NFPA Today

A Closer Look at Some Assembly Occupancy Requirements

The fire at a Thai nightclub in early August 2022 was all too familiar. It started during a live music performance killing 20 people and injuring 25. Many of the details emerging are eerily similar to The Station nightclub fire which claimed the lives of 100 people and injured 230 more in February of 2003. In both instances, flammable interior finish and blocked exits were believed to have played a role in the fast-spreading fires and high number of fatalities. The 2003 tragedy led to a number of changes to NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, while also reiterating the importance of interior finish and means of egress requirements for assembly occupancies. Interior finishes are the interior surfaces of a building that are generally secured in place like wall and ceiling coverings. They have proven to be a contributing factor in how quickly a fire spreads. To minimize the impact interior finish has on fire spread, Chapter 10 of the 2021 edition NFPA 101, Life Safety Code®, establishes basic requirements for interior wall, ceiling, and floor finishes. Chapter 10 outlines two testing options: 1) testing in accordance with NFPA 286, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Evaluating Contribution of Wall and Ceiling Interior Finish to Room Fire Growth; or 2) testing in accordance with ASTM E84 or UL 723.  Paragraph 10.2.3.1.2 of the 2021 edition of NFPA 101, outlines acceptance criteria for materials tested in accordance with NFPA 286. The acceptance criteria includes: limitations on the spread of flames; peak heat release rate less than 800 kW; and for new installations the total smoke released throughout the test cannot exceed 1000 m2. Any material that meets the criteria outlined in 10.2.3.1.2 can be used wherever a Class A material is permitted. The alternative test method (ASTM E84 or UL 723) results in the material being grouped into a class. There are three classes- Class A, Class B, and Class C which are determined by a material’s flame spread index and smoke developed index. Class A materials will have the lowest flame spread index of the three classifications. The smoke developed index is the same range for all three classifications. For newly installed materials both the flame spread index and smoke developed index is considered, whereas for existing materials only flame spread index is considered. Occupancy chapters may further regulate interior finish beyond what is contained in Chapter 10. In both fires, acoustic material is believed to have been a major contributing factor in the rapid spread of fire. Assembly occupancies do further regulate interior finish. The requirements are the same for new and existing assembly occupancies. In general assembly areas with an occupant load of 300 or fewer, ceiling and wall materials must be Class A, B, or C. In general assembly areas with an occupant load of more than 300, and in corridors, and lobbies, interior wall and ceiling finishes must be Class A or B. In enclosed stairs interior finish materials must be Class A. One other contributing factor was the availability of exits. In both the fire in Thailand and at The Station nightclub, one of the doors to the outside was blocked for use by occupants to allow the band performing to have their own separate entrance/exit. One of the fundamental components of the Life Safety Code is the concept of free egress. Prohibiting people from entering the building via a door is one thing, but not allowing occupants to exit the building via the nearest door is unacceptable. Additionally, NFPA 101 prohibits the means of egress for assembly occupancies from going through hazardous areas such as kitchens, storerooms, closets, stages, and platforms. There are also requirements related to the size of a main entrance/exit, where one exists. History has shown that occupants tend to go out the way they came, even if there is an exit closer. The main entrance/exit provisions are intended to prevent crowd crush situations. In existing assembly occupancies, the main entrance/exit needs to be sized to accommodate at least one-half the total occupant load. For new assembly occupancies that are dance halls, discotheques, nightclubs, or that have festival seating, the main entrance/exits must be wide enough to accommodate two-thirds of the total occupant load. The main entrance/exit for all other new assembly occupancies must be sized to accommodate one-half the total occupant load. If the assembly occupancy is more than one level, then each level must have access to the main entrance/exit and that access must be sized to handle two-thirds (for new assembly occupancies) or one-half (for existing) of the occupant load of that level. The main entrance/exit requirements for certain types of new assembly occupancies was increased from one-half to two-thirds the total occupant load due to a crowd crush event during The Station nightclub fire. Another way the Life Safety Code strives to reduce the risk of crowd crush is by requiring trained crowd managers. All assembly occupancies, with the exception of certain ones used exclusively for religious worship, are required to have at least one trained crowd manager. Depending on the total occupant load, additional crowd managers may be required. Typically, there should be one crowd manager for every 250 occupants. Prior to the 2006 Edition, crowd managers were only required for assembly occupancies with occupant loads of more than 1000. After The Station nightclub fire, the Life Safety Code was changed to require at least one crowd manager for all assembly occupancies. Within 2 minutes of the fire starting at The Station nightclub, there was crowd crush at the main entrance/exit. This led to the main entrance/exit being almost completely impassable. The crowd manager’s responsibilities include understanding crowd management, understanding methods of evacuation, being familiar with the facility evacuation plan, being familiar with the emergency response procedures, and understanding procedures for reporting emergencies. While the cause of the recent fire at the Thai nightclub is still under investigation, The Station nightclub fire was caused by pyrotechnics. To reduce the risk of open flames or pyrotechnics starting a fire in an assembly occupancy they are prohibited unless certain conditions are met. In order for pyrotechnics to be used on stage before proximate audiences, precautions to prevent ignition of any combustible material, satisfactory to the authority having jurisdiction must be met and the use of the pyrotechnic device must comply with NFPA 1126, Standard for the Use of Pyrotechnics Before a Proximate Audience. As we have seen countless times, fires in assembly occupancies, and in particular nightclubs, can result in a high number of fatalities. By carefully considering the use of open flames and pyrotechnics we can eliminate potential ignition sources in these types of occupancies. Additionally, ensuring the interior finish requirements for assembly occupancies are met can help slow the spread of fire. Fires in an assembly occupancy have the added risk of leading to a crowd crush event. Compliance with the means of egress and crowd manager requirements will help reduce the risk of crowd crush events during emergency situations. 
House on fire with firefighters on the scene

Research Foundation 40th anniversary webinar series recordings now available

The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), research affiliate of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA®), conducted a two-day webinar series on August 24 and 25, 2022, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The webinar series covered research topic areas and themes that are aligned with research priorities of FPRF and the fire and life safety industry. This webinar series consisted of presentations by subject matter experts addressing the following themes: Day 1 program: Webinar recording Reduce Residential Fire Losses Fire Safety in the US since 1980 Cooking fires Impact of Medications on Older Adult Fall and Fire Risk Strategies for Community Resilience Wildland & Wildland Urban Interface Fires CAREDEX: Disaster Resilience in Aging Communities via a Secure Data Exchange Global Community Resilience Data Collection and Data Analytics to Inform Policy Global Fire data standardization Insurance Data – openIDL CRAIG 1300TM National Firefighter Cancer Registry Day 2 program: Webinar recording Hazards of New Materials and Systems Fire Safety Challenges of Green Buildings Energy Storage Systems Hazards of Modern Vehicles in Parking Structures Increase Effectiveness and Reliability of Safety Systems Impact of Research on NFPA 13 Impact of Research on NFPA 72 Effectiveness of fluorine free firefighting foams Fire Fighting Safety & Effectiveness Fire Service Contamination control & PPE Cleaning validation Firefighting foams: fire service roadmap Firefighter immersive learning training  If you missed attending this webinar series, the presentation recordings are now available to view on demand at www.nfpa.org/webinars. To learn more about the Research Foundation and our work over the last four decades, please visit: www.nfpa.org/fprf40.

Fire Break

Wildfire with houses in the forefromt

Time Is Running Out! Apply for Your Community Wildfire Defense Grant Today.

With tens of thousands of communities in the United States located in wildfire-prone areas, there is an urgent need to invest in mitigation measures that will reduce the risk to people and homes. Responding to this, last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act established a $500 million Community Wildfire Defense Grant (CWDG) program to help local governments and other groups plan and implement mitigation projects. After several months developing guidelines and eligibility rules for the program, the US Forest Service has opened up the grant application process. Communities with high or very high wildfire hazard potential, those that have been impacted by a severe disaster, and those that are low-income are especially encouraged to apply. Information on the application process, award size, timing, match requirements, and other basics can be found on the Forest Service’s website. One key thing to know is that applicants will need to ground their proposed projects in their Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs). Communities without a CWPP, or those with a CWPP over 10 years old, can use the grants to develop these plans. In addition to this planning process to assess the scope of the wildfire hazard and prioritize mitigation actions, the grants can be used to build other fundamentals, like sound land-use and building practices, a skilled workforce, and an educated public. Grants can be used to support implementation and enforcement for wildfire-related codes and standards including NFPA 1140, Standard for Wildland Fire Protection, to train and certify public officials and others in the community on mitigating wildfire hazards, and to educate the public through programs like Firewise USA®. Large-scale projects, like clearing fuel breaks and defensible space on private and public land, are eligible, too. But developing the foundational tools for mitigation ensures prevention and preparedness are part of the community fabric. The deadline to apply for the CWDG is October 7. However, communities that miss out this year will have an opportunity next year, as the program is set to run for five years. The Infrastructure Act provided a valuable down payment to help lower wildfire risk for millions of homes with significant exposure. Now, it will be up to communities to sustain it. Learn more about the grant program—and download a fact sheet on how the grant money can be used to invest in NFPA resources—at nfpa.org/wildfire.

Now Accepting Nominations for the 2023 Wildfire Mitigation Awards

Established in 2014, the national Wildfire Mitigation Awards program recognizes outstanding work and significant program impact in wildfire preparedness and mitigation. By honoring the achievements of awardees, the program sponsors seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value of wildfire mitigation efforts. The Wildfire Mitigation Awards are jointly sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA®), and the USDA Forest Service. The program includes three awards: (1) the National Wildfire Mitigation Award, (2) the National Mitigation Hero Award, and (3) the Wildfire Mitigation Legacy Award. Effective community fire adaptation efforts can take many shapes. Creating a local mitigation coalition, implementing community wildfire protection plans, conducting community-wide assessments, promoting defensible space and home hardening, treating for hazardous fuels, and engaging fire departments and building code officials to reduce wildfire risk are ALL great examples of wildfire mitigation work. You can submit a nomination and view the nomination guidelines and selection criteria here on NASF’s website. All nominations for the 2023 Wildfire Mitigation Awards must adhere to these criteria and be submitted to this online form by Friday, November 11, 2022. To meet past Wildfire Mitigation Awardees, go to stateforesters.org/mitigation. Have questions? Please contact Meghan Marklewitz at meghan@iafc.org or (703) 896-4839. Photo: Winners of the 2022 National Wildfire Mitigation Awards (WMAs). From left: Schelly Olson, Chris Colburn (and Mike Mathis), Jonathan Riley, Danny Blevins, Paul Cada, and The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (Amanda Milici).

Safety Source

Sparky and a group of kids

This Year’s Fire Prevention Week, October 9–15, Is More Important than Ever

At its core, Fire Prevention Week™ is a grassroots campaign that thousands of fire departments and safety advocates bring to life in their communities each year, delivering basic but critical home fire safety messages that better educate the public about home fire risks and how to prevent them. NFPA® statistics show a steady decline in the number of fires occurring in US homes over the past few decades. The work done in support of Fire Prevention Week each year has no doubt played a part in this progress. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the nation’s home fire death rate, which has stagnated in recent years. In fact, you’re more likely to die in a home fire today than you were in 1980. These numbers tell us that while we’ve made great strides in teaching people how to prevent home fires from happening, there’s still more work to do when it comes to educating the public about the speed at which fires grow and spread, the small window of time they have to escape from the time the smoke alarm sounds, and how to use that time wisely to get out as quickly and safely as possible. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fire Prevention Week this October 9–15 and all that has been accomplished in reducing the fire problem over the past century, this year’s theme, “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape™,” addresses pressing challenges that remain. With the campaign just around the corner, we encourage all fire departments and safety advocates to take full advantage of the materials and resources available on our Fire Prevention Week website at www.firepreventionweek.org. A previous blog I wrote highlights the many ways the campaign can be promoted locally, whether it’s posting social media cards on your social platforms, hosting community events, sending a news release to local news outlets, or teaching age-appropriate lesson plans in the classroom—to name just a few. And there’s still time to do it! Much of this outreach can be completed quickly and easily. Overall, the public needs to learn about the value of home escape planning and practice more than ever. Fire Prevention Week presents an ideal opportunity to share these critical messages. Doing all we can to make sure as many people as possible hear and benefit from them can truly help increase their safety from fire.

Falls Prevention Awareness Week Is September 18–24

“Falls prevention is a team effort” is a key theme of this year’s Falls Prevention Awareness Week hosted by the National Council on Aging Center for Healthy Aging. This campaign raises awareness for older adults, their caregivers, and health care professionals about the increased risks and impacts of falls on those aged 65+. Fifty-two million Americans aged 65 or older make up 16 percent of the total US population. Yet they experience disproportionate injuries and deaths from fires and falls—twice the general population when it comes to fires. Falls are the leading cause of death from unintentional injuries for older adults, with nearly 1 in 3 seniors—that’s 17 million people—suffering a fall each year. This year’s Fire Prevention Week™ (FPW™) theme “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape.™” pays particular attention to the needs of older adults in planning to safely escape their home in the event of fire.  Preventing slips, trips, and falls when evacuating is of key importance considering people may have as little as 2 minutes to safely escape their home.  Key fall prevention for safe home escape tips for older adults include:  Remove clutter in the hallways, stairways, and near exits/windows for a clear, safe path out of your home. Make sure all windows and doors can open in an emergency. If you use a walker or wheelchair, check all exits to be sure you can fit through the doorways. Keep your walker, scooter, cane, or wheelchair by your bed/where you sleep to make sure you can reach it quickly. Keep your eyeglasses, mobile phone, and a flashlight by your bed/where you sleep to be able to reach them quickly in an emergency. Consider sleeping in a room on the ground floor to make emergency escape easier. Fire service, elder care, and public health professionals have a unique opportunity to work together to reduce the growing incidence of injuries and deaths from fires and falls among older adults. As such, NFPA has undertaken a set of enhancements to our legacy Remembering When™ Older Adult Fire and Fall Prevention program, now called Steps to Safety™: Prevent fire and falls at home.   Coming out later this fall, Steps to Safety™ is still focused on pairing fire service with community partners to deliver group presentations, conduct home visits, and create a community network of resources to support older adults and their caregivers. Enhancements include a new online learning curriculum, new videos, and new social media assets.  The program remains rooted in key fire and fall prevention messages, with updated messaging on the role of medications in fire and fall risk. All training and program materials are currently being finalized and will be available on our website at a date to be released in the coming months.  Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis, Sparky the Fire Dog® on Twitter and Facebook and NFPA on Instagram to keep up with the latest in fire and life safety education.

Fire Sprinkler Initiative

Family in living room

Home Fire Sprinklers, Working Smoke Alarms, and Family Escape Plan Prove Vital in Protecting Homes and Lives in Maryland and Massachusetts Fires

For fire safety advocates, home fire protection success stories are big news for us. Home fire sprinklers are vital to protecting the people who live in the homes as well as our first responders. Recent successful saves in both Maryland and Massachusetts help illustrate this message. In July, a family in Fallston, Maryland experienced the unthinkable when a home fire broke out while an infant was in an upstairs bedroom. What could have gone so tragically wrong that day went perfectly in this case, thanks to fire sprinklers and signaling smoke alarms. The infant was saved. In fact, no injuries occurred in this fire and property damage was limited to the kitchen, where an unattended candle was determined to be the fire’s cause. The Fallston Volunteer Fire Company arrived at the scene at 10:15 a.m., discovering a fire in the kitchen with a single activated fire sprinkler. According to the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office, the homeowner had been outside the home at the time of the fire. She heard the smoke alarm, and because the activating sprinkler had controlled the candle fire, she was able to safely evacuate her infant from the second floor.  Why was this family so fortunate when every day we read the tragic news stories about other home fires? Maryland requires fire sprinklers in all new-construction homes. In a press release, State Fire Marshal Brain S. Geraci pointed out that fire sprinklers are proven to save lives, prevent injuries and protect property. The best home fire safety practice is a combination of working smoke alarms, fire sprinklers and an escape plan. This story’s happy ending proves these are a winning combination. Naturally, we celebrate each home fire sprinkler save as if it is the first. Happily, these saves are reported more frequently as more homes are being protected with fire sprinklers. Sometimes, the reports provide bittersweet real-life, side-by-side education examples. That was the case this spring, when the Hopkinton (Massachusetts) Fire Department responded to two similar home fires. Both homes were under construction and both fires were caused by the careless disposal of oily rags. Fortunately, no occupants were in either home at the time. One home was protected with fire sprinklers while the other was not.   When firefighters arrived at the sprinklered home, they found a single sprinkler had activated, confining the fire and damage to a small area in the dining room. The home had just received its certificate of occupancy and workers had been preparing for the homeowner to move in. According to Hopkinton Fire Chief William Miller, the sprinkler save was the third in that development in the past three years. Each one has involved a single sprinkler containing the fire and limiting its damage. Unfortunately, it was a very different outcome for the unsprinklered home. Upon arrival, Hopkinton firefighters found smoke and flames coming from the house, which was built in an area outside the water district and therefore had no fire hydrants. The need to bring in tankers resulted in delays in extinguishing the fire, even with mutual aid coming from multiple nearby departments. Ultimately, the house was a complete loss. The moral of these stories is that when it comes to new construction, home fire sprinklers are vital to protecting the people who live in the homes as well as our first responders. Fire sprinklers, smoke alarms and escape plans are a win-win for every community, large or small. And as the Hopkinton fire loss showed, homes built in areas without fire hydrants are a particularly strong argument for the installation of home fire sprinklers. Learn more about home fire sprinklers by visiting homefiresprinkler.org.

Virtual reality makes home fire sprinklers a local reality

It’s not always practical to conduct a live burn to showcase the true value and impact of home fire sprinklers, but as we all know, seeing is believing. At the NFPA Conference & Expo®, HFSC Communications Manager Peg Paul and I led an education session about a powerful way to conduct a side-by-side sprinkler demo that doesn’t involve actual flames: virtual reality (VR). HFSC’s new VR home fire and sprinkler activation video is changing the way we fire and life safety educators reach our audiences, especially the ones that are hard to reach. That’s because this side-by-side is truly portable; it requires no construction, no permitting and no live fire. And because the attendees at our session had such a positive reaction to the new VR resources, I wanted to share them with you. State-of-the-art virtual reality The VR video was produced using state-of-the-art cinematic technology to capture actual house fires in two identical living rooms. In one room, viewers experience the fire in real time until flashover occurs. In the other room, they see how the high heat from the fire activates the sprinkler, controlling the fire and smoke. The comparison video showing the difference with sprinklers is especially memorable. The attendees in our session agreed that one of the strongest features is that what viewers see is real. Unlike VR animation, this resource offers a realistic educational opportunity to understand what a home fire is like, and how vital fire sprinklers are to escape, survival and property protection. Intended for adults, the dramatic video is available at no cost on HFSC’s YouTube channel for anyone to view in 2D. This gives them the ability to experience the video by using a smart device to “move around” in the fire rooms. We encouraged attendees to consider using the VR video to reach and educate future homebuyers in their communities. Through digital advertising, HFSC is targeting people planning to build new homes, primarily millennials – the demographic making up the largest share of homebuyers of any generation. In a survey of homeowners, 80% of millennials who were educated about how sprinklers worked said they would prefer a to buy a home with home fire sprinklers. With a strong new-home construction market, that finding underscores the importance of widespread education in most communities. Advertising the facts about home fires and fire sprinkler technology, and the new, free virtual reality video online, is proving effective. Since the video was posted five months ago, it has been viewed more than 350,000 times with the average view time of three minutes. We invited attendees to link to HFSC’s YouTube channel, website and post the VR video on their department websites directly and I encourage you to do the same. Social media is another smart method to reach consumers. HFSC offers a variety of downloadable social media cards to simplify posts to any social account. Virtual reality in 3D To explore the value of an enhanced 3D experience, HFSC has been evaluating cost-effective 3D glasses that are used with a smart phone. With the smart phone open to the YouTube video, the user clips their phone onto the reusable glasses and experiences the VR video in dramatic 360-degrees. Our session attendees loved them! In addition to offering the glasses through fire and life safety conferences, including C&E, HFSC recently shared the glasses with 50 Built for Life Fire Departments that are using and evaluating them as part of their community risk reduction outreach. HFSC Immersive Virtual Reality Kit for fire educators The most immersive experience with this virtual home fire and flashover video is achieved by wearing VR headsets. HFSC has produced a small number of full-scale VR kits complete with 15 headsets, a presenter laptop and a self-contained rolling case.  Using the kit, the presenter can show the new VR video to a group or use the headsets with individuals. The kit can be transported and used indefinitely. HFSC is currently evaluating the effectiveness of the immersive kit in five regions throughout the country. Using funding from a 2021 FEMA FP&S grant, this evaluation is targeting varied stakeholders who play a role in determining if new-construction homes will be protected with fire sprinklers. In addition to the fire service and AHJs, these stakeholders include developers, builders, planners, building officials and other local decision-makers and water purveyors. By bringing the immersive VR experience to them, fire and life safety educators are finding it much easier to reach and educate these stakeholders. Based on 400 evaluations to date, local results are promising. More than 90% of users said it was a realistic experience and gave it high marks for the ability to “move around” in the rooms. When asked to rank the educational benefit of the experience, 85% gave it the highest rank. A few members of the fire service said the immersive experience was so realistic they could almost smell the smoke. Incentives can seal the deal Peg and I devoted a lot of our session to talking about how this new virtual educational tool can enhance local AHJ outreach to builders and developers. We shared HFSC’s developer incentive program, which provides free information and case studies on AHJs who have used it successfully to increase sprinklered new-home construction in their jurisdictions. We had an active discussion with attendees about the challenges fire departments face dealing with sprinkler myths, code update challenges and other negativity that impacts even voluntary sprinkler installations. As a result, in communities without new- construction home fire sprinkler requirements, local developer incentives are an essential strategy for AHJs to achieve protection of entire developments. Fortunately, the incentive approach is effective. Regardless of code restrictions, AHJs have the authority to offer valuable incentives (aka trade ups) and they are using this power with increasing success. Developer incentives, best negotiated at the pre-approval stage, are offered in exchange for full sprinkler protection to facilitate profitable infrastructure flexibility. By taking advantage of these, developers can utilize land better for higher revenue and reduce infrastructure and other construction costs. The upshot? A local AHJ-led developer incentive program is a mutually beneficial strategy that helps achieve Community Risk Reduction goals, protecting residents, firefighters and the entire community. See for yourself why this new virtual reality home fire and sprinkler activation video is a better side-by-side! And please, share your experiences with us so we can keep improving this resource.

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