Topic: Emergency Response

Wildfire Worries in California: Recent Actions to Address the Crisis

With bone-dry conditions across the state, the talk among Californians is wildfire. How many fires will burn this year? Will 2021 top the four million acres that burned last year?  Will my community be hit next? If any of my fellow Californians didn’t know “fire season” is now year-round, early April’s Spring Fire in the Angeles National Forest is here to remind them. With over 10,000 homes and structures burned last year, predictions from scientists and fire experts is that 2021 may be just as bad, or worse. People here are worried. Seemingly, our politicians are too.  Earlier this month, Governor Newsom signed an early spending bill with just over a half a billion dollars solely for mitigation.  That bill, The Wildfire Prevention and Resiliency Early Action Plan, will spend $238 million on fuel reduction and other landscape resiliency projects, $198 million on wildfire fuel breaks, $27 million on community hardening, and $25 million to strengthen the state’s forestry sector. An estimated 15 million wildland acres in California are in need of some type of restoration treatment to reduce wildfire risk, making this funding sorely needed. But, as even the Governor’s February 5 2021-2022 wildfire resilience proposal—the framework for Tuesday’s spending bill—acknowledges, these funds will “address only a small share of estimated need.” With at least three dozen wildfire bills in the legislature, lawmakers are debating proposals to move the needle out of the red zone.  For example, at the end of the month, the Senate Committee on Housing will look at several bills intended to reduce risk now and in the future. One of those, SB 63, aims to expand Cal Fire’s capacity to assess properties and enforce the state’s defensible space requirements.  Another, SB 12, steps-up the state’s land use planning requirements for wildfire. That bill requires local governments to develop comprehensive retrofit strategies that will reduce the community’s wildfire risk. While wildfire is a top topic in Sacramento, lawmakers are also dealing with the pandemic and the state’s other perennial crisis—affordable housing.  Despite these other pressing issues, the state does not have time to wait for action on all five Outthink Wildfire™ fronts: retrofits, use of codes and standards, increasing local fire department capacity, land management needs, and public education. Unfortunately, California cannot dig out of this crisis over the course of one state budgetary cycle, but it can undertake comprehensive action that will turn the tide. Learn more about Outthink Wildfire and its key action policies at nfpa.org/wildfirepolicy. 
Electric Vehicle

Texas electric vehicle crash underscores need for first responders to learn about hazards and response tactics

In response to a tragic electric vehicle crash that killed two occupants in Texas last week, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are reminding responders that they offer resources that can help safely handle incidents involving EVs. Although the cause of the recent Tesla incident is still being determined, news reports indicate that, despite intense heat, the fire was extinguished within four minutes. Firefighters; however, remained on scene for four hours cooling the car’s battery with tens of thousands of gallons of water. This is not the first time, we are hearing about batteries reigniting after on scene suppression and with the popularity of EVs growing, according to online car shopping site Edmunds, it certainly won’t be the last "We're not only about to see a massive leap in the number of EVs available in the market; we're also going to see a more diverse lineup of electric vehicles that better reflect current consumer preferences. And given that the new presidential administration has pledged its support for electrification, the U.S. is likely to see incentive programs targeted at fostering the growth of this technology further," Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of insights said.  Edmunds indicates that there will be 30 EVs from 21 brands coming on the market this year, compared to 17 vehicles from 12 brands in 2020. Notably, this will be the first year that there will be offerings in all three major vehicle categories: cars, SUVs, and trucks. While EVs are great for the environment, new technologies often present a learning curve for first responders. In the interest of public and responder safety, NTSB investigated four EV incidents and released a thorough report on hazards and gaps. In particular, the NTSB identified two concerning trends: inadequate vehicle manufacturers’ emergency response guides gaps in both safety standards and research related to lithium-ion batteries involved in high-speed, high-severity crashes The NTSB also found, in part, that: Damage and fire because of a crash may prevent first responders from disabling the high voltage in electric vehicles Thermal runaway and battery reignitions after initial fire suppression can pose additional challenges Stranded energy can cause electric shock and potential fire hazards Safely storing an electric vehicle with a damaged high-voltage lithium-ion battery in a tow yard may not be feasible NFPA has been developing EV safety information for 12 years. The association has worked with every auto/truck/bus manufacturer who sells EVs and hybrids in this country and has received pre-market safety information so that responders have the most up-to-date training, tools, and resources. The NFPA EV Safety Training website, www.evsafetytraining.org, is the most accessed repository in the U.S. for EV responder safety information. This dedicated site offers videos on stranded energy, responder tactics, a fact sheet with on-scene safety information, and direct links to all NFPA EV Safety Training courses and vehicle resources, including U.S. EV Emergency Response Guides. To help communities deal with EV-related response and the infrastructure challenges that often accompany market growth, NFPA has secured two Department of Energy (DOE) grants related to EVs. The first, entitled NFPA Spurs the Safe Adoption of EVs through Education and Outreach, will allow NFPA to develop free EV safety training for utilities, code officials, charging station installers, EV fleet owners, tow and salvage responders, crash reconstruction teams, manufacturers, dealerships, garage maintenance workers, insurance companies, and EV owners. As part of that effort, NFPA, in conjunction with Clean Cities Coalitions, will also set up community planning meetings in 30 cities around the country to help prepare these locations for a large influx of EVs. The second effort calls for enhancing and promoting an NFPA Distributed Energy Resources Safety Training program. NFPA will update its current EV Safety classroom training for the fire service and develop an online gamification version of the distributed energy resource including how to respond to electric vehicle fires.

Safety Stand Down: Take the Quiz and Spread the Word About Rebuilding Rehab

The “2021 Fire Service Safety Stand Down Quiz” Sweepstakes is now live. The informative and interactive online quiz is designed to reinforce the safety messages that are part of this year’s Safety Stand Down theme, “Rebuild Rehab”. The dates for Safety Stand Down are June 20-26. Emergency services personnel are asked to take and promote the Safety Stand Down quiz, which features 13 questions and is now available at www.nfpa.org/fireservicequiz. Those who complete the quiz by Wednesday, June 23 at 11:59 p.m. ET will be automatically entered in a sweepstakes where 200 randomly selected participants will win a limited-edition challenge coin commemorating this year’s Safety Stand Down theme. Rehab should encompass all areas of post-incident health, including cardiac, nutrition, exposure, mental health, hydration, and heat stress to ensure that firefighters are ready to respond to the next emergency. Agencies are encouraged to suspend all non-emergency activities during Safety Stand Down week and focus on rehab training. An entire week is designated to ensure that all shifts and personnel can participate. The Safety Stand Down website offers a wide array of resources so that departments can start to plan out their educational activities. The Safety Stand Down campaign and quiz is organized each year by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Safety, Health & Survival Section, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), and the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) to bring attention to a particular responder safety concern.

Oregon Lawmakers Moving in the Right Direction on Wildfire

In 2020, wildfires in Oregon killed nine people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes and businesses. In response, legislators in 2021 are considering a number of measures to help those impacted, like bills to limit tax liability of victims and aid local governments with expenses incurred because of the fires. One bill though, aims to help the state prepare.  In early April, a bipartisan trio from the Oregon Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery voted to advance a comprehensive wildfire preparedness bill. If passed by the full legislature, SB 762 will lay the foundation for wildfire resilience in the state. SB 762 covers a lot of ground, from requiring wildfire mitigation plans from electrical utility providers, to helping small land holders tackle vegetation management, and establishing smoke mitigation programs for vulnerable populations.  Importantly, the bill also directs the Oregon Department of Forestry to develop and maintain a comprehensive statewide wildfire risk map.  With wildfire prone lands detailed on a map, state agencies will be able to act on SB 762’s requirements to pass wildfire safety building codes for those areas and develop recommendations to enable the state’s land use planning laws to address wildfire risk mitigation.  In 2020, as state officials were considering improving building codes for wildfire safety, the chairperson of their residential building code board asserted that “Oregonians” want “the freedom to choose where they want to live” and can take “the personal responsibility to construct their homes [according to] that choice.” In contrast, the authors of SB 762 rightly recognize that Oregonians, like everybody else, want safe homes built to the latest codes and standards. As emphasized by the bill’s sponsor, Natural Resource Committee Chair Jeff Golden, the bill was the culmination of thousands of hours of input from experts and individual stakeholders around the state, including those who worked developing the recommendations for the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response 2019 report.  Moreover, as state agencies move forward with the defensible space requirements, the land use recommendations, the building code changes, and other parts of the bill through advisory committees and public hearings, citizens will have many opportunities to provide input that reflects the state’s diverse landscape. Having passed out of the Natural Resources Committee, it is now up for the whole Senate to consider SB 762, and for the Oregon Joint Committee on Ways and Means to debate whether to fund the measure’s current price tag of $150 million. Surely, when the appropriators consider that cost, they will weigh it against the half a billion dollars that wildfires can cost the state each year. $150 million is a down payment on Oregon’s future needs.  An estimated one third of all Oregonians, 1.2 million people, live in areas at risk from wildfires. The Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response estimated that the cost to reduce wildfire risk across the state’s heavily forested landscape will be at least $200 million per year alone.  Of course, funding for land management and wildfire response is a mix of state and federal tax dollars. However, if Oregon policymakers fail to act on this wildfire crisis that sees harrowing evacuations, homes destroyed, and businesses interrupted, it’s Oregonians who pay the true price.   SB 762 is in line with NFPA’s Outthink Wildfire™, a call to end the destruction of communities by wildfire in 30 Years. SB 762 advances the right policies needed to begin retrofitting at-risk properties, constructing to wildfire safety codes, evaluating local response capacity, prioritizing land management needs, and educating the public on their role in reducing risk.  Oregon lawmakers should act to make sure it gets over the finish line this session.
National Wildfire Preparedness Day
Katy, TX building under construction fire

NFPA Addresses Building Under Construction Fires with New Fire Prevention Program Manager Online Training and Webinar Panel on April 15

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) launched a new Fire Prevention Program Manager Online Training Series today to help the building industry understand and adopt the strategies defined in NFPA 241 Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operation. The topic will also be discussed by a panel of industry experts during an Addressing Fire Safety Challenges During Construction webinar on April 15. Fire Prevention Program Manager Online Training Series In recent weeks, massive building under construction fires have occurred in Las Vegas, NV, Dallas, TX, and Everett, WA, underscoring NFPA research which shows an average of 3,840 fires in structures under construction and 2,580 fires in structures under major renovation per year. Building under construction fires cause an average of four civilian deaths, 49 civilian injuries, and $304 million in direct property damage annually, while fires in buildings undergoing major renovation cause an average of eight civilian deaths, 52 civilian injuries, and $104 million in direct property damage annually. “This new online learning, centered around NFPA 241, was developed in the spirit of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, which emphasizes the importance of applying referenced standards, investing in safety, and a skilled workforce,” NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley said.  Although NFPA 241 calls for a fire prevention program manager, credentials for the role are virtually non-existent in the market today. To help construction company leaders, building owners, job site supervisors, code officials, fire marshals, facility managers, and fire protection engineers have the skills needed to ensure the safety of buildings under construction, NFPA developed the new five-hour, five-part online learning series, assessment, and digital badge based on the anticipated job performance requirements (JPRs) for fire prevention program managers proposed for the next edition of NFPA 241. The training covers general fire protection awareness for all people on construction sites and the role of fire prevention program managers on a construction project with an emphasis on: Building safety and fire protection systems Hazard protection Inspections, permits and procedures The NFPA online training series is intended for fire prevention program managers who are new to the role and is designed to help learn how to actively manage a fire prevention program for a typical construction project.  Addressing Fire Safety Challenges During Construction Webinar The NFPA webinar scheduled for April 15 will feature a panel of industry experts discussing key considerations for construction site fire safety, including fire risks and the role of the fire prevention program manager, with time allotted for a robust Q&A session. Webinar panelists providing perspective on the topic include: Jim Begley, PE, FSFPE, CFM, TERPconsulting, principal Matthew Bourque, PE, WS Development, director of Fire Protection and Construction Operations Dick Davis, PE, FM Global, AVP, senior engineering technical specialist Nicholas Dawe, division chief/fire marshal, Cobb County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services
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