Building on fire

New Research Foundation research “Environmental Impact of Fires in the Built Environment: Emission Factors” provide updated emission factors for a range of fire conditions and building materials

The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), the research affiliate of NFPA®, recently published a research report on the “Environmental impact of fires in the built environment: Emission factors”. This study updated existing emission factors (EFs) for a range of fire conditions and developed new EFs for relevant building materials to produce a database that can be built upon with future research. The research report along with the database is available from the FPRF website. With the increase in human population and as new levels of contamination of scarce resources are revealed, the concern for the health of the natural environment is growing. Current efforts to improve the sustainability of buildings focus on increasing energy efficiency and reducing embodied carbon. This strategy overlooks the fact that a fire event could reduce the overall sustainability of a building through the release of pollutants and the environmental impact of the subsequent rebuild. Most fires occurring in the built environment contribute to air contamination from the fire plume (whose deposition is likely to subsequently include land and water contamination), contamination from water runoff containing toxic products, and other environmental discharges or releases from burned materials. In 2020, the FPRF undertook a study that developed a research road map identifying research needs to be able to quantify the environmental impact of fire from the built environment and its economic consequences, where lack of relevant data concerning emissions was identified as one of several pressing needs. In the wake of the development of the research road map, the FPRF initiated a follow up research to develop a database of existing emission factors for a range of fire conditions and the development of some new EFs for building materials. Details of which material have been studied was determined through a combination of factors, including typical materials used to describe buildings in LCA models, materials identified in a separate French research project (funded by the French Ministry of the Environment in the context of the annual funding for INERIS), and a database of prior experiments characterizing a number of existing materials. Special focus was placed on scaling to investigate the predictive capabilities of small-scale test methods for development of EFs for large-scale conditions. This report provides details of large-scale and small-scale experiments conducted at INERIS (France) and small-scale experiments conducted at Lund University (Sweden), in 2019-2020 spanning a period of approximately 18 months. In addition to conducting experiments to confirm existing data and develop new data, a database of existing experimental data relevant for the development of EFs has been created containing some 90 products and materials. This database represents the first up-to-date published resource with a collation of emission factors for a broad variety of species to the best knowledge of the authors. The findings from this study were presented through FPRF 2022 webinar series on May 18, 2022. The webinar recording is available on-demand here. The Fire Protection Research Foundation is celebrating its 40th year in existence in 2022. Read more about this noteworthy milestone.

An Electrical Inspector’s Role in Reducing Electric Shock Drowning

With dozens of papers and videos created around electric shock drowning (ESD) you would think that living and conducting electrical inspections in Michigan, a state with 3,288 miles of freshwater shoreline and numerous marinas, I would have known about ESD. Well, you would be wrong; I had no idea what ESD was until I started working at NFPA. I wondered if I was the only electrical inspector who was unaware, so I asked several inspector and electrician friends, and the answer was overwhelmingly, “No I do not, what is it?” This was shocking to me, but also provided me an opportunity to educate them. So, how can an electrical inspector have an impact? We must first answer the question of; what is ESD? According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, it is the result of the passage of a typically low-level AC current through the body with sufficient force to cause skeletal muscular paralysis, rendering the victim unable to help himself / herself, while immersed in freshwater, eventually resulting in drowning of the victim. Higher levels of AC current in the water will also result in electrocution. It has been said that ESD is the catch-all phrase that encompasses all in-water shock casualties and fatalities. ESD occurrences happen more in freshwater environments than in salt water, which is why ESD is a concern around freshwater docking facilities, marinas, lakes, and ponds. Creating a specific code section in the NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®) for ESD may sound simple, but it is not. ESD is not a piece of electrical equipment or an electrical conductor but rather a phenomenon that can occur where boats in water are connected to shore power electricity. ESD is impacting the construction of boats, marinas, and docking facilities, which may help reduce occurrences of ESD. Even though ESD isn’t specifically addressed in the NEC, it has had a significant impact on recent changes that have been made in it. New solutions towards helping to eliminate ESD have become a regular subject in the code making process, public inputs, and comments for potential new NEC requirements. Although not finalized yet, suggested changes to the 2023 NEC that electrical inspectors should be aware of and that could have a positive impact on ESD reduction are: Emergency electrical disconnects within sight of the marina power outlets, which allows bystanders to quickly de-energize power to the boat and safely release a person who may be suffering an electric shock. Adding equipotential planes and bonding of equipotential planes that could help mitigate step and touch voltages for electrical equipment that supply power to the equipment. Requiring modified, repaired, or replaced equipment be updated to current provisions due to exposure to harsh environments. As conversations around ESD continue throughout the code development process it is important to remember the current requirements found in the 2020 NEC, and how electrical inspectors can use those sections to make an impact in reducing ESD. Through enforcement of electrical codes the inspector can help educate and inform owners and installers about ESD risks. Here are just a few code sections inspectors might want to be looking for: Signage - You might wonder, since when do electrical inspectors enforce non-electrical signage around marinas, boatyards, and docking facilities and how can they help prevent ESD? They can do it by continuing to warn everybody of the true dangers facing them. These areas are challenged with constantly changing environments because numerous boats in various degrees of electrical repair travel in and out of these facilities. This can make a place you may otherwise consider swimming in, potentially unsafe due to low-level AC current (leakage current). Installing permanent safety signs around marinas, boatyards and docking facilities gives notice of electrical shock hazard risks to persons within those areas. Signs should say more than “No Swimming” since some people may not take that warning seriously and swim anyway. Code language was added to have signs state: “No Swimming: “WARNING-POTENTIAL SHOCK HAZARD-ELECTRICAL CURRENTS MAY BE PRESENT IN THE WATER.” To aide in further preventing ESD, docking facilities was added in the 2020 NEC to the already existing areas of marinas and boatyards found in section 555.10. Ground-fault protection - Changes in the 2020 NEC, Article 555 Marinas, Boatyards, Floating Buildings, and Commercial and Noncommercial Docking Facilities address both ground-fault protection of equipment (GFPE) and ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection. With cumulative effects of leakage current causing excess tripping of 30 milliampere GFPE devices, changes were made to code language that increased GFPE current settings not to exceed 100 milliamperes on feeders and branch circuits, which will cause inspectors to alter how they enforce this section. This change helped to facilitate more dependable power for marinas and docking facilities. However, individual branch circuits feeding single shore powered receptacles, must have individual GFPE devices set to open at currents not exceeding 30 milliamperes. Coincidentally, this requirement matches main breaker settings in boats manufactured after July 31, 2017. Leakage current measurement device - New 2020 NEC language allows electrical inspectors to require marinas, boatyards and docking facilities that have more than three receptacles supplying shore power to boats to have a leakage current measurement device available on site. This device would allow facility operators to isolate and notify boat owners of leakage current so repairs could be made by a qualified person, thus helping to eliminate a potential ESD risk. Private docks - Locations where ESD hazards may easily get overlooked or not inspected are on lakes surrounded by homes with private docks. These homes don’t always have shore power but may have electrically powered boat hoists. Section 555.9 was added requiring boat hoist outlets not exceeding 240-volts installed at dwelling unit docking facilities have GFCI protection for personnel. We have seen notable code changes within Article 555 over the last several cycles. Prior to the 2017 NEC, warning signs around marinas, boatyards, or docking facilities were not an NEC requirement, but they are now. GFCI and GFPE have had changes made within Article 555 over the 2017 and 2020 NEC cycles. Boat hoist GFCI protection was added to the 2020 NEC, plus numerous potential changes that may occur in the 2023 NEC cycle. There’s been a lot of positive influence on the codes because of the risks surrounding ESD, including regulating electrical requirements in marinas, boatyards and docking facilities, rendering them much safer now. But you still can’t swim there! As inspectors, we can help raise awareness of ESD in our communities. It starts with educating ourselves. Visit NFPA’s ESD web to learn more about this topic and ways to help mitigate the risk of ESD.
Activated sprinkler

Fire Fighter Safety Building Marking Systems

There are two main ways in which fire fighters currently receive information about fire protection features and construction types of a building they are responding to. The first is from a pre-incident plan (see NFPA 1620 for information about pre-incident planning) which is available as a result of prior building inspection and the second is through signage on the building. The most widely adopted signage which most fire fighters are familiar with is the NFPA 704 hazard diamond, which provides information about hazardous materials present and the fire, health, instability and special hazards which they pose. However, there is a lesser-known marking system that has been developed and incorporated in Appendix C of NFPA 1, which if utilized can provide fire fighters the basic information about fire protection features and building construction quickly and concisely as they’re arriving on scene of an emergency. Let’s look at why this type of marking system is important to fire fighters. Modern buildings are designed with fire protection features to protect both occupants and the building itself. Some of these features provide active protection, such as fire suppression systems, while others provide passive protection such as fire resistive construction. The required protection level is dictated by the codes incorporated by reference into law by the authority having jurisdiction at the time the building was designed and constructed, or under a retroactive requirement after the building is occupied. The specific fire protection features in a building, combined with the construction type will play a role in the tactical approaches to suppressing a fire in that building. So, having this information quickly and concisely displayed on the exterior of the building can enhance the fire department’s effectiveness. Although some states have adopted signs identifying construction type and location of truss construction, the fire fighter safety building marking system (FSBMS) in Appendix C of NFPA 1 goes further to include the hazard level of the contents, presence of fire sprinkler and standpipe systems, occupancy and life safety issues and other special designations. What does it look like?   The Maltese cross, which draws its origins from the Knights of Malta, has been widely adopted as a symbol of the fire service. The eight-pointed cross can be easily identified by its curved arcs between the points which all converge on a center circle. The FSBMS utilizes a rating system in each of the arms of the cross and the center circle to concisely display the hazard level, fire suppression systems, occupancy life safety issues and special hazards of a given building. The image above is an example of a FSBMS symbol. These signs should be located “in a position to be plainly legible and visible from the street or road fronting the property or as approved by the fire department.” To aide in visibility the signs should incorporate a white reflective background and black lettering.  Now let’s look at what each of the letters in the four sections of the cross identify. Rating System Construction Type The construction type is identified utilizing letter combinations in the top section of the Maltese cross as follows: FR — Fire-resistive construction NC — Noncombustible construction ORD — Ordinary construction HT — Heavy timber construction C — Combustible construction These construction types provide firefighters a general understanding of how well the building will resist collapse under fire conditions. Fire resistive construction would theoretically resist collapse the longest and combustible construction has the potential for the earliest collapse. Hazards of Contents The hazard of the building’s contents as it relates to fire conditions will be displayed on the left section of the Maltese cross as follows: L — Low hazard. Low hazard contents shall be classified as those of such low combustibility that no self-propagating fire therein can occur. M — Moderate hazard. Moderate hazard contents shall be classified as those that are likely to burn with moderate rapidity or to give off a considerable volume of smoke. H — High hazard. High hazard contents shall be classified as those that are likely to burn with extreme rapidity or from which explosions are likely. The hazard level will provide fire fighters with a general idea of how rapidly a fire will grow and spread through the building contents. This information can be used to anticipate the amount of water and firefighting resources needed to effectively control the fire. Automatic Fire Sprinkler and Standpipe System The presence of automatic fire sprinklers and standpipe systems will be displayed in the right section of the cross as follows: A — Automatic fire sprinkler system installed throughout P — Partial automatic fire sprinkler system or other suppression system installed S — Standpipe system installed N — None The general understanding of what active fire suppression systems are located in the building will guide firefighter’s tactics including apparatus positioning and hose line selection. Occupancy/Life Safety Issues The occupancy and life safety issues will be displayed in the lower section of the cross as follows: L — Business, industrial, mercantile, residential, and storage occupancies M — Ambulatory health care, assembly, educational, and day care occupancies H — Detention and correction facilities, health care, and board and care occupancies This information about building occupants/occupancy type will allow firefighters to gauge the difficulty in evacuating occupants from the building. The L occupancies representing those where the occupant load is lower, and occupants can most effectively evacuate unassisted. The M is of moderate concern where the occupant load is higher and/or the occupants may need additional assistance due to age or health conditions. The H is of high concern where the occupants may not be able to self-evacuate and considerable resources will be needed to evacuate the building. Special Hazards The center circle has been left empty to allow the inclusion of special hazards or provisions. This may be a location to include such things as truss type construction or even the hazardous materials information for example an NFPA 704 diamond, as long as the provisions for size of 704 are met. Summary Having the information on construction type, hazard level of contents, presence of sprinkler and standpipe systems and occupancy/life safety issues has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of firefighters arriving on scene. These responders would be equipped with the knowledge needed to best address an emergency in the building. States which have incorporated NFPA 1 into law should take the extra step to specifically name Annex C in the incorporating ordinance, thus incorporating a national standard the firefighter safety building marking system into law in their jurisdictions. Unless specifically incorporated by refence the FSBMS in Annex C would be a recommendation rather than a requirement. A national system has the potential to increase firefighter effectiveness while decreasing the number of fire fighter injuries and deaths by providing important information quickly and concisely as they arrive on scene. 

Fire Protection Research Foundation publishes “Firefighting Foams: Fire Service Roadmap” report

Fire incidents involving flammable liquids have historically resulted in dire consequences. Incidents can occur in aircraft hangars, shipboard spaces, flammable liquids fueling facilities, large fuel storage tanks, and other settings and can range from small, short spill fires to large tank farm fires which can burn for multiple days. A prominent example of the latter is the Intercontinental Terminals Company Deer Park petrochemical facility fire in Texas in March 2019. That fire started on March 17 and was finally brought under control on March 23. Class B firefighting foams are the primary agents used for the vapor suppression and extinguishment of flammable liquid fires in both manual and fixed system applications. Firefighting foams form a film and/or a blanket of bubbles on the surface of flammable liquids and prevent the fuel vapors and oxygen from interacting and creating a flammable mixture. For nearly five decades, Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFF) have been used as the dominant and effective Class B firefighting foam. Prior to the adoption of AFFF, the primary agent for flammable liquid firefighting was Protein Foams, which are derived from the hydrolysis of protein products and then delivered as aspirated foam to produce a smothering blanket of foam bubbles on the fuel surface. AFFF contains fluorosurfactants (per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances [PFAS]) that provide the essential characteristics of fuel repellency, heat stability, low surface tension, and positive spreading coefficient so that an aqueous film formation can be formed on the fuel surface. AFFF has traditionally been recognized for its effective fire control characteristics. However, today these foams are now of significant concern in light of potential adverse health and environmental impact. The potential environmental, safety and occupational health risks associated with the use of fluorosurfactants such as some PFAS present in AFFFs started to become evident to the scientific community in the early 2000s. The unique chemical nature of the carbon-fluorine bond in PFAS make some of these compounds persistent, bio accumulative, toxic and have emerged as “contaminants of concern” as considered by the EPA. As a result, the ability to use AFFF to extinguish Class B fires continues to be greatly restricted due to bans in numerous States in the United States and in countries across the world such as Australia. Recently, Federal and State authorities have implemented health and environmental regulatory actions for PFAS and PFAS-containing AFFF. These regulations will ultimately impact, if not eliminate the production, distribution, and use of legacy AFFF in upcoming years. As more regulations come into place to address this issue, fire departments and other industrial end users are seeking AFFF replacements. In the meantime, the capabilities and limitations of the replacement foams and agents are continuing to be investigated through various research and testing programs to better understand their characteristics and effectiveness for various applications. The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), the research affiliate of NFPA, facilitated a research testing program (2018-20) to evaluate the fire protection performance and effectiveness of multiple fluorine free Class B firefighting foams on fires involving hydrocarbon and alcohol fuels. This study provided guidance to inform the foam system application standard, i.e., NFPA 11, Standard for Low−, Medium−, and High− Expansion Foam based on the testing conducted at the time of this research, and identified knowledge gaps and research needs so that we can better understand the capabilities and limitations of fluorine free foams. Additionally, there are multiple other ongoing research efforts. There are research programs led by the US Department of Defense’s SERDP and ESTCP underway, including  testing on the development of PFAS-free firefighting formulations, studying the fire suppression performance and ecotoxicology of these formulations as well as the cleaning technologies for firefighting equipment. LASTFIRE (Large Atmospheric Storage Tank Fires), an international industrial end user consortium, has also been focusing on the selection and use of firefighting foams for large storage tank applications. Additionally, the Firefighter Cancer Cohort Study is developing a national framework to collect and integrate firefighter epidemiologic surveys, biomarkers, and exposure data focused on carcinogenic exposures and health effects. Part of the long-term cohort study will look at the health effects of firefighters that have been routinely exposed to firefighting foams during their activities and careers. Clearly, this is a complex problem, with concerns that include fire control/extinguishing performance, health exposure, and environmental contamination. And for the fire service, challenging Class B flammable liquid fires are not going away and must be addressed. The learning from these ongoing studies have been promising and demonstrate a step in the right direction to develop a full understanding of this complex problem so that we can transition to firefighting foams of the future without experiencing “substitution regret” (i.e., to avoid multiple repeated replacements over time). The Fire Protection Research Foundation recently published the report titled “Firefighting Foams: Fire Service Roadmap.” This project was initiated with the funding support from FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, with an overall goal to provide guidance to the fire service community by developing a roadmap to transition from AFFFs to a suitable, environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and effective alternative. The roadmap document is based on the information available at the time of the program. The roadmap and associated documentation have been assembled in a systematic path that covers current regulations, considerations for transitioning to replacement foam, cleaning of equipment and disposal of effluents and legacy concentrates, foam selection and implementation considerations, minimizing firefighter exposures, and ways to handle foam discharged from a cleanup and documentation perspective. A key element of this project entailed a three-day virtual workshop hosted by the FPRF late last year, October 2021. Subject matter experts delivered 28 presentations on the state of knowledge and related issues. If you missed this FPRF workshop, please visit the project website for workshop presentations, and final proceedings. Did you know the Research Foundation is celebrating its 40th year in existence in 2022? Learn more about this noteworthy milestone at
Electrical workers

Fact Sheet Highlights Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance

For those of us who utilize NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®) and NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, on a regular basis, we know the importance that the NEC plays when it comes to the installation of safe electrical systems and the safe work practices that 70E provides, allowing us to perform those installations and maintenance, safely. But there's a third document that's key to this equation: NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, which covers equipment maintenance. 70B offers guidelines for maintaining equipment after the initial installation is done and regular usage begins to impose wear and tear on the equipment. While each document covers a specific area, by using them together, it helps provide the safest electrical system possible while maintaining a safe working environment for those performing the necessary tasks. For example, NFPA 70B deals with electrical equipment maintenance, the NEC stipulates the installation rules necessary for a proper installation, and NFPA 70E addresses safe work practices needed to help ensure that the installation and maintenance are done safely. When the three are used in concert, and correctly, they provide for a complete electrical safety cycle. When one or more pieces are missing, it may leave the door open to catastrophic accidents—even death. To help workers navigate this “cycle of safety,” NFPA has developed a new NFPA 70B fact sheet that explains its purpose and highlights its relationship to related codes and standards. It also points out key chapters and the value of an effective electrical preventative maintenance program (EPM).     Learn more about NFPA 70B by downloading the free fact sheet. (PDF) For additional information, visit NFPA's document information webpage.

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Setting Up an Electrical Safety Program (Part 4 – Lockout)

Does your electrical safety program (ESP) lockout program require that employees follow NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® Article 120? That ESP does not comply with NFPA 70E and employees are being improperly trained if it does. NFPA 70E requires that a lockout program be established and procedures to be developed. It provides requirements that must be addressed but does not provide a procedure for any specific equipment lockout. A lockout program in the ESP must comply with the minimum NFPA 70E requirements even if it refers to an employer’s lockout program. NFPA 70E cannot detail the requirements referenced in Article 120. It is not typical for every employee to have the same experience or training. Does the documented procedure cater to the least experienced or a higher level? The lockout procedure must be applicable to the experience and training of the employee and the conditions in the workplace. It is probable that different lockout conditions are encountered at various locations in the workplace. A mechanical lockout procedure might be different than an electrical one. It is possible for a basic lockout procedure to be developed and a standardized procedure mitigates the potential for human error. A specific lockout procedure could be necessary for a given piece of equipment which in turn requires additional training. Equipment installed before the NEC requirement for a permanent locking means could require additional locking mechanisms which alter the basic procedure. The program must address the use of simple and complex lockout procedures. An ESP could permit a contractor to use their own lockout procedure or contractors could be trained on the facility lockout program. Whose program will be followed and who is responsible for training employees affected by a different lockout procedure? If contractor procedures are permitted, an employee must be assigned to review those procedures to determine that safety standards of the facility are being met. Without a review, it is possible that the contractor does not have one, or that their program is less stringent than the facility’s lockout program. There could be situations when multiple contractors from various trades are affected further complicating the lockout procedure to be used and the training required.  Remember that the lockout process is only one necessary step in establishing an electrically safe work condition. A well-developed lockout program is not as simple as it appears. A generic lockout procedure could address most equipment. A detailed lockout procedure might be necessary to fill in the gaps when using it on specific equipment. Affected people might include facility employees as well as contract employees. Sections 110.5(M)(3) and (M)(4) require a documented annual audit of the lockout program and procedures including witnessing their use in the field.  The ESP must address more issues than this blog points out. Make sure your lockout program and its procedures cover all the bases.
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