Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on January 2, 2019.


Rome garbage plant fire is just one of many waste fires that occur worldwide


Rome’s longstanding garbage problem came to a head in December when a massive fire ignited at a garbage plant on the outskirts of the Italian capital, according to the Associated Press. The blaze blanketed parts of the city in what officials feared to be toxic smoke, prompting recommendations for residents to stay indoors, close their windows, and even avoid eating produce cultivated near the fire.

Fires at garbage dumps and trash processing facilities are common around the world. NFPA Journal reported on the issue in March 2018, after a massive fire broke out at a waste transfer station in Connecticut. For the article, the magazine spoke with Stuart Lloyd, a fire protection engineer from the United Kingdom and expert on waste fires.

“Waste facilities often have waste strewn across the floor below a really high ceiling,” Lloyd told NFPA Journal, when asked why fires at these facilities are so common. “There are no defined storage piles, no flue spaces, and no aisle ways … It’s much different than a traditional warehouse where neatly palletized goods are stored in piles or on racks with defined flue spaces, aisles, and prescribed maximum ceiling heights.”

This porous mass of waste introduces the potential for a fire to smolder inside of it, Lloyd added. “While fixed fire protection systems like automatic sprinklers may control the fire on the surface of a bulk mass, they’ll likely have no effect on a fire spreading within the mass because the water doesn’t get all the way through it,” he said. “Because of this, these fires may burn for days. In the U.K., we’ve had waste fires that have taken a week or more to fully extinguish.”

Lloyd said he fears the problem of waste fires will only get worse as the world produces more and more trash. By 2100, experts say the world’s population could be producing three times as much trash as it does now.

In Rome, officials suspected arson as the cause of the December waste fire, since the garbage plant had for years been the subject of protests by residents complaining of its odor. The fire, which rendered the facility inoperable, worsened an already-severe waste problem in the city. “Rome’s garbage collection and disposal system were notoriously insufficient even before the plant went out of service, and officials acknowledged that the blaze turned a festering problem into an emergency,” AP reported.

Read more about what Lloyd had to say about waste fires online.

Latin America

Fire officials convene at NFPA to talk Ecosystem

In November, fire officials from eight countries in Latin America gathered at NFPA’s Massachusetts headquarters to discuss how NFPA’s Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem applies to their home countries. The countries represented at the workshop included Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, and Paraguay.

Many attendees could identify breakdowns in the ecosystem that occur in their countries, said Olga Caledonia, who heads NFPA’s International Division. “There were some differences between countries in certain cogs, such as the role of AHJs in code compliance, but also similar challenges when looking at one another and even to more advanced countries like the U.S.,” she said. The group will meet again later this year.

The NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem is a concept unveiled in 2018 to identify the many moving parts that function together to achieve fire, life, and electrical safety. The full ecosystem comprises eight cogs, such as government responsibility and code compliance, which form a ring. “When one of the components fails, the system breaks down and tragedies result,” NFPA’s website reads. Learn more online and see our new “Ecosystem Watch” feature.

Marseille, France

Deadly building collapses highlight urgent infrastructure needs

Six people died in November after two buildings collapsed in Marseille, France, sparking outrage from the public and others over what they say is a lack of government action to address the city’s crumbling infrastructure.

“It’s hell here,” one Marseille resident told France 24. “They [the government] know that it’s crap and now people die for nothing.” He claimed the building collapses were “100 percent the fault of” the city government.

The news station also reported that almost 6,000 properties housing 44,000 homes had been identified as “at risk” by the city. According to NPR, a 2015 report by the Marseille government found 100,000 residents of the city were living in housing that was hazardous to their health or security.

French rescue workers are seen near rubble after two deadly building collapses in central Marseille, France, in November

Crumbling Infrastructure French rescue workers are seen near rubble after two deadly building collapses in central Marseille, France, in November. Photograph: Reuters

After a building collapse in Tehran, Iran, killed more than a dozen firefighters in January 2017, Don Bliss, NFPA’s vice president of field operations, wrote a column for NFPA Journal highlighting global building safety issues. “The reality is that improving building safety won’t happen overnight—it will take time, and it will also take money,” Bliss wrote. “In the meantime, it is critical for the fire service everywhere to take note of what happened in Tehran and prepare. It’s imperative that fire officials take stock of their cities and identify buildings that have the greatest potential for collapse.”

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: AP/Wide World