TELL US WHAT YOU THINK Email your letters to, or mail them to Editor, NFPA Journal, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, Massachusetts, 02169. Please include your title, company or organization affiliation, and where you're based. NFPA Journal reserves the right to edit letters and comments for content and length.

Published on November 1, 2020.

Reader Feedback

Irked by ‘blatantly political’ coverage in NFPA Journal

To the editor:

I was quite annoyed with the July/August NFPA Journal, particularly aspects of the cover story, “Risky Business,” by Steven A. Adelman, which addressed the reopening of assembly occupancies and certain aspects of public behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, Adelman’s article included the following: “So far, the will of the people seems to lean heavily toward willful ignorance. This is hardly surprising given the actions of many of our public officials, who refuse to model healthy practices themselves, thereby undermining the infection control guidance from experts such as the Centers for Disease Control. In May, for example, the Republican National Committee presented North Carolina with a proposal for its national convention, a plan that made no provision for social distancing or face covering. Shortly after that state wisely rejected the proposal, Florida welcomed the event with open arms. Over subsequent weeks, Florida became a national hot spot for new coronavirus infections. Since the learning curve seems especially steep in the Sunshine State, it appears that the convention will go on anyway.”

This statement is blatantly political and has no place in the NFPA Journal. This is a technical journal and should remain politically neutral unless it is a political issue with a fire-protection impact. Opinions on opening businesses and the overall coronavirus impact/actions/dangers should be left to experts for which there doesn’t appear to be a consistent reliable source.

At the same time, I commend Jim Pauley, NFPA president, for avoiding political advocacy or opinion around this issue.

Ray Nella 
Global Risk Consultants Corp.
Clark, New Jersey

The editor responds:

While we appreciate the reader’s critique of the article, a few clarifications are necessary. NFPA Journal is a membership magazine that considers all facets of the work conducted by NFPA—our coverage extends well beyond technical matters and includes, among other things, regular updates related to the organization’s outreach and advocacy work, including legislative efforts supported by NFPA and its partners. It is unfortunate and dismaying that much of the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has in fact become political in nature, and publications like NFPA Journal would be remiss if they did not attempt to disentangle political maneuvering from the essential components of that response. As Mr. Adelman’s article on assembly occupancies points out, there is in fact an array of challenges faced by these occupancies that could have significant impacts on fire protection and life safety. I agree with the reader that opinions on all such matters are best left to experts, which is why we approached Mr. Adelman, a nationally recognized expert in venue and live-event safety, to share his insights and predictions.

Finally, we have one update to a “Risky Business” prediction made by Mr. Adelman. In late July, President Trump cancelled the Republican National Convention, slated for August in Jacksonville, Florida, citing the state’s coronavirus “flare-up.”

Kudos on testing and verification of emergency lighting

To the editor:

Thanks to Shawn Mahoney for reminding us that the emergency lighting needs to be tested and illumination of exit markings and signs needs to be verified when reopening buildings during the pandemic [“In Compliance,” July/August].

This equipment is critical whenever a building loses power and there is a need for evacuation. Although many building owners and fire inspectors will push the test button to see that the lights come on, some of them don’t realize that the monthly 30-second test only tells us that the unit is functional and the bulbs have not burned out.

The In Compliance article emphasizes the importance of the annual 90-minute test to verify the capacity of the batteries to support illumination of the emergency lighting for the full duration of the test. Typically, technicians who perform the testing are not only trained on the methods of testing mentioned in the article, but they also carry replacement parts in their service vehicles, including bulbs and batteries to match the installed equipment. Having the know-how and the replacements immediately available ensures the equipment is returned to service quickly and safety is restored.

From a safety standpoint, Shawn correctly points out that building owners and facility managers should make sure that all required inspection, testing, and maintenance on emergency lighting and exit signs is up to date upon reopening. Additionally, they should schedule their next 90-minute annual test and make sure it is completed within 12 months.

Checking the current records and scheduling the next annual 90-minute battery-load test will help ensure the emergency lights illuminate the egress path in the event of a power outage, which will enable us all to get out safely.

Mark Conroy
Senior engineer
Brooks Equipment Company
Charlotte, North Carolina
(The author is a member of several NFPA technical committees.)

Clarifying standards for flame-resistant clothing

To the editor:

In a recent “Dispatches” article, you conducted a question-and-answer with a fire dancer who is also a member of the NFPA 160, Standard for the Use of Flame Effects Before an Audience, committee [“Playing with Fire,” May/June]. I found the article concerning. It is attention-getting and I like the general gist, but it does not go as far as it could to educate the NFPA family on the proper standards to use for flame-resistant clothing.

The article points out that the fire actor was told she needed clothing that complied with NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. But the article does not point out that this standard is not intended for clothing. There is a reason why many melting materials will pass NFPA 701. While the standard is for textiles, such as curtains, the testing in this standard does not assure the prevention of burns to workers—it only assures that small-scale fires will be impeded. The article could have pointed out that, while NFPA 701 might have been required by the fire marshal or authority having jurisdiction, it was in fact not applicable to clothing. The article could also have pointed to NFPA 2112, Standard on Flame-Resistant Clothing for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Short-Duration Thermal Exposures from Fire, or to NFPA 1975, Standard on Emergency Services Work Apparel, but it should never have left the impression that the fire marshal was correct in recommending flame-resistant melting clothing for a worker to wear in any situation.

We need to get this message out. I tried to get a tentative interim amendment (TIA) in for NFPA 701, since it is still often misused for clothing, though ANSI 107 and other standards have tried to clarify this. While my TIA was rejected, I will make sure to submit a public comment in the next cycle.

I love what NFPA does and generally I am totally supportive of its efforts. I was a founding member of NFPA 2112, and I contribute to NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. I have spent 25 years of my career trying to make it clear just how dangerous melting materials are on human bodies in fires—I just hate having to fight a good curtain standard to do it. Your recent article was a great chance to communicate that clarification, and I would love to see more editorial oversight to catch such excellent opportunities.

Hugh Hoagland
Senior consultant
ArcWear Arc and Flash Fire Test Labs Louisville, Kentucky

No mention of sprinklers in sustainability discussion

To the editor:

I read Birgitte Messerschmidt’s recent “Research” column on the need for a more detailed understanding of the environmental impacts of fire [“Full Effect,” May/June]. As I read it, I thought that she would surely refer to the proven fact that automatic sprinklers are a significant sustainability device—when deployed, 98 times out of 100 a few sprinklers are able to control a fire and send the alarm. Thanks to sprinklers, we are able to avoid the massive black clouds, such as those described in the column, that are produced when a fire burns out of control. But no mention of automatic sprinklers was made in this regard.

Mention is made, however, of the environmental concern and proven problem of contaminated water runoff from manual firefighting operations that are deployed to fight large, out-of-control fires in commercial and industrial facilities. The 1986 Sandoz agrochemical storehouse fire is a good example of this problem. Suppression operations at the fire, which occurred in the Schweizerhalle industrial complex in Basel-Landschaft, Switzerland, released toxic agrochemicals into the air and resulted in tons of pollutants entering the Rhine river, turning it red and causing a massive fish kill. The storehouse was not protected with automatic sprinklers. A properly designed fire sprinkler system and a properly designed floor drainage system connected to a properly designed containment/impound end point on the property would have totally prevented this environmental disaster, as well as saving the building and most of its contents. 

Needless to say, I was disappointed that the column made no mention of automatic sprinkler systems as sustainability enhancers in this column.

John Sharland, PE, FSFPE 
NFPA life member
Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Birgitte Messerschmidt responds:

The intent of the column was not to discuss sustainability but to focus on the environmental impact of fire. As the reader rightly points out, there is research available that shows the benefits of sprinklers in reducing fires and their environmental impact. The challenge is that the environmental impact of fire is not well understood, since research has been lacking. The point of the column was to bring awareness to this important area of research and inform readers about the work we are doing on it here at NFPA. Had I jumped straight to the potential solution of using automatic sprinklers, the importance of understanding the underlying problem would have been lost. By understanding all the impacts of fire, we can better argue for investing in fire safety equipment such as automatic sprinklers.

CORRECTION: As a result of an editing error, the September/October “Research” column misidentified this year’s Fire Prevention Week. We regret the error.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK: Email your letters to, or mail them to Editor, NFPA Journal, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, Massachusetts, 02169. Please include your title, company or organization affiliation, and where you're based. NFPA Journal reserves the right to edit letters and comments for content and length.