Author(s): Fred Durso. Published on May 1, 2011.

An examination of the fire dynamics of the Sofa Super Store fire in Charleston, SC, is the topic of an education session on Monday, June 13. The 2007 event killed nine firefighters. (Photo:AP/Wide World)

Free Range
A toothsome assortment of education session highlights at this year’s NFPA Conference & Expo promises something for every taste. Go ahead and graze. 

NFPA Journal®, May/June 2011 

By Fred Durso, Jr.  

GET READY to be amazed — and not just by the sights and sounds of Boston’s wide-ranging summer spectacles, from sunburned tourist throngs at Quincy Market to Boston Pops concerts at Symphony Hall. The more than 130 education sessions at this year’s NFPA Conference & Expo promise to sharpen your professional expertise, as well as offer you a look at a broad range of fire safety topics, from building and life safety to a host of Earth-friendly initiatives.

Discover, for example, the latest data on brush and grass fires, which receive less media attention than wildfires but are far more numerous and cumulatively can be just as disastrous. For the Internet savvy (or inept), discover the good, the bad, and the ugly of online fire safety education. And learn how to avoid some of the common mistakes made in emergency planning. They’re just a few examples from the dozen different conference tracks at this year’s event.

To get you started, NFPA Journal® has compiled an admittedly subjective rundown of session highlights. For a complete listing of sessions and for location information, see the conference schedule or visit     


Fire Safety Education and the Web: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Paul Schwartzman, Fairport Counseling Services
Monday, June 13, 8–9 a.m.

If online videos of adolescents setting their heads aflame using flammable body sprays sound disturbing, Paul Schwartzman shares your consternation. "The Internet creates the need for more sensationalism and for people to outdo each other," says Schwartzman, a psychologist in Fairport, New York. He’s also executive director of the Finger Lakes Regional Burn Association in Fairport and former chair of NFPA’s education section.  "Unfortunately, the fire service and parents get wind of the videos and begin to believe the Web is a bad thing or poor influence on our kids. At the same time, it’s a powerful tool with incredible resources." With a background researching juvenile fire setting, Schwartzman will discuss the pros and cons of using the Internet to disseminate fire safety messages — even underscoring attempts from well-intentioned fire departments that do more harm than good.    


Brush and Wildland Fires: The Surprising Facts You Need to Know
Marty Ahrens and Michele Steinberg, NFPA
Sunday, June 12, 8 – 9 a.m.

Flames in the Wildland Urban Interface: How Wildfire Mitigation Planning Can Minimize Risk to People and Property
Gerry LaCavera, Florida Division of Forestry; Molly Mowery, NFPA
Monday, June 13, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Consider this: U.S. fire departments from 2004 to 2008 responded to an estimated 357,000 brush, grass, and forest fires — nearly a quarter of all reported fires. One in five were intentionally set. Yet these incidents take a back seat to the raging wildfires that seem to make more national and international headlines. "Within this five-year period, 4,800 buildings on average were involved in these lesser-known fires," says Michele Steinberg, NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program Manager. "That’s a significant number. A brush or grass fire will take your house down just as well as a wildfire will — sometimes even faster." Discover other statistics outlined in NFPA’s newest Brush, Grass, and Forest Fires Report, as well as mitigation tactics from NFPA’s Firewise Program, which safeguards homes from more than just wildfires.


Conflagration to Code: How Historic Building Fires Shaped Modern Codes
Thomas Gardner and April Musser, The Protection Engineering Group
Sunday, June 12, 8 – 9 a.m.

Protecting Scotland’s Heritage: Managing the Contract
Bill Jackson, National Library of Scotland
Sunday, June 12, 8 – 9 a.m.

Reconstructing the Sofa Super Store Fire — Understanding the Fire Dynamics
Nelson Bryner, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Monday, June 13, 8 – 9 a.m.

The High Cost of Fashion at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
Casey Grant, Fire Protection Research Foundation  
Tuesday, June 14, 11 a.m. – noon

Take a course or two on historic fires that have reshaped building and life-safety code provisions. Get the CliffsNotes version during a session highlighting a handful of deadly incidents, including the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fire in Boston and the Iroquois Theatre blaze in Chicago. For those seeking more in-depth lessons, attend sessions underscoring the details behind such tragedies at the Triangle Waist Co. fire, in New York City, which observed its 100th anniversary this year, or the more recent Sofa Super Store fire in Charleston, South Carolina, which is blamed for the highest number of firefighter deaths since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.      


Strategic Leap in Residential Fire Safety: Wide-Scale Home Visits
Philip Schaenman, TriData
Sunday, June 12, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.

As the former associate administrator with the U.S. Fire Administration, it was Philip Schaenman’s job to investigate the country’s comparatively high fire death rate and why other countries around the world didn’t share the problem. "The results were so shocking, I wouldn’t publish them," says Schaenman, who now heads TriData, which analyzes the government’s fire service figures. "I spent the last three years once again analyzing what they were doing overseas, and the results are no less shocking this time around. What I’ll discuss is a collection of what I found." When pressed for more information, Schaenman admits that preventative methods are the secret to those countries’ fire safety successes, particularly large-scale home visits from fire departments. Schaenman also highlights the effectiveness of this hands-on fire service approach in nine U.S. communities. "There are a lot of exciting things taking place that represent significant changes, and they don’t cost a whole lot for departments of any size to implement using their existing budgets."  


EV Charging Systems and the 2011 NEC® Requirements — Be Ready!
Thomas Lichtenstein and Alfredo Ramirez, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.
Sunday, June 12, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.

Report of U.S. National Electric Vehicle Safety Standards Summit
Casey Grant, FPRF
Monday, June 13, 4:15 – 5:15 p.m.

President Barack Obama’s aspiration to populate U.S. roadways with one million electric vehicles by 2015 may seem idealistic — until you discover the number of auto manufacturers that already have EVs and hybrid vehicles on the market or in production. Learn how NFPA is ready for the demand during a session on code provisions in NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®, that tackles how to safely charge these cars at home and on the road. A related session highlights a recent summit emphasizing how emergency responders, automakers, and the codes and standards community will need to work collaboratively to bolster this new technology.


Solar Photovoltaic Systems and the U.S. Regulatory Environment
Tom Lichtenstein and Alfredo Ramirez, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.
Sunday, June 12, 8 – 9 a.m. 

Firefighter Safety Considerations for Rooftop Photovoltaic System Installations
Bob Backstrom and Robert James, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.; Tonya Hoover, California State Fire Marshal; Matthew Paiss, San Jose Fire Department
Sunday, June 12, 11 a.m. – noon

Renewable Energy Requirements in the 2011 NEC®
Mark Ode, UL University
Monday, June 13, 2:45 – 3:45 p.m. 

Photovoltaic Systems — A 2011 NEC® Compliant Installation
Chad Kennedy, Schneider Electric/Square D
Tuesday, June 14, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.

Now is apparently an ideal time to harness the sun’s power. A recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association indicates that the U.S. solar market soared in value by 67 percent last year, and the number of grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) panels grew 102 percent. All the more reason to sit in on a session — or four— on this evolving technology. NEC® experts map out the code provisions related to installation of PV panels, and fire officials join members of Underwriters Laboratories to discuss the hazards associated with rooftop PV systems and its effect on firefighting tactics and strategies.


My Child Knows Better — Exploring Parental Myths
Don Porth, SOS Fires: Youth Intervention Programs
Monday, June 13, 4:15 – 5:15 p.m.

"I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard parents say, ‘My child knows better,’" says firefighter Don Porth. "After hearing that for years, what occurs to me is that apparently they don’t." Porth, a public education officer in Portland, Oregon, and president of SOS Fires: Youth Prevention Programs, a nonprofit dedicated to youth fire setting behaviors and intervention, will discuss parents’ role in effective fire safety lessons, and why, with the help of public educators, those lessons should extend beyond stop, drop, and roll. "We talk about crawling low under smoke in classrooms, but none of that explains to kids why fires are dangerous and why matches and lighters are appropriate tools for adults only," Porth says. "The fire service misses the boat because we do what’s easy and fun and not what’s necessary. Those other lessons are all necessary survival skills, but what about this: What if the fire didn’t start?" Porth will also analyze the usefulness and dangers of statements like "don’t do that" and "learning is reinforced by repetition and success."


Fire Education Designed for People With Developmental Disabilities
Stacy Everson, SEEDS Educational Services
Sunday, June 12, 8 – 9 a.m.

Making Fire and Life Safety Presentations Accessible for People Who are Blind or Have Low Vision
Marsha Mazz, The Access Board; Pat Pound, Disability Consultant
Sunday, June 12, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.

Autism Awareness for Fire and Life Safety Education
Bill Cannata, Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition
Tuesday, June 14, 8 – 9 a.m.

Get Real Using NFPA’s Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People With Disabilities
Allan Fraser, NFPA
Tuesday, June 14, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.

Bill Cannata knows firsthand the potential difficulties of communicating with someone diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); his 20-year-old son can only converse by making hand gestures and pointing to photographs indicating what he wants to communicate. As coordinator for the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition, developed in 2003 to train emergency responders to identify children and adults with ASD, he’s witnessed a growing trend. "When my son was a baby, [a person born with ASD] was one in 2,500," Cannata says. "Today, it’s one in 110. That’s a big increase." Cannata’s session will cover the unique learning styles of this population and how to assist them during an incident. Other sessions in this area will offer insight into presenting fire and life safety lessons to other populations with developmental disabilities and sight impairments, as well as necessary steps of emergency evacuation for people with disabilities from an NFPA expert.  


The Three E’s: What Your Mother Never Told You about Engineering, Education, and Enforcement
Scott Adams, Park City Fire Service District; Earl Diment, Pioneering Technology Corp.; Wanda Omdahl, Albany Fire Department; Lynn Schofield, Provo City Fire Department; Sherri Wilcox, Las Vegas Fire and Rescue
Monday, June 13, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield of the Provo City Fire Department in Utah equates life safety education to a stool with three legs: engineering, education, and enforcement. Each discipline, he says, is crucial in keeping the stool standing. If there are effective lines of communication between these participants, then issues that affect one department can be more easily identified and corrected by all departments, he says. This session features a panel that brings together field experts who will map out the best prevention strategies for communities.   


The 17 Mistakes Made in Emergency Plans — How to Avoid and Correct Them
Bo Mitchell, 911 Consulting
Sunday, June 12, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.

After reviewing nearly 500 emergency plans for corporations, medical facilities, and college campuses, Bo Mitchell has come to a startling conclusion. "The private sector is woefully unprepared as far as having written a plan that’s comprehensive, covers all hazards, is compliant, and where staff has been trained," says Mitchell, the president of 911 Consulting, which specializes in helping companies conduct emergency planning. Mitchell offers his take on the most common mistakes to emergency planning and how to fix them using NFPA 1600, Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs.  


The Hazards of Combustible Metals — What You Don’t Know May Injure or Kill Someone
Tom Christman, CSP; Kevin Kreitman, City of Redding Fire Department
Sunday, June 12, 9:30–10:30 a.m.

Can’t distinguish magnesium from titanium? If combustible metals seem like a foreign concept, the session’s presenters urge you to familiarize yourself with their dangers. "There are a lot of people in the fire service who don’t realize the hazards these metals present," says Kevin Kreitman, fire chief for the City of Redding Fire Department in California. "There’s also this belief that if you put enough water on a metal fire, you can extinguish it. In most cases, when you’re dealing with a large fire in a large quantity, you’ll have an intense reaction and accelerate it if you put water on it." The presentation will highlight NFPA 484, Combustible Metals, which includes procedures to control combustible metals fires.

Fred Durso, Jr. is staff writer for NFPA Journal.