 edition of NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, for example, has changed to increase the recommended hazard classification for parking structures from an Ordinary Hazard Group 1 to an Ordinary Hazard Group 2. The effect is a 33 percent increase in the design density, moving from 0.15 gpm/ft2 to 0.2 gpm/ft2. As of January of 2021, FM Global data sheets have also increased the hazard category for parking garages and car parks from a Hazard Category 2 to a Hazard Category 3. New to the 2023 edition of NFPA 88A, all parking garages are now required to have sprinkler systems installed in accordance with NFPA 13. Prior to this edition, sprinklers didn’t have to be installed in open parking structures. Conclusion While technology is constantly evolving, so are NFPA codes, standards, trainings, research, and other resources. The ever-growing presence of lithium-ion batteries in our day-to-day lives are changing the fire characteristics of our built environment. Fire protection professionals need to be able to stay on top of these changes to ensure the safety of people and property. For more information on the resources NFPA provides relates to electric vehicles, check out nfpa.org/EV.
A female firefighter gets into a firetruck

Why Women in the Fire Service Need Better-Fitting Gear

Have you ever tried on clothes only to find out you are no longer the size you thought you were? On a recent trip to Europe I was in a men’s clothing store looking to purchase a new suit. What I thought was my size—a large—turned out to be a supersized XXL in the European system. Yikes! Now take that experience and think of it the other way around. Imagine having to wear a coat or trousers two to three sizes larger than you need. That is similar to what many women in the fire service have had to face for decades when it comes to their personal protection equipment (PPE). According to the 2020 US Fire Department Profile report, there are nearly 90,000 female firefighters in the United States—that’s 9 percent of all firefighters in the US. Of that number, 17,200 were career and 72,400 were volunteer. Over the last 10 years the number of female firefighters has increased. Yet many women firefighters, especially in the volunteer fire service, end up being issued used gear that was designed for men. Finding the proper fit is about more than just sizing down. Most of the time, a women’s size is not just a smaller men’s size. Proportions are different and they need—and deserve—the right-fitting gear. Why improper fits are more than just an inconvenience Studies dating back more than a decade have shown that as many as 80 percent of female firefighters experience issues with improperly fitting PPE. Improperly fitting gear—such as firefighter gloves, firefighter boots, bunker pants, and bunker coats—isn’t just a nuisance for women in the fire service, but it can also lead to injuries. Bunker pants that are too long or bulky, for instance, can lead to trips, falls, and an inability to move efficiently. Bunker coats that are too long can lead to injuries while using an axe or power equipment or advancing a hoseline. Four percent of firefighter injuries happen to women, according to the Fire Department Profile. This figure isn’t all due to poor-fitting gear, but that can certainly be a contributing factor. In an interview published by NFPA Journal® in 2021, Dr. Meredith McQuerry, a Florida State University professor and expert in clothing comfort physiology, said female firefighters have a 33 percent higher risk of on-duty injury than their male counterparts. “Ill-fitting PPE is certainly playing a role in that greater risk of injury and even risk of fatality,” McQuerry told the magazine. “They’re not able to move as easily or as quickly as they need to. That puts them at greater risk.” What does the future of female firefighter PPE look like? Some very interesting research has been done by McQuerry that will help drive solutions to the problem of improperly fitting gear for female firefighters. With support from the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA®, McQuerry and other researchers were able to recently create the first-ever database of female firefighter anthropometrics—a fancy way of describing a person’s physical measurements. With that data, which included measurements from nearly 200 female firefighters, McQuerry and her team hope to ultimately propose a sizing system for female firefighter PPE. That system could then be shared with and considered by manufacturers as well as the technical committees responsible for updating NFPA 1970, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural and Proximity Firefighting, Work Apparel and Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, and Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS). “Our ultimate goal is to propose female sizing systems for structural and wildland PPE, to share those with the fire service [and] to share those with manufacturers and standards bodies to create, hopefully, in tandem, real change for women in the fire service,” McQuerry said during a recent webinar hosted by NFPA. You can watch the full hour-and-a-half presentation in the “Archives” section of the NFPA Webinars webpage.
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Do You Travel with a Portable CO Alarm? If not, you should, and here’s why

Being raised by a volunteer firefighter, I was taught at a young age to always look for my 2nd exit, and when traveling to never to stay above the 4th floor because fire department ladders rarely reach above the fourth floor. It was also pretty “normal” for us to travel with a portable Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarm. Why? Because CO poisoning incidents in hotels are not uncommon and regulations on CO detection differ significantly from state to state. While there are multiple sources which provide CO incident data, each organization contains its own methodology for collecting information and providing statistics; However, it is not clear what specific information is being collected, disseminated, and represented for each incident type. The Fire Protection Research Foundation recently published a report titled: “Carbon Monoxide Incidents: A Review of the Data Landscape” which reviews and presents the CO incident data landscape to clarify the sources of information, how the data is compiled and what the data represents. Additionally, the report identifies, summarized, and analyzes case studies of non-fire carbon monoxide incidents specific to commercial-type occupancies to provide a greater understanding to the NFPA technical committees responsible for NFPA 101, Life Safety Code ® and NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code ®.  Be on the lookout for the Second Draft Reports from these committees in February of 2023 to see what changes have been made. A one-page summary of the Foundation report provides key takeaways. PS: If your CO alarm is your in carry-on bag, be sure you can access it quickly while going through TSA security, as mine is always “inspected”!  
Students at C&E

Call for Abstracts: Student Research Presentation and Poster Session at NFPA Conference & Expo 2023

Do you have a student, or know of a student, who is doing some exciting research in some aspect of fire and life safety, and would like to present results or work in progress?  The National Fire Protection Association’s Research Section will be hosting a student poster session during a member reception at NFPA’s 2023 Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, NV, on Sunday, June 18, 2023, from 5-7 p.m. This event will give students an opportunity to share the findings from their fire- or life safety-related research projects with NFPA members. The event will provide an opportunity for interaction between the fire and life safety community and young researchers to discuss current or recently completed research across a diversity of fire science, engineering, and human factors topics. New at 2023 NFPA Conference & Expo! In addition to the poster presentation opportunity, NFPA will also be offering a student presentation track during the Education Program at the 2023 Conference and Expo in Las Vegas. Students will be allotted 20 minutes each within 60-minute time slots to present their research to larger conference audiences. Download the full call for abstract including instructions. (PDF) The deadline for abstract submittal is December 2, 2022.   Student poster authors and presenters will have complimentary registration for the NFPA Conference and Expo (see details). Students are responsible for all related travel costs. This will be a great event, and we ask you to please share this Call for Poster Abstracts to any students who might be interested in this opportunity and encourage them to submit a proposal. If you have any questions about this event, please let us know at research@nfpa.org. 

Fire Protection Research Foundation Hosts Annual Suppression & Detection Conference Highlighting Research in Energy Storage Systems, Special Suppression Applications, Storage Applications, & Foam

Think about where you are. Close your eyes and take a minute to count all the devices which have batteries in the room you are currently occupying. Three instantly pop up in my mind: my laptop, my phone, and our robot vacuum I can hear, making its way down the hall. These are all devices that store energy in one way or another. How many devices did you count? If you are in your office while reading this, chances are, you thought of the same devices I did. What about our basements or garages? Do you have an electric vehicle? If the room you are occupying caught fire, how would these devices impact that fire? If you are in a commercial office, would the fire protection system be designed to protect against such hazards? These issues are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the questions researchers are asking in the fire protection and life safety world. To collaborate with researchers and other industry stakeholders, The Fire Protection Research Foundation hosts a technical conference held annually called “SupDet”, which focuses on specific research applications in the Suppression (hence “Sup”), and Detection (“Det”) industries. The Fire Protection Research Foundation hosted the 18th SupDet conference this week in Atlanta, GA. Mr. Garner Palenske of WJE, kicked off the suppression portion of the conference by providing the keynote, which focused on the impact suppression research has made in the fire protection industry. Afterall, there is a reason that the first edition of NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, published in 1896 was only 25 pages, and the most recent 2022 edition of NFPA 13 has over 500 pages. As our environment changes, so do the hazards and how standards address these emerging technologies. While Mr. Palenske reviewed several examples of “game changers” in the industry from the studies of obstructions to the protection energy storage systems, he also emphasized the research needed as we look forward into the future, highlighting topics of forensic and wildfire as well as flue spaces and lithium-ion work in areas beyond automotive. The suppression education sessions focused on 5 key areas: energy storage systems, special suppression applications, storage applications, foam, and other emerging issues. Dr. Noah Ryder of Fire & Risk Alliance, LLC, spoke on a few topics, but the presentation on the challenges, solutions and best practices in energy storage was exceptionally intriguing as he asked the audience the same questions, I asked each of you at the beginning of this blog. Dr. Ryder took a deeper look into the challenges being faced by the industry including the evolving application of storing energy in a multitude of devices and therefore locations that never hosted such potential hazards and how to best protect these spaces. More specifically he reviewed computational fluid dynamics (CFD), thermal runaway, cooling, separation, and thermal barriers as well as testing and suppression approaches. Dr. Ryder explained the reactive and lagging codes as well as the inconsistent adoption of such codes as well as how further research is needed to recognize the role batteries play in our environment to close these gaps. If you missed SupDet, be on the lookout for the proceedings as they will be posted shortly on the 2022 SupDet website!

“Research: the distance between an idea and its realization” – David Sarnoff, Pioneer of American radio and television

This was the quote used by Rodger Reiswig of JCI last week in his keynote to kick off the Detection portion of the 18th Annual SupDet program hosted by the Fire Protection Research Foundation in Atlanta, GA.  The Fire Protection Research Foundation hosts a technical conference held annually called “SupDet”, which focuses on specific research applications in the Suppression (hence “Sup”), and Detection (“Det”) industries. Mr. Reiswig continued to highlight the impact research has made in the in the fire protection industry. This year, the detection portion of the conference focused on research in several critical areas including detection and signaling for First Responders, Residential Spaces, Wildfire and Smart Technology Systems. Maria Marks, of Siemens, and Jason Webb, Potter Electric Signals, presented on Fire Prevention and Code Compliance in the Age of Information and Automation. As the Internet of Things and the Cloud continue to evolve, the Maria and Jason discussed the impact to life safety systems. Their passion was evident as they described the methods in which systems are being monitored, inspected, and tested, via unmanned equipment such as drones, and robots, as well as handheld devices such as tablets and smartphones. Maria and Jason further explained the benefits and concerns associated with such tasks and even went into how specific NFPA codes and standards (provided below) address automated inspection, testing, and maintenance. NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems NFPA 14, Standard for the Installation for Standpipe and Hose Systems NFPA 20, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Fire Pumps for Fire Protection NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code ® NFPA 915, Standard for Remote Inspections (proposed standard) If you missed SupDet, the slides from the presentations will be posted shortly on the SupDet website!
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