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Author(s): Derek Vigstol. Published on March 1, 2018.

In Compliance | NEC

NEC considers revision to allow responders to shut off power to one- and two-family dwellings


One of the topics discussed at the recent first draft meeting of the 2020 NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®), was the problem of shutting off the electric supply to a building in the event of a fire or other emergency.

This is a problem that has plagued firefighters for many years. As they attempt to put out a fire and rescue occupants, electrical systems pose significant line-of-duty hazards. In many instances, when a house is fully involved and the fire does not present a rescue situation, fire departments will rely on the electric utility to arrive and shut off the power supply to the building, a delay that often results in a total loss. Firefighters have argued that they could work safer and be more effective if they could simply turn off a building’s electric supply themselves.

Proposed revisions to Article 230 of the NEC, which addresses electrical service requirements, offer a good example of how the NFPA standards development process works for an entire industry. It was just one of many topics addressed in January by electrical experts who converged for two weeks on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to consider public input and review task group reports as part of the creation of the 2020 NEC.

This meeting included considerable discussion on topics that continue to evolve as technologies and building practices improve to support safety. Issues including Power over Ethernet, expansion of arc-fault circuit interrupter and ground fault circuit interrupter protection in dwellings, photovoltaic systems, and first responder and firefighter safety were addressed by panel members due to a multitude of public inputs submitted. Many of these issues aren’t necessarily new, however—each discussion seemed to have elements that have been addressed for the past three years, and in some cases a decade or more.

Electric supply shutoff was an issue that had come up before. During the 2017 cycle, NEC panel members decided to require the service disconnect to either be located on the outside of one- and two-family dwellings, or for it to be controlled remotely if installed inside a house. The intent was to provide a way for firefighters to safely turn off the electrical supply to a house without having to enter a dangerous situation. Many observers had misgivings about that proposal, however, as it was not known how this requirement could be implemented in some areas of the country and what kind of impact it could have on building practices. Ultimately, it was decided that stakeholders were not yet ready to require that one- and two-family dwelling units provide exterior electric service disconnects. The requirement was eventually overturned by the NFPA membership at the association technical meeting in 2016, sending experts back to the drawing board to come up with a solution for minimizing electrical hazards faced by firefighters.

A number of public inputs were suggested for the 2020 code that focused on allowing multiple options to provide essentially the same result: a means for disconnecting electricity from the house while minimizing firefighter exposure to electrical hazards. The code making panel proposed a revision to Article 230; provided the revision passes the committee ballot stage, it will move forward in the process to the comment stage, where the public can provide further review to fine-tune the final product. We’ll soon know if this revision promises to be the solution to a real problem when it comes to the safety of those who risk their lives daily to keep us safe, or if more time is needed to devise a better approach.

Visit the NEC document information page to view the first draft report for the 2020 edition of the NEC, including proposed revisions such as the one in Article 230. The comment stage will be open this summer and closes August 30.

DEREK VIGSTOL is an NFPA technical lead, Electrical Tech Services.