Massive blaze at apartment building in New York underscores critical importance of an educated public

Last week, a massive blaze at six-story apartment building in Queens, NY displaced approximately 240 residents and injured six people. According to Daniel Nigro, commissioner of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), the door to the apartment unit where the fire began had not been closed when the resident exited, a misstep that contributed to the fire’s rapid spread. The door was open," Commissioner Nigro said. "The occupant fled, left the door open. We've stressed over the years the seriousness of that if you do unfortunately have a fire in your home or apartment, how important it is to close that door. The fire (traveled) out to the hallway, the units were unable to make a quick advance." Much research has been done in recent years underscoring this point, including fire tests by Underwriters Laboratories which show that closing doors upon exiting a fire can make a substantive difference in slowing its spread. Nigro also noted that a delay in calling 911 exacerbated the furthered the fire’s spread and the damage incurred. According to an FDNY video posted on the department’s Facebook page, residents smelled smoke and smoke alarms were sounding, but no one called the fire department for 10 minutes. This delayed response reflects a complacency around fire that can lead to devastating outcomes. In a broader context, incidents like this reinforce the critical importance of the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem, a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. If any component is missing or broken, the Ecosystem can collapse. In this incident, an educated public – one of the eight components of the Ecosystem – wasn’t in place and directly contributed to the magnitude of the fire and the damage it incurred. NFPA offers a wealth of public education resources that address the fundamentals of home escape planning and practice, including the importance of promptly responding to the sound of smoke alarms and the smell of smoke. We also have a safety tips sheet that provides specific guidance for people who live in apartment buildings and high-rise structures. Share this information with your communities to help ensure that people know what to do in a fire situation and have the skills to help minimize the extent of a fire’s impact on people and property.
Man varnishing a chair

As warmer weather approaches, NFPA offers 6 key tips to safely tackle spring cleaning

Melted snow, budding trees, longer days: they’re all signs that the warmer months are fast-approaching -  and for many of us, these seasonal hallmarks are reminders to start spring cleaning in and around our homes. As people power up their lawnmowers, rake up debris, touch up chipped paint, and take on myriad projects to get their homes and yards ready for the months ahead, following are six key practices and supporting recommendations to help minimize the risk of fires and associated hazards: Properly use and store gasoline Use gasoline only as motor fuel, never as a cleaner or to break down grease. Only store gasoline in a container that is sold for that purpose and never bring it indoors, even in small amounts. Never store gasoline containers in a basement or in the occupied space of a building. Keep them in a detached garage or an outdoor shed. Make sure the container is tightly capped when not in use. Carefully dispose of rags with paint and stain The oils commonly used in oil-based paints and stains release heat as they dry. If the heat is not released in the air as the rags dry, the heat is trapped, builds up and can cause a fire. Never leave cleaning rags in a pile. When you’re finished using the rags, take them outside to dry, keeping them well away from the home and other structures. Hang rags outside or spread them on the ground and weigh them down so that they don’t blow away. Put dried rags in a metal container, making sure the container is tightly covered. Fill the container with a water and detergent solution, which will break down the oils. Keep containers of oily rags in a cool place out of direct sunlight and away from other heat sources. Check with your town for information on how to properly dispose of them. Use/store flammable and combustible liquids with care Flammable and combustible liquids should not be used near an open flame. Never smoke when working with these liquids. If you spill liquids on your clothing, remove your clothing and place it outside to dry. Once dry, clothing can be laundered. Keep liquids in their original containers. Keep them tightly capped or sealed. Never store the liquids in glass containers. Feel free to use and/or share our Safety with Oily Rags tip sheet (PDF), which includes the above tips and more. Inspect grills to ensure they’re in good working order Inspect your grill (PDF) carefully and make sure it’s free of grease or fat buildup. Clean out any nests, spider webs, or other debris you may find. For propane grills, check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year. Keep debris well away from your home Every year, wildfires (PDF) burn across the U.S., with more and more people living in communities where wildfires are a real risk. Dispose of branches, weeds, leaves, pine needles, and grass clippings that you have cut to reduce fuel for fire. Remove leaves, pine needles, and other flammable material from the roof, gutters, and on and under the deck to help prevent embers from igniting your home. Remove dead vegetation and other flammable materials, especially within the first 5 feet of the home. Move construction material, trash, and woodpiles at least 30 feet away from the home and other outbuildings. Clean out your clothes dryer Make sure the air exhaust vent pipe for your dryer (PDF) is not restricted and that the outdoor vent flap will open when the dryer is operating. This includes making sure the outdoor vent flap is not covered by snow. Move things that can burn, such as boxes, cleaning supplies and clothing, away from the dryer. Clothes that have come in contact with flammable substances like gasoline, paint thinner, or similar solvents should be laid outside to dry, then can be washed and dried as usual.
A woman grilling

What’s new in grilling and cooking safety messaging?

Grilling safety and safe use of cooking appliances are part of the updated messaging included in the Cooking chapter of NFPA’s Educational Messages Desk Reference, now in its updated 2020 edition. The desk reference supports Fire & Life Safety (FLS) educators in delivering educational programs that are accurate, consistent, and relevant to their audiences.  New and updated messaging in the Cooking Chapter includes gas grill maintenance, what to do in case of a cooking fire, proper use of electrical cooking equipment, and even updated messaging on the appropriate use of turkey fryers.  As we enter the Spring season with loosening COVID-19 restrictions, and more gatherings and outdoor activity, there is renewed cause for promoting key messages related to cooking and grilling, as these daily activities contribute to the leading causes of home fires and home fire injuries. These types of fires and burns are preventable when taking simple, doable precautions, and these messages need consistent reminders across social media and community education efforts. Fire & burn prevention messages can be delivered in a variety of formats including our 10-minute lesson plans on a variety of topics, which can be delivered in person and via virtual platforms, or by distributing one of the many NFPA's tip sheets at drive through vaccination sites and via local restaurant delivery services. The lesson learned during the pandemic is that FLS educators are super creative in finding ways to reach their communities and the Desk Reference gives them the foundational messaging to support their efforts. The messages within this document are developed and reviewed by the Educational Messaging Advisory Committee (EMAC), a multi-disciplinary group of professionals, with input from a variety of stakeholders. These messages undergo technical review for alignment with codes and standards, are reviewed by national partners, and have universal application across fire & life safety, injury prevention, and public health education professionals. The next updated messages blog will feature new content added as relates to outdoor burning – campfires and fire pits specifically. Thank you for all you do to education and support your community’s health and safety. Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and NFPA on Twitter,  Facebook, and Instagram  to keep up with the latest from the Public Education Division.

Fire safety in your home away from home

NFPA’s Educational Messages Desk Reference, now in its updated 2020 edition, offers Fire and Life Safety (FLS) educators and those involved in injury prevention and public education, a compendium of accurate, relevant and up to date messaging for a multitude fire and burn prevention topics.  Chapter Five, formerly Hotel/Motel Safety, has been updated as Fire Safety Away from Home, to include safety messages for hotel/motel, peer to peer hospitality, motor home/camper/RV, car fire safety, and safety in places of public assembly. Since fire safety code requirements vary by state for such occupancies as hotel/motel, peer to peer hospitality and RV’s, it is vitally important to educate the public to empower them to assure their own and their family’s safety. Chapter Five now includes updated messaging directing people to choose hotel/motels that are protected by smoke and CO alarms, as well as sprinklers, and recommends the use of travel CO alarms for locations without.  Messaging regarding renting peer to peer hospitality homes, which often have fewer rules and codes for fire safety, offers the public considerations for choosing a rental, and key actions to take when staying in these types of properties.  Motor Home, Camper, and RV Safety is another section within Chapter Five to receive updated messaging.  As more people choose motor homes as a vacation option, and these vehicles are increasingly being used as a remote home/work environment, it is critical to remind people to treat these spaces as homes when it comes to fire safety.  New messaging includes assuring everyone knows two ways out/meeting place, safe use of heaters and lanterns, safe cooking practices, assuring smoke and CO alarms are in place and working, and the safe use of nearby campfires. Another key addition to Chapter Five is the inclusion of messaging for Safety in Places of Public Assembly, formerly only found in our related tip sheet.  These messages include assuring everyone has a plan for being separated, an agreed upon meeting place, and situational awareness of all exits. As NFPA enters its 125th anniversary year, we need to remind ourselves of the amazing work done toward our goal of eliminating the loss of life and property from fire, electrical and related hazards.  We also need to assure that we, as fire and life safety professionals, stay up to date with the changing fire safety problems and solutions, and work across our organizations to provide consistent, accurate, and behavior centered messaging for our communities.  Next week I’ll highlight the updates to the Educational Messages Desk Reference as relates to grilling and microwave cooking topics. Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and NFPA on Twitter,  Facebook, and to keep up with the latest from the Public Education Division.
Carbon Monoxide alarm

What’s new in Carbon Monoxide messaging?

NFPA’s Educational Messaging Desk Reference, now in its updated 2020 edition, offers Fire and Life Safety (FLS) educators and those involved in injury prevention and public education, a compendium of accurate, relevant and up to date messaging for a multitude fire and burn prevention topics. New Chapters on Youth Fire Setting and Pet Safety have been added, along with new and updated messaging related to carbon monoxide, vacation rental homes, home escape planning, electrical, and candle safety among others.  The messages are the result of input from a variety of stakeholders, reviewed by technical experts, and developed by a multi-disciplinary group of professionals to assure accuracy, clarity and consistency. When using the desk reference, it is critical to review an entire topic section as messages build on each other to frame the topic. Each week I’ll highlight a new/updated section as part of our efforts to promote use of this document across fire & burn prevention professionals, starting with the new messaging on carbon monoxide.   Often called the invisible killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide. The number of fatalities in the US attributed to CO poisoning has remained fairly consistent from 1999-2018 averaging 1.3 deaths per million population, with 435 such deaths occurring in 2018.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), generators are the leading product involved in CO incidents, followed by heating equipment. New messaging for CO includes an expanded list of sources of CO emission, and stronger messaging related to the need for CO alarms in the home. Proper use of fireplaces to prevent CO poisoning is new too, along with proper use of portable generators, a major cause of CO poisoning. The desk reference also now includes a new section of CO messaging within the Boating and Marinas chapter. What’s Next? As part of the Educational Messaging Desk Reference updates, we’ll be updating our safety tip sheets and hosting future webinars for FLS Educators highlighting both the new information and how educators can use the desk reference in their public education efforts. Next week’s blog will focus on the new and updated messaging Fire Safety Away from Home - peer-to-peer hospitality, motor home, camper and recreation vehicle safety. Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and NFPA on Twitter,  Facebook, and Instagram  to keep up with the latest from the Public Education Division.
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