NFPA Today

Electrical Room Basics, Part 3

This is the last in a three-part series on electrical rooms. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Working space about electrical equipment is covered in Article 110 of the NEC.  Up to this point, we have discussed electrical rooms and how the National Electrical Code® (NEC®)—specifically, 110.26—helps ensure there is enough space, especially working space, in those rooms or areas. In Part 2, we observed that changing the voltage alters some of the clearance requirements for the equipment in electrical rooms (see 110.32 and 110.34 of the NEC). Now, we will look at an electrical enclosure, vault, or tunnel that is being used as a method for guarding electrical equipment and see how it affects clearances for working space about electrical equipment. What is an electrical enclosure?  First, let’s look in Article 100 to see if there is a definition for a vault or tunnel. We find there isn’t one, but we do find a definition for enclosure. Enclosure is defined as “the case, housing of an apparatus, or the fence or walls surrounding an installation to prevent personnel from accidentally contacting energized parts, or to protect the equipment from physical damage.” So, does this definition cover an electrical room or vault? I think it could, because the vaults are areas typically surrounded by walls and frequently some form of lockable entrance. Does a vault or enclosure still require working space for electrical equipment? Yes, Parts II and III of Article 110 cover these requirements. For voltages of 50 to 1000 volts, nominal, 110.27(A)(1) would address the use of a room, vault, or similar enclosure that is accessible only to qualified persons, as a means of protection against accidental contact with live parts. For the over 1000 volts, nominal, installations, 110.31(A)—which deals with electrical vaults, including their construction requirements—would apply. Often, we see vaults being utilized as electrical rooms for installations over 1000 volts versus the under-1000-volt installations. This is in part due to electrical installations using exposed terminations or the use of larger substations and switches, which could increase the risk of accidental contact with live parts, depending on the type of equipment. Construction of enclosures  Construction of the vault roof and walls must not be made from studs or wall board, but instead from construction materials that will provide adequate structural strength for the conditions and possess at minimum a 3-hour fire rating. This is usually accomplished using materials that are made from or contain concrete, like a masonry block wall with pre-cast concrete planks for the roof and floor, or a complete pre-cast concrete unit. Where the floor is in contact with earth it must not be less than 4-inch-thick concrete. However, where vacant space or stories are below the floor, it may need to be engineered to be able to structurally withstand the loads imposed on the floor. A vault will normally have access doors as well, which are required to be tight-fitting and have a 3-hour fire rating, unless the vault has an approved fire suppression system installed, in which case the doors can be 1-hour fire rated. These doors must also be lockable, to restrict access to unqualified persons. To allow safe egress in the event of an electrical injury, the doors must be equipped with panic hardware and open 90 degrees in the direction of egress. Don’t forget the signage that must be on the doors (See Part 2 in this blog series for more on signage). Should an electrical catastrophic failure occur, the vault’s robust construction will help mitigate damage to other portions of the building, which could ultimately save lives. This type of heavy-duty construction requires detailed planning from the electrical contractor and design professional for all electrical equipment locations and the penetrations into the vault from feeders, branch circuits, or raceways that will be connecting to that electrical equipment. These penetrations must not reduce the rating of the vault. The electrical equipment contained in the vault, such as the switchgear, transformers/substations, and motor control centers (MCC), must meet the working space requirements found in 110.26, 110.32, and 110.34 of the NEC. The applicable NEC section is determined by the highest nominal voltage for the equipment in a particular area, since there may be more than one voltage within a vault. Where high-voltage equipment is contained within the same vault as equipment 1000 volts or less, there may need to be some separation in accordance with 110.34(B). If the separation is accomplished with a fence controlled by locks, then 110.31 would apply. Table 110.31 contains distance values for the required space between the equipment and the separating fence. Note that the fence cannot be within the working space measurements found in Table 110.34(A). Adding electrical equipment in a vault does not reduce the working space requirements found in 110.26 or 110.34. It just adds some additional items to work around. Whether your electrical equipment is in an electrical room or a vault, you must maintain proper clearances for worker safety. A great way to learn more about working space about electrical equipment is to register for the NFPA online training series on the 2023 edition of the NEC. Working space about electrical equipment is covered in the General Equipment Installation Practices section of this training. Learn more about this comprehensive, self-paced training.  

How Long Does It Take for your 911 Call to Be Answered?

This was the question the NFPA technical committee responsible for writing NFPA 1225, Standard for Emergency services Communications, asked in the last revision cycle, while reviewing the existing language on this subject. A public safety answering/access point (PSAP) refers to the call center where emergency calls for the police, fire department or EMS are received from mobile or landline callers/subscribers. The 2022 edition of NFPA 1225 calls out two time-standards for dispatch: Answer requests for emergency assistance within 10 seconds 90% of the time Process the request for emergency assistance within 60 seconds 90% of the time. The standard defines “Call Answering” as the time from when the call is initiated by the caller to when it is answered by a PSAP. “Call Processing” is defined by the standard as the time from when the call is answered to when the first Emergency Response Unit (ERU) is dispatched. The NFPA Technical Committee knew these old provisions were based on the experience of the technical committee members and there was no research to suggest that these times fit the physical limitations of a communication center. Further, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) would often question the validity of these provisions. Enter: The Fire Protection Research Foundation. This research request came from the NFPA 1225 Technical Committee and the NFPA Research Fund was able to provide the required funding to dig into these questions further. The goal of this project is to collect, analyze and summarize the call answer and processing time interval data in response to the fire and EMS events (excluding law enforcement event data) from a wide range of PSAP dispatch centers (i.e. large, small, urban, rural etc.) in the United States. The research contractor, Public Consulting Group, performed a literature review to identify common concerns for PSAPs including staffing limitations, insufficient funding, and technological issues.  PCG developed a survey questionnaire to circulate to PSAPs throughout the US, conducted a statistical analysis on the data collected and compiled all the findings and summary observations into a final report titled: “An Analysis of Public Safety Call Answering and event Processing Times”. The one-page summary provides key takeaways from the research report. There are over 6,000 active PSAPs in the US. 52 organizations submitted the requested data and 47 of those datasets are in the format consistent with the needs of this study. While this data represents less than one percent of PSAPs, in analyzing the data that was collected, PSAPs were only able to achieve the minimum time standards set by NFPA 1225, 40-50 percent of the time. It was noted that PSAPs who stated that they follow a written standard were compliant significantly more often than those who did not. Specifically, agencies that stated they follow the times described in NFPA 1225 (previously NFPA 1221, Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems, had 65% of their calls found to be compliant, versus only 27% compliance in the calls processed by agencies not following an NFPA standard. Analyzing these records, the 90th percentile for call processing times is more than twice the recommended time specified in NFPA 1225. However, records from agencies that follow written standards are compliant more than twice as often as the records from agencies without a standard. Agencies following NFPA Standards are identified to be most successful in this study. Interested in reading the report, download it here. Only have a minute? Check out this one-page project summary sheet you can share with others. Do you have a research need? Please submit it to us using the project idea submission tool. We look forward to hearing from you!  

Fire Break

Preparing Homes for Wildfire: Property Upgrades Across Neighborhoods Can Prevent Fire Losses

The Outthink Wildfire™ policy initiative from NFPA® is a bold call to action and a challenge to end the destruction of communities by wildfire. It’s a comprehensive push to address one of the gnarliest challenges we face in the fire safety arena. The gnarl factor is heightened by the fact that there are already 45 million existing US homes at risk of burning to the ground due to wildfires. At a recent policy summit, more than two dozen experts discussed what it would take to upgrade these homes to be more ignition-resistant and to improve their chances of survival. Phrases like “retrofit” and “home hardening” were used, but in the face of ever-growing wildfire threats, some may wonder if a home improvement strategy could truly be effective in stopping the trend of multi-billion-dollar disasters involving thousands of homes in a single incident. While home improvements alone will not solve the problem, individual home retrofits across neighborhoods, and scaled up across regions, can absolutely make a difference. Sixty-plus years of research, experiments, and analysis give us the confidence to say that what people do to their homes and immediate surroundings can indeed improve fire-resistance and structure survival in the face of wildfire, as described in detail by the University of California Cooperative Extension Forestry. Many of these structural improvements are simple and inexpensive, on the order of regular home maintenance. Others involve a large but infrequent investment that will pay off over time, such as roof and window replacements. The key activities appear on the NFPA preparedness checklists, in NFPA standards, in some state and local regulations, and in the new Wildfire Prepared Home designation from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). These standards and guidelines all derive from what fire safety advocates have learned from the research community over decades. What do we know about how homes burn in wildfire events? We know that burning vegetation can ignite homes in three ways: radiating heat to the structure, flames touching the structure, and burning or smoldering embers piling up on or entering the structure through openings. These three mechanisms of fire spread can all happen at the same time. The most notorious culprits in home ignition from burning vegetation are embers, also known as firebrands. These pieces of burning material pile up on roofs, in gutters, and on flat surfaces like decks. They are driven by the wind into any openings in a home, including chimneys, vents, windows, pet doors, and in the cracks under doors. They can also burn mulch and shrubs up close to the home that then ignite the structure. Homes can also ignite if any flames touch the house, porch, deck, fence, and any other structural attachments. Imagine a dry lawn or a bed of pine needles providing a continuous path for flames to travel to the vulnerable parts of your structures. Finally, if there is enough dense vegetation within 30 feet (9 meters) of a structure, it can potentially radiate enough heat to ignite the walls. But for all the damage that burning vegetation can do to homes, it’s our own human-made fuel packages, in the form of vehicles, firewood piles, outbuildings, and our homes themselves that present some of the greatest dangers and can result in the destruction of whole neighborhoods. Once the wildfire burning through the vegetation ignites one of these fuel packages, it’s arguably no longer a wildfire. It’s a conflagration where these elements burn for a long time and ignite nearby homes through radiant heat or by generating flames that touch other houses or by casting off embers that go on to ignite neighboring properties. What can we do to prepare homes for wildfires? There are a number of steps homeowners can take to prepare. 1.     Operate under a worst-case scenario. Assume firefighters cannot respond with personnel, vehicles, and water to protect your home. Keep in mind that your home safety upgrades are for when a wildfire is approaching, and you and your family have evacuated. Retrofits should be aimed at preventing the wildfire or surrounding structures from igniting your home. 2.     Minimize ignition to your home’s exterior with roof repairs or replacements, dual- or triple-paned windows, and screened vents and openings. Repair any cracks in shingles or siding, and remove ignitable material from decks and patios during times of high wildfire danger. 3.     Address the area within 5 feet (1.5 meters) of your home’s perimeter and ensure there is nothing there that can burn—mulch, shrub, wood piles, wooden attachments, and so on. 4.     Keep large fuel packages like firewood piles or vehicles 30 feet (9 meters) or more from homes at times of high fire danger. 5.     Reduce the ignitability of your yard or acreage within 30 feet (9 meters) of your home and out to your property line by landscaping with fire in mind. 6.     Work with your neighbors to reduce ignitable elements on your shared boundaries and encourage them to work with their other neighbors. These tips and more can be found on the NFPA website. As advocates for improving policy to incentivize and support home and community fire safety, NFPA and like-minded organizations continue to seek ways to accelerate the pace of home and neighborhood upgrades so we can end wildfire disasters.

New Rules Benefit California Property Owners in Firewise USA Sites. What CA Property Owners Need to Know.

Through a new set of rules dubbed Safer from Wildfires, the California Department of Insurance (CDI) has required insurance companies doing business in the state to provide discounts for residential property insurance when policyholders reduce their wildfire risks. The Safer from Wildfires menu of creditable activities includes community-wide mitigation in the form of participation in the Firewise USA® recognition program. This is welcome news for property owners in active Firewise USA sites in California and can be viewed as a reward and additional acknowledgement of their efforts to protect their homes and neighborhoods from wildfire. However, the new rules have spurred a lot of confusion among consumers. Let’s try to clear some of it up by answering these FAQs. Does my insurance company offer a wildfire risk reduction discount?   California’s new rules come years after a few insurance companies had already voluntarily been offering discounts to their policyholders living in Firewise USA sites. For customers of USAA, Mercury, and a couple of other companies, this benefit was already available. The CDI maintains a list of all the insurers doing business in the state that offer wildfire risk reduction discounts, whether for being a Firewise USA site or for meeting other criteria outlined in their program menu. Before doing anything else, consumers should find out whether their company offers a discount by exploring this list. If your carrier is not yet on the list, be aware that CDI has given companies 180 days to make a filing that would provide a discount for one or more of the program categories. Am I eligible for a discount? Insurance companies have access to information about whether properties are part of a Firewise USA site through data providers that are working with NFPA®. If your company is on CDI’s list and specifically offers a Firewise USA discount, they should be determining your eligibility using these data. NFPA cannot make this determination for consumers, so it’s best to contact your insurance agent or a company representative with questions about eligibility. I am more worried about losing my insurance than getting a discount. Does wildfire risk reduction make my home more insurable? Whether to provide insurance or not, the cost of the policy, and any discounts are all decisions of the individual insurance company, which it bases on many different factors. In known high-risk areas, insurance companies are generally very interested in any wildfire loss reduction efforts that homeowners are making, especially if they fall into the categories listed in the Safer from Wildfire program. Consumer education professionals advise that property owners shop around for insurance, since insurance companies compete for business. CDI also provides consumer protections for property owners, including what to do if your insurer does not renew your coverage. How do I get involved with Firewise USA? If your neighborhood is not already engaged in Firewise USA, check out firewise.org and invest a little time in reading through the process of how to get organized, evaluate wildfire risks to property, develop an action plan, and conduct annual events. NFPA offers an interactive online tool to help neighbors organize their risk assessment and action plan. Its Firewise Portal walks you through the process of applying for community recognition. You can also work on protecting your own property from wildfire while working on the community-wide process through the tips and tools on the site.

Safety Source

Skyscrapers

What to Know about Apartment and High-Rise Escape Planning

A major lesson of the 2022 Fire Prevention Week™ theme “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape.”™ is that today’s home fires burn hotter and faster than ever, leaving occupants with as little as two minutes or less to safely escape from the time the smoke alarm sounds. Planning and practicing Home Fire Escape with all members of the household and having working smoke alarms are two critical elements increasing residents’ chances of surviving a home fire.  For community members living in apartment and high-rise buildings, additional considerations may be needed for home fire safety planning. This can include communicating with the landlord/manager about the building’s safety features, practicing fire drills with neighbors, and knowing when to shelter in place rather than escape. The new Fire Safety in the City kit was developed to provide a simple, picture-filled way to teach about the unique considerations for home fire escape planning in multifamily housing. This kit includes information on escape, smoke alarms, and keeping children away from items that can burn or start fires, such as lighters and matches.  Help your community members navigate their apartment/high-rise living spaces by educating them on the importance of escape planning using these resources along with our High-Rise Apartment & Condominium Safety Tip Sheet and our new Older Adult Home Fire Escape video.  Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis, Sparky the Fire Dog® on Twitter and Facebook, and NFPA on Instagram to keep up with the latest in fire and life safety education.

Does CRR Planning Give You Analysis Paralysis? Let NFPA 1300 Help!

If you’re new to community risk reduction (CRR), putting together a plan can feel a bit overwhelming, and may even inhibit your efforts to move forward. But don’t let that happen!  NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development, can help. It’s the industry standard for conducting community risk assessments (CRAs) and CRR plans and a valuable tool for CRR professionals, providing a comprehensive framework for assessing and reducing risks related to fire and other community emergencies. NFPA 1300 features a structured approach for identifying, assessing risks within a community—such as fire, natural disasters, and transportation—as well as identifying vulnerable populations and assessing their needs. By using this standard, CRR professionals can ensure that they are thoroughly and systematically evaluating these risks, rather than relying on intuition or incomplete information. Another important aspect of NFPA 1300 is that it promotes a community-centered approach to risk reduction. This means that it emphasizes the need to involve community members, stakeholders, and other partners in the risk assessment and planning process. By engaging members of the community in this way, CRR professionals can build buy-in for their plans and ensure that they are addressing the needs and concerns of the people who will be most affected by the risks. The standard also encourages all the key departments within a given community, including the fire department, emergency management department, law enforcement, and other agencies, to work together to collaboratively reduce the overall risk to the community. This also helps build resilience and prepare the community for any emergency. In addition, NFPA 1300 provides guidance on developing a community risk reduction plan. This includes setting goals and objectives, identifying strategies and actions, and assessing the effectiveness of the plan. By following these steps, CRR professionals can create plans that are both comprehensive and actionable, and that can be adapted over time, as needed. Print copies of NFPA 1300 are available for free, so order yours today! Also, remember that CRAIG 1300™ is an NFPA® digital dashboard that can help streamline and maximize your CRA and CRR efforts. Aligned to the industry standard on CRR, CRAIG 1300 aggregates important community data, provides useful data visualizations, and curates data sets to assist those working through the CRA process. Learn more about CRAIG 1300 by taking a demo of this dynamic, easy-to-use tool today!

Fire Sprinkler Initiative

A microphone

Two Major Home Fire Sprinkler Advances in Colorado

I’d like to send a loud shout-out to the town leaders of Avon and Erie, Colorado, for scoring huge wins by voting to include home fire sprinklers in their building codes. On December 13, both the Avon Town Council and the Erie Board of Trustees adopted building codes that require all new one- and two-family homes to be protected with installed home fire sprinklers. During the code process in both towns, there was a discussion about passing the code without the fire sprinkler requirement. In response, Erie’s Mayor Pro Tem Sarah Loflin pointed out that sprinkler systems might save multiple homes in an area that’s densely populated. Mayor Justin Brooks added that not having sprinklers would potentially have catastrophic consequences. They and others who spoke in favor prevailed and Erie’s requirement goes into effect beginning April 1, 2023. During a public hearing in Avon, Mick Woodworth, fire marshal from the Eagle River Fire Protection District, which serves the Town of Avon, was also an outspoken advocate. According to Vail Daily News, he said, “We’re community risk management, and if we want to manage the risk in our community, the No. 1 thing is fires — the way we manage that in a home is fire sprinklers.” Avon’s new code will be effective 30 days after approval. We all can learn from the victories in Avon and Erie. They were hard won because of the strong preparation and presentations by their local fire service representatives. Cost inevitably comes up in every hearing. A concern about fire sprinklers affecting affordable housing was raised in Erie. Jeff Webb, fire marshal for Mountain View Fire Rescue, which serves the town of Erie, said that when discussion centered on limiting the requirement to larger homes as a remedy, one trustee provided a very effective counterargument. It would be inequitable to provide safety measures to only those that could afford it. The town should act to make sure all residents purchasing new homes had the same safety features. Just because they were packed tighter to make them more affordable didn’t mean they had to give up safety, when in fact they were at higher risk because they were packed so tightly together. Another excellent strategy in Avon was addressing the role of sprinklers and firefighter health. This is an important point for any sprinkler code hearing and it is essential to have the fire service point of view represented. Besides occupant injury prevention, sprinklered homes protect responding firefighters by controlling fires automatically and keeping them small. These fires are not only less hazardous to fight structurally, but they also produce less toxic smoke. That directly mitigates the problem of responder exposure-caused cancer and other diseases. For more on this, read the FM Global report, which documented that fires in sprinklered homes produce 90 percent fewer carcinogens than in non-sprinkled homes. Discussions in both towns’ hearings drove home the need for better education of all decision makers. If your community does not yet have a building code requiring sprinklers in new homes, strengthen and widen your fire sprinkler outreach now, before future hearings. Reaching your local officials, planners, developers and builders in your community is essential. Above all, they need to know these facts: Today’s unprotected home fires can become deadly in as little as 2 minutes. Homes are where most fire deaths occur. Installed home fire sprinklers prevent injuries, save lives, protect the health and safety of responding firefighters and preserve property. And, most importantly, any home built to today’s codes that lacks installed fire sprinklers is substandard. You’ll be better armed if decision makers have these facts when they are making code decisions. You’ll have less opposition, and they can show their concern for their communities by keeping—or amending in—a new-construction sprinkler requirement. Be aware of your own power. In jurisdictions where home fire sprinklers aren’t in the current code and no update is forthcoming, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and fire marshal should make themselves a regular and vocal presence in the new development pre-planning process to ensure home fire sprinklers are on the table and to include current data and educational content in planning discussions. Tap into our free resources. For helpful safety tip sheets, visit our tip sheet webpage. And for home fire sprinkler content, use HFSC’s free turnkey tools that make it easy for you to educate your target audiences. You can create a space on your website about the value of building new homes with fire sprinklers. Upload videos and other content. Post cards to your social media accounts. Or simply link to HomeFireSprinkler.org – HFSC’s website is free of advertising and all content is free to you.  Bottom line? Home fire sprinklers won’t sell themselves. A vocal, persuasive, tireless leader and activist like you, who exercises your power to influence community decision makers to do the right thing, will protect your jurisdiction for generations to come.

New year brings renewed energy to help educate communities about the benefits of home fire sprinklers

We count on the ball dropping in Times Square to usher in each New Year. That’s tradition. But we fire and life safety advocates must not drop the ball when it comes to who we need to reach to increase awareness about the benefits of installed home fire sprinklers. I hope you’ll join me in resolving to focus on outcome-driven outreach in 2023. Residents of virtually any community need to be reminded that every home is improved by a complete system of home fire safety. That includes prevention, early warning with working smoke alarms, having an escape plan and practicing it, and installed home fire sprinklers. We often talk about the first three things. But encouraging home fire sprinkler installation in new homes needs more attention. With sprinklers only required statewide in California, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., we can’t rely on widespread new-home sprinkler requirements to achieve this goal but there is more that can be done. In many markets, new single-family home construction is still strong, so reaching individuals who plan to build a new home before they lock in is important. Consumers need to understand the facts about home fires as well as the unrivaled benefits of installed home fire sprinklers. I talk to folks all the time who say their public outreach directly led to consumers deciding either to build a home with fire sprinklers or buy one that had sprinklers installed. That’s a classic example of an outcome-driven educational program and a good model for all of us. You know that today’s home fires can become deadly in as little as two minutes and that homes are where most fire fatalities occur. But don’t count on your local officials knowing that. Educating local decision-makers and others involved in new home construction can – and does –result in sprinklered homes, impacting a large number of people. So, make sure you’re reaching planners, building officials, builders, developers and water purveyors, too. They need your help to understand the impact of structure fires not just on residents, but on firefighter health and safety and the well-being of your entire community. Another strategy that pays dividends is local code advocacy. When jurisdictions are reviewing its residential code, lend your voice and expertise to the arguments in favor of not reducing safety by not taking out the home fire sprinkler requirement. Your role is valuable and unique, because many of those in positions of power may not understand why the code as developed includes home fire sprinklers. You can speak sincerely and with experience to the very real dangers of omitting sprinklers from local codes. What they don't know can hurt them. A code updated without fire sprinklers results in substandard housing, something your community’s decision makers don’t want on their shoulders. If fire sprinklers are not in the current code and no update is on the horizon, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and fire marshal should make themselves a regular and vocal presence in the new development pre-planning process. This is an excellent opportunity to share data and educational content. Ahead of approvals, make a presentation about how home fire sprinklers can be used to offer local home developer incentives if the entire development is protected with installed fire sprinklers. I guarantee many sitting around that table with you simply don’t realize that these incentives lower developer costs and can actually increase their revenue. What developer is going to argue with that? Clearly, safer homes are a win-win for your community. But only when people understand the dangers and recognize the benefits. So, let’s not drop the ball on our local outreach. As always, NFPA is here to help. Tap into our free educational resources and get helpful safety tip sheets to share. And for home fire sprinkler content, use HFSC’s free turnkey tools that make it easy for you to educate your target audiences. You can also create a space on your website about the value of building new homes with fire sprinklers. Upload videos and other content. Post cards to your social media accounts. Or simply link to HomeFireSprinkler.org – HFSC’s website is free of advertising and all content is free to you.  Whatever action you decide to take in the new year to increase awareness about the importance of home fire safety and the benefits of installed home fire sprinklers, let NFPA and HFSC help guide your way. Keep us updated throughout the year on your progress; don’t forget to share your thoughts, lessons learned, and your successes with us! By working together, we can help ensure safer communities in 2023 and for many years to come.

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