Topic: Fire Protection Systems

James M. Shannon Award
Energy Storage System

NFPA releases energy storage system fact sheet as Biden Administration set to lead a clean energy revolution

NFPA has released a new energy storage systems (ESS) safety fact sheet as President-elect Joe Biden, a strong clean energy proponent, is set to take office on Wednesday. The 46th president and his Administration are expected to spearhead a Clean Energy Revolution via a 9-step plan their campaign laid out. That strategy states, in part, that, “On the first day of Biden’s Administration, according to the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there will only be 9 years to stop the worst consequences of climate change. Biden will act on climate change immediately and ambitiously, because there is no time to waste, and will invest $400 billion over ten years, as part of a broad mobilization of public investment, in clean energy and innovation – an investment (in today’s dollars) that is twice what was made in the Apollo program that put man on the moon.”  NFPA is no stranger to clean energy safety. Over the past 10 years, the Association has introduced groundbreaking training for the fire service and others on topics such as solar energy, energy storage systems, electric vehicles, and flammable refrigerants to ensure that as communities embrace and incentivize the use of green technologies, first and second responders are well-informed about potential safety issues. Policy makers, code officials, manufacturers, designers, engineers, skilled labor, and the public also share responsibility in ensuring the safety of people and property and have found enormous value in the NFPA guidance too.  With more and more countries, states, and communities putting forth zero emissions deadlines, tax breaks and other changes, NFPA developed the at-a-glance Energy Storage Systems Safety Fact Sheet to bring the safety considerations of ESS to the forefront. The resource distills key points identified in NFPA ESS training, NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Energy Storage Systems, and related materials, with an emphasis on:  The meaning of ESS The advantages of supplemental service, peak-shaving, load-leveling, and uninterruptible power supply Hazards such as thermal runaway, stranded energy, toxic and flammable gases, deep-seated fires, mechanical/thermal/electrical abuse and environmental impacts Designer/contractor considerations for safety – explosion protection/prevention, fire protection systems, battery management systems, and ESS spacing Permitting checklist for authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) Pre-incident planning and emergency operations planning highlights Available resources such as research, other fact sheets, and related standards  Additionally, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA, is in the process of finalizing an Energy Storage Research Consortium for interested members of the energy storage and fire protection industries to discuss industry-relevant fire protection issues and related research needs.  According to the Biden renewables strategy, a target will be set to reduce the carbon footprint of the U.S. building stock 50% by 2035 and incentives for deep retrofits that combine appliance electrification, efficiency, and on-site clean power generation will be introduced. Biden will also work with governors and mayors to support the deployment of more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by the end of 2030, an infrastructure issue that NFPA is currently focused on as part of the NFPA Spurs the Safe Adoption of Electric Vehicles though Education and Outreach effort.  NFPA has dedicated microsites for ESS, alternative fuel and electric vehicles, and the flammable refrigerants that are part of a global accord signed by nearly 200 countries including the United States; as well as insights from the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute. All these resources stress that safety is a system. 
Fire truck in Mexico City

The Mexico City Subway Station Fire Raises Questions About Maintenance and Updating

Here in Mexico City, where I am based for my role as NFPA development director for Latin America, there is significant buzz about the fire at the Buen Tono substation of the Mexico City Metro.A female police officer died when she fell during the incident, and the subway system that typically, during non-COVID times, serves 4.6 million commuters daily was severely disabled. Saturday’s incident has frustrated commuters and is raising important questions about necessary maintenance and upgrades. Given that I am charged with advancing government responsibility, fire and life safety infrastructure, code compliance, and emergency response strategies (among other safety considerations) in Mexico City, I, too, have a lot of questions including the obvious one, “how did this fire happen?” According to news reports, the fire broke out in Mexico City’s downtown substation and persisted for nearly 12 hours. It damaged six service lines including three of the system’s oldest and busiest lines which reportedly may not be repaired for three months. In addition to the police officer that perished, more than 30 people, including Metro workers, on-site police and a firefighter went to the hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation and other concerns. Mexico News Daily reports that a former director of the Metro said the substation had not been modernized in the last 20 years. “These installations should have been replaced 20 years ago [or] at least changed gradually [but] that wasn’t the case,” Jorge Gaviño said in a television interview. “They’re old, obsolete systems that definitely have to be given adequate maintenance to avoid … risks to passengers.” The news outlet quotes Gaviño as saying the Mexico City Congress will ask the Metro system’s management to supply the maintenance records of the substation so that they can be analyzed to determine why the fire broke out and how a similar event can be avoided in the future. NFPA research shows that between 2014-2018, fire departments in the United States responded to an estimated 1,100 fires per year in or at rapid transit stations. Since 1983, NFPA has produced NFPA 130 Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Systems to help jurisdictions address some of the very design, maintenance and safety requirements that I suspect may be identified here in Mexico City.  A Fixed Guideway Transit Systems Technical Committee was first formed in 1975 and began work on the development of NFPA 130 with one of the primary concerns centered on the potential for entrapment and injury of masses of people who routinely use mass transportation facilities. During development of the document, several significant fires occurred in fixed guideway systems. The committee noted that the minimal loss of life during these incidents was due primarily to chance events more than any preconceived plan or the operation of protective systems. So, they focused on developing material on fire protection requirements to be included in NFPA 130. In 1988, the standard was expanded to include automated guideway transit (AGT) systems – fully automated driverless transit systems which are automatically guided along a guideway. In subsequent years, new chapters on emergency ventilation systems, egress calculations in accordance with NFPA 101® Life Safety Code®, and protection requirements that address emergency lighting and standpipes were factored in. In other words, as new incidents, issues and best practices arose, the standard changed and so, too, should have the design and maintenance of the Metro station in Mexico City to ensure passenger safety and business continuity. Over the years, NFPA has served as a safety resource for organizations like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States. In 2015, NFPA staff offered safety insights to NTSB when an electrical malfunction filled the busy Metro subway station in downtown Washington, DC. That incident produced thick, black smoke and left many riders stranded after their train stopped in a tunnel. When all was said and done, a woman was dead and nearly 70 others were sent to the hospital. According to The Washington Post, authorities believed a train, which had just left the L’Enfant Plaza station, came to a halt about 800 feet into the tunnel because there was “an electrical arcing event” that occurred about 1,100 feet in front of the train. The event filled the tunnel with smoke because the arcing involved cables that power the third rail; arcing is often connected with short circuits and may generate smoke. There did not appear to have been a fire during that incident but nonetheless, questions about ventilation and maintenance were brought up in the aftermath of that incident, just as they will and should be brought up now by authorities in Mexico City. I also learned this week that the issue of train safety will be the subject of an NFPA Journal in Compliance column that is scheduled to run next month, and  my colleagues at the Fire Protection Research Foundation explained that although they do not have research on this topic, others do, including: NIST – Fire Safety in Passenger Rail Transportation Brandforsk/RISE: Model Scale Railcar Fire Tests Victoria University - Fire Development in Passenger Trains (Thesis) International Association for Fire Safety Science (AFSS) As the former Metro director of the Metro Jorge Gaviño said to the media, “We have to find out if … this regrettable accident was foreseeable or not.”  I stand ready to help Mexico City authorities if they need NFPA insights to get public transportation safely back on track. This blog is also available in Spanish.

NFPA’s 125th Anniversary Conference Series is Unveiled, replacing traditionally scheduled plans for 2021 Conference and Expo®

With the continued uncertainty of live events stretching well into 2021, NFPA has announced that the 2021 NFPA Conference & Expo® (C&E) will not happen as traditionally scheduled and instead will be replaced with the 125th Anniversary Conference Series, a year-long, targeted, virtual experience. Given the continued threats posed by the pandemic, holding an in-person event of C&E’s size and scope is not a safe option. Consequently, NFPA is switching gears so that we can fully devote our efforts to creating a new, virtual experience that lives up to our audiences’ expectations while ensuring the safety of everyone who attends and participates. The new conference series will feature education sessions for specific areas of expertise, networking events, and product showcases throughout 2021, culminating with the return of an in-person 2022 event in Boston that celebrates the association’s 125th anniversary. In the months ahead, the 125th Anniversary Conference series will digitally deliver an innovative host of resources, information, events, and activities that reflect our continued efforts to leverage technology to significantly advance the way safety information is delivered and used to reduce loss across the globe. The NFPA annual business meeting will take place virtually this year during the week of June 21 ,2021. The annual technical session will take place electronically at a date to be announced. Additional details on the technical session can be found at www.nfpa.org/2021techsession. For more information and the latest updates, visit www.nfpa.org/conference.
Wildfire Community Preparedness Day

What you do makes a difference: Wildfire Community Preparedness Day 2021 launches to help protect homes and neighborhoods

Now more than ever, it’s vital that people take steps to protect their homes from wildfire. That’s why NFPA andState Farm® are hosting the eighth annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day (Preparedness Day) event on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Financial support from State Farm will once again enable NFPA to provide 150 applicants from across the country with $500 awards to complete a wildfire risk reduction project. Research show there are proven methods to prepare properties to withstand the devastating impacts of a wildfire. NFPA encourages project award applicants to focus on eliminating ignition hazards in the Home Ignition Zone – the home and everything right around it. Simple, low cost projects such as clearing dead leaves, debris, and pine needles from roofs and gutters, keeping lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches, removing anything stored underneath decks or porches that could burn, and other similar actions are being actively supported by NFPA and State Farm on Preparedness Day and can be easily undertaken by most homeowners. Given the current challenge to holding large in-person gatherings, Preparedness Day can be the ideal time for individuals and families to focus on improving fire protection and safety where it can make the biggest difference – around your home and property. Get ready to make a difference and get involved in wildfire risk reduction where you live. Plan your project and apply now through February 26, 2021 for an award.  
Man dies after helping uncle to escape home fire in West Warwick, RI

Two tragic home fires underscore deadly risks of trying to save a loved one from a home fire, and the extreme importance of home escape planning and practice

Photo: WPRI.com In the past week, two tragic home fires underscored the deadly potential of trying to save a loved one from a home fire. The incidents also reinforce the value of developing a home escape plan and practicing it regularly with all members of the household. Last Friday, a woman in Beltsville, MD, escaped a home fire but re-entered the house to save her daughter. Unbeknownst to the mother, her daughter had already escaped to the outside, but she died inside while searching for her. On early Wednesday morning, a man died in a West Warwick, RI, home fire after working to awaken his sleeping uncle. The uncle escaped, believing his nephew was right behind him, but in actuality had become trapped inside and perished. In both incidents, the efforts and intentions of a family member trying to save a loved one from a home fire were overwhelmingly understandable and noble, but tragically contributed to their heartbreaking outcomes. A central feature of a home escape plan is having an outside meeting place in front of the home where everyone knows to meet. This practice helps quickly and accurately identify household members who have escaped safely and those who are still inside or unaccounted for. Another key message behind home escape planning and practice is “get outside, stay outside.” As simple as this behavior may sound, it can be a painfully challenging one to follow in a real-life fire situation. But because today’s home fires burn faster than ever, generating toxic smoke and gases that make it difficult or impossible to see and breathe within moments, the safest course of action is to get out as quickly and safely as possible and to alert firefighters to anyone trapped inside. Firefighters have the gear and training to go inside a burning building. For everyone else, re-entering a burning building or delaying your own escape presents grave risks. Overall, NFPA’s data shows that the number of U.S. home fires is declining, but the death toll incurred by them is not. In other words, while people are getting better at preventing home fires from happening, when home fires do occur, people are continuing to struggle to escape safely. Clearly, much work is still needed to be done in better educating the public about their real risk to home fires, and the critical value of home escape planning and practice. To increase awareness around these messages in your community, use and share NFPA’s home escape planning and practice resources, which offer step-by-step guidance, tools, and support for getting started.
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