Published on March 1, 2020.

In Compliance | NFPA 101

Interior and exterior furnishings and contents changes for 2021 edition 

BY KRISTIN BIGDA


In July 25, 2015, a large fire broke out on a 14th-floor pool deck area at The Cosmopolitan resort in Las Vegas. The fire began shortly after noon, and while the exact cause was never confirmed, it was suspected that either carelessly discarded smoking materials from upper balconies or an electrical issue from the decorative lights used on and around the pool deck decor was to blame for the fire. The pool deck included large artificial palm trees made from plastic foam, which fueled the rapid growth of the fire. The fast-moving blaze consumed poolside cabanas and other furnishings and décor on the deck. 

At the time, national model fire and life safety codes did not specifically address combustible furnishings and contents on the outside of buildings. An NFPA Journal article from May 2016 highlighted the issues raised during this fire and the efforts underway at the time to raise awareness on the topic and what could be done to reduce the dangers associated with combustible decorations. The development of the 2018 edition of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, was already well underway, however, so any changes would have to wait until the following revision cycle. 

The second draft of the 2021 edition of NFPA 101 responds to the issues raised by the fire at The Cosmopolitan, as well as other issues documented in the changes coming to the expanded Chapter 10 related to a building’s interior and now exterior furnishings and contents. Included in the draft are new sections for combustible artificial decorative vegetation, outdoor furniture, and a section on combustible artificial decorative vegetation on roofs and near buildings. It’s this last section that directly relates and responds to those deficiencies discovered in July 2015 in Las Vegas. 

The newly proposed Section 10.5 will require combustible artificial decorative vegetation placed outdoors within five feet of a building (measured from the closest portion of the decoration to the building), on a roof of a building, or under an overhang to comply with provisions for flammability, open flames, electrical safety, and metallic vegetation. Combustible artificial decorative vegetation will now have to be labeled as having complied with one of two fire tests, NFPA 701 or NFPA 289, with additional limitations on the test method or heat release rate, depending on the option selected. In addition, candles and open flames are prohibited on artificial vegetation, and electrical wiring and lighting used for these decorative elements is required to be listed for its application. No electrical wiring or lighting will be permitted on artificial decorative vegetation constructed entirely of metal. 

While not as closely related to the fire at The Cosmopolitan, another new code section included in the 2021 second draft addresses outdoor furniture. Outdoor furniture placed under a combustible exterior projection must comply with additional provisions addressing the furniture materials and location. Furniture placed outdoors within two feet of the building and under a combustible exterior projection must be in an area protected by an approved automatic sprinkler system, or must comply with limitations of the materials and its material properties for which it can be constructed. 

New provisions for combustible artificial decorative vegetation inside of buildings is also being added to Chapter 10. These provisions will not only be consistent with model fire codes such as NFPA 1, Fire Code, but will provide better guidance for buildings with these types of contents. The new provisions address flammability, electrical equipment, and open flames. Prior to the addition of this section, NFPA 101 did not contain information on interior combustible artificial decorative vegetation, such as artificial Christmas trees or other artificial plants. 

Fires where furnishings and contents are ignition sources or major contributors to fire development are not uncommon. Discussion around the safety of building contents includes the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston in 1942, when 492 lives were lost in what remains the country’s deadliest nightclub fire. The blaze spread rapidly, in part due to the presence of highly combustible furnishings and interior decorations, including artificial palm trees. The cause of the fire was never conclusively determined. NFPA 101 continues to evolve to address new materials, modern fire tests, and the evolution of building materials and uses to improve occupant safety and protect property.

Certified amending motions on NFPA 101 will be voted on by the NFPA membership at this year’s technical meeting, with a final issuance of the 2021 edition by the NFPA Standards Council later this summer. Follow the final stages of the document’s development by visiting nfpa.org/101next

Kristin Bidga is technical lead for Engineering Technical Services. NFPA members and AHJs can use the Technical Questions tab to post queries on NFPA 101 at nfpa.org/101.