FAQ/facts and lore

Do you have a question regarding NFPA, our publications, fire science or fire history? We may be able to help!

Contact the NFPA librarians with your question. Depending on the amount of research required to answer a question, there may be a charge for this service. Please see the library fee schedule. Please note that while we are able to answer questions regarding NFPA codes, we are not authorized to offer technical interpretations. NFPA Members may request interpretations by dialing +1 800 344-3555 or e-mail Customer Service.

Questions the library receives regularly
  • When was the first edition of a code approved
  • What edition would have been in effect for a specific year
  • When was a section of code changed
  • Did similar wording appear in an earlier edition
  • Photocopy requests for TIAs, Erratas and Formal Interpretations     

Frequently asked questions

Recently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions 
What is the history of Fire Prevention Week?

The history of Fire Prevention Week has its roots in the Great Chicago Fire, which occurred on October 9, 1871. This tragic conflagration killed some 300 people, left 100,000 homeless, and destroyed more than 17,000 structures. The origin of the fire has generated speculation since its occurrence, with fact and fiction becoming blurred over the years. One popular legend has it that Mrs. Catherine O'Leary was milking her cow when the animal kicked over a lamp, setting the O'Leary's barn on fire and starting the spectacular blaze. How ever the massive fire began, it swiftly took its toll, burning more than 2000 acres in 27 hours. The City of Chicago quickly rebuilt, however, and within a couple of years residents began celebrating their successful restoration by memorializing the anniversary of the fire with festivities. Learn more about Fire Prevention Week and the past themes.

What are the Fire Triangle and the Fire Tetrahedron?

The Fire Triangle identifies the three needed components of fire:

  • Fuel -- something which will burn
  • Heat -- enough to make the fuel burn
  • Air -- more specifically, oxygen

All three components must be present at the same time to have a fire. Fire will burn until one or more of the components are removed and traditional fire extinguishing methods involve removing the fuel, heat, or oxygen.

In more recent years, a fourth component – the uninhibited chain reaction – has been added to explain fire. This chain reaction is the feedback of heat to the fuel to produce the gaseous fuel used in the flame. Another way to state this is to say that the chain reaction provides the heat necessary to maintain the fire. With this fourth component added, fire is described as the Fire Tetrahedron. The addition of the fourth element more accurately describes the mechanism for fire suppression by halons which break up the uninhibited chain reaction of combustion.

The Fire Triangle can be used to simply explain the oxidation process and the basics of fire but it does not necessarily explain the entire fire process. Fire is rapid oxidation. The Fire Tetrahedron more accurately shows the flame process.

Sparky at work!

Why are dalmatians considered firehouse dogs?

Dalmatians have shared the barns and the hunt courses with horses for centuries, so when fire-apparatus was horse-drawn, nearly every firehouse had its resident dalmatian to help direct the horses, keep the horses company, and guard the firehouse.The horses are gone from fire today, but the Dalmatians aren't! Firehouse dogs nearly always were called "Sparky" so this name was the obvious choice for NFPA's fire prevention mascot, Sparky the Fire Dog®.

Frequently asked firsts

First Volunteer Fire Company in America
In 1736 in Philadelphia, PA, Benjamin Franklin formed the first volunteer fire company, called the Union Fire Company. Franklin served on it as America's first volunteer fire chief.

First Paid Fire Department in America
A large fire in Boston in 1679, led to the organization of the first paid fire department in North America, if not the world. Boston selectman imported a fire engine from England and employed a fire chief, Thomas Atkins, and 12 fire fighters to operate it.

First Firehouse Pole
David B. Kenyon, Captain of Engine Company No. 21 of the Chicago Fire Department, was the inventor of the sliding pole in 1878. Information from: A Synoptical History of the Chicago Fire Department, published by the Benevolent Association of the Paid Fire Department of Chicago, Chicago, 1908.

First Automatic Sprinkler
The idea of automatic sprinkler protection dates back to about 1860. The first automatic sprinkler system patented in the United States was developed by Philip W. Pratt in 1872 in Abington, MA. From 1852 to 1885, perforated pipe systems were used extensively in textile mills throughout New England, and from 1874 to 1878 Henry S. Parmalee of New Haven, Connecticut, continued design improvements on his invention: the first practical automatic sprinkler head.

First Fire Alarm Telegraph
The fire alarm telegraph was invented by William F. Channing of Boston, MA, and Moses G. Farmer of Salem, MA, in 1847. After many attempts, Channing was successful in getting the city of Boston to agree to test the device. Channing, working with Farmer, tested the system, solved the problems, and installed the first municipal fire alarm system using a telegraph in Boston, MA, in 1852.´

Who was St. Florian?

Florian was born about 250 A.D. in Cetium (now in Austria). He joined the Roman army and advanced in the ranks. However, the Emperor Diocletian was shocked to learn that Florian did not carry out his orders to persecute all Christians in the area, and, thus, was sentenced to death by fire. Standing on the funeral pyre, Florian is reputed to have challenged the Roman soldiers to light the fire, saying "If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames." Apprehensive to his words, instead of burning Florian, they drowned him. His body was recovered and buried.

About 600 years later, sometime between 900-955, a monastery was erected near Florian's tomb, and subsequently the village of St. Florian grew up around it. St. Florian was adopted as patron saint of Poland after Pope Lucius III consented to the request of King Casimir to send relics of Florian to that country. Soon after, a person was saved from a fire by invoking St. Florian's name. Since then, Florian has been invoked against fire and has generally been regarded in most countries as the patron saint of the fire service.

Why is the the Maltese Cross the symbol for the fire service?

The insignia of the fire service is the Cross Pattee-Nowy, otherwise known as the Maltese Cross. The cross represents the fire service ideals of saving lives and extinguishing fires.

The fire service borrows the emblem of the cross from the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (Knights Hospitallers), a charitable, non-military organization that existed during the 11th and 12th centuries that helped the sick and poor in setting up hospices and hospitals. Later, they assisted the Knights of the Crusades through their goodwill and also through military assistance in an effort to the Island of Malta, the island for which the Maltese Cross was named. The need for an identifiable emblem for the knights had become crucial. Because of the extensive armor which covered their entire bodies and faces, the knights were unable to distinguish friend from foe in battle. They chose the cross of Calvery as their symbol, since they fought their battles as a holy cause. The cross was later called the "Maltese Cross" and represented the principles of charity, loyalty, chivalry, gallantry, generosity to friend and foe, protection of the weak, and dexterity in service.

During the Crusades, many knights became fire fighters out of necessity. Their enemies had resorted to throwing glass bombs containing naptha and sailing their war vessels containg naptha, rosin, sulphur, and flaming oil into the vessels of the knights. Many knights were called to perform heroic deeds by rescuing fellow knights and extinguishing fires. In acknowledgement of these feats, the cross worn by these knights was decorated and inscribed. This was considered a most honorable acclaim.

What are the words to the Fireman's Prayer?

When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;
Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and protect his property.
And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life;
Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife.

Author Unknown

What are the words to the Fireman's Wife's Prayer?

The table's set, the meal's prepared, our guests will soon arrive.
My husband once more disappears with a hope of keeping a child alive.
While waiting at home alone, our plans having gone awry
My first impulse is merely to sit right down and cry.
But soon again I realize the importance of my life
When I agreed to take on the duties of being a fireman's wife.
While there are many drawbacks, I'll take them in my stride,
Knowing "My Daddy saved a life" our children can say with pride.
The gusting winds and raging flames may be his final fate.
But with God's help I can remain my fireman's faithful mate.

Author Unknown

Recently Asked Questions
Is there proper or suggested way to cite and NFPA code?

Yes. We suggest this example;

NFPA 99, Standard for Health Care Facilities (National Fire Protection Association 2002)

When did grounding-type receptacles and ground fault circuit interrupters first make their appearance in the National Electrical Code (NEC)?

Ground-fault protection was first required in 1968 for underwater lighting in swimming pools. GFCIs were required for outdoor receptacles in 1973 (the requirement appeared in the 1971 edition with an effective date of 1/1/1974); for bathrooms, 1975. Other locations were required in different editions. Grounding-type receptacles were required for all 15- and 20-ampere receptacle outlets appears in the 1971 edition with an effective date of January 1, 1974.

I live in Atlanta GA and had my house inspected because I am selling it. My house was built in 1998 and I have a gas fireplace. The inspector said," Gas entrance into fireplace box must be sealed with high temperature cement to prevent heat from getting to the wood frame of the fire box. A fire safety issue (See NFPA code 211)." There is only a 1/2" gap around the pipe coming into the fireplace. Do I have to correct this or can I be grandfathered? 
The code hasn’t changed with respect to sealed entrances since the 1996 edition of NFPA 211. The authority having jurisdiction in your area will be the one who is authorized to say whether you have to fix it or not. Check with your fire marshal or city building inspector.

Looking for information on fire laws regarding exit doors in theatres and/or night clubs. I thought the first law was enacted largely because of the fire in 1903 at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago, IL. Other laws were probably enacted in different forms afterwards. Have this in dispute with a person who says the Coconut Grove fire in 1942 in Boston was the reason the law was enacted.

While the addition of the exit rules concerning theaters was not entirely a reaction of the Iroquois Theatre fire, that fire certainly had an impact. The following is from the tentative Building Exits Code (NFPA 101-T) 1927.

The Building Exits Code as printed herewith had its origin in the work of the Committee on Safety to Life of the National Fire Protection Association which was appointed in 1913. For the first few years of its existence the committee devoted its attention to a study of the notable fires involving loss of life, such as the Binghamton Clothing Factory fire, the Iroquois Theatre fire, the Collinwood School fire, the Triangle Waist Company fire, the Arcadia Lodging House fire, and other similar disasters, analyzing the causes of this loss of life. This work led to the preparation of standards for the construction of stairways, fire escapes-etc., for fire drills in various occupancies and for the construction and arrangement of exit facilities for factories, schools, etc., which form the basis of the present code. These reports were adopted by the National Fire Protection Association and published in pamphlet form as "Outside Stairs for Fire Exits" (1916) and "Safeguarding Factory Workers from Fire" (1918). A pamphlet, "Exit Drills in Factories, Schools, Department Stores and Theatres," published in 1912 following its presentation by Member R. H. Newbern at the 1911annual meeting of the Association, although antedating the organization of the Committee is considered as having the status of a Committee publication and has been used with the other pamphlets as a groundwork for the present Code. These pamphlets were widely circulated and put into quite general use.

The committee continued its activities developing the detailed line safety requirements for additional classes of occupancy until in 1921 the National Fire Protection Association was requested by .the American Engineering Standards Committee to accept sponsorship for a Building Exits Code. At that time the committee was reorganized to qualify as a Sectional Committee of the A. E. S. C., a number of additional members being appointed for this purpose. Under new auspices the committee enlarged and, extended its work, revising and perfecting the standards prepared in earlier years and extending the fundamental principles already developed to include additional occupancies. These reports in each year were printed, presented to the National Fire Protection Association and duly adopted. In the preparation of each occupancy section the groups affected were consulted. Material on the proposed codes was published in the technical and trade press and otherwise given wide publicity. The reports have been thoroughly discussed at the conventions of the National Fire Protection Association and have also been presented to the meetings of a number of cooperating organizations.”

When a "No Parking - Fire Lane" sign is posted, is there a standard distance in any direction from the sign that is understood to be the area that the sign is meant to cover in the "no parking" regulation? 

The width and length of fire lanes depends on the structures nearby. The only thing I find about no parking signs is in NFPA 1141, Standard for fire protection in Planned Building Groups”. It says in Chapter 5, Means of Access -- Fire Lanes: ‘Appropriate “No Parking” signs shall be posted in accordance with the instructions of the fire department having jurisdiction, and a method of enforcing such provisions shall be provided.’

I am writing a report on the Happy Land Social Club fire that occurred in 1990 in Bronx, New York. I was hoping that I could get some information about the fire sent to me from the NFPA Library. If it is possible to receive information about the fire?

NFPA produced an Alert Bulletin for this fire. It will cost you $10 if you would like a copy of this 2-page summary of the fire. You may have seen the NIST report on the web. In addition, Ted (Edward C.) Goodman covers it in his 2001 book "Fire! The 100 most devastating fires and the heroes who fought them". There is also a website and video.

What is the proper way to cite an NFPA Code or Standard?

NFPA recommends the following format: NFPA 85E, Standard for prevention of furnace explosions in pulverized coal-fired multiple burner boiler-furnaces (National Fire Protection Association 1985)