Topic: Emergency Response

A female firefighter gets into a firetruck

Why Women in the Fire Service Need Better-Fitting Gear

Have you ever tried on clothes only to find out you are no longer the size you thought you were? On a recent trip to Europe I was in a men’s clothing store looking to purchase a new suit. What I thought was my size—a large—turned out to be a supersized XXL in the European system. Yikes! Now take that experience and think of it the other way around. Imagine having to wear a coat or trousers two to three sizes larger than you need. That is similar to what many women in the fire service have had to face for decades when it comes to their personal protection equipment (PPE). According to the 2020 US Fire Department Profile report, there are nearly 90,000 female firefighters in the United States—that’s 9 percent of all firefighters in the US. Of that number, 17,200 were career and 72,400 were volunteer. Over the last 10 years the number of female firefighters has increased. Yet many women firefighters, especially in the volunteer fire service, end up being issued used gear that was designed for men. Finding the proper fit is about more than just sizing down. Most of the time, a women’s size is not just a smaller men’s size. Proportions are different and they need—and deserve—the right-fitting gear. Why improper fits are more than just an inconvenience Studies dating back more than a decade have shown that as many as 80 percent of female firefighters experience issues with improperly fitting PPE. Improperly fitting gear—such as firefighter gloves, firefighter boots, bunker pants, and bunker coats—isn’t just a nuisance for women in the fire service, but it can also lead to injuries. Bunker pants that are too long or bulky, for instance, can lead to trips, falls, and an inability to move efficiently. Bunker coats that are too long can lead to injuries while using an axe or power equipment or advancing a hoseline. Four percent of firefighter injuries happen to women, according to the Fire Department Profile. This figure isn’t all due to poor-fitting gear, but that can certainly be a contributing factor. In an interview published by NFPA Journal® in 2021, Dr. Meredith McQuerry, a Florida State University professor and expert in clothing comfort physiology, said female firefighters have a 33 percent higher risk of on-duty injury than their male counterparts. “Ill-fitting PPE is certainly playing a role in that greater risk of injury and even risk of fatality,” McQuerry told the magazine. “They’re not able to move as easily or as quickly as they need to. That puts them at greater risk.” What does the future of female firefighter PPE look like? Some very interesting research has been done by McQuerry that will help drive solutions to the problem of improperly fitting gear for female firefighters. With support from the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA®, McQuerry and other researchers were able to recently create the first-ever database of female firefighter anthropometrics—a fancy way of describing a person’s physical measurements. With that data, which included measurements from nearly 200 female firefighters, McQuerry and her team hope to ultimately propose a sizing system for female firefighter PPE. That system could then be shared with and considered by manufacturers as well as the technical committees responsible for updating NFPA 1970, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural and Proximity Firefighting, Work Apparel and Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, and Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS). “Our ultimate goal is to propose female sizing systems for structural and wildland PPE, to share those with the fire service [and] to share those with manufacturers and standards bodies to create, hopefully, in tandem, real change for women in the fire service,” McQuerry said during a recent webinar hosted by NFPA. You can watch the full hour-and-a-half presentation in the “Archives” section of the NFPA Webinars webpage.

Firefighters and Fire Departments by the Numbers

Each year, NFPA® provides an overview of fire departments in the United States. The analysis includes firefighters, fire departments, apparatus, and stations. The results are based on data collected by two NFPA annual surveys, the US fire experience survey, and the fire service inventory survey. According to the new US Fire Department Profile report from NFPA, there were approximately 1,041,200 career and volunteer firefighters in the US in 2020.  This total is down 4 percent from the previous year and is the lowest total since 1991.  A decrease of volunteer firefighters played a role in this trend.  There were 364,300 career firefighters in 2020, representing an increase of 2 percent from the previous year. In addition, there were 676,900 volunteer firefighters, a decrease of 6 percent from the previous year, and the lowest number of volunteer firefighters reported over the years. In 2020, there were 89,600 female firefighters—17,200 career and 72,400 volunteer. There are an estimated 29,452 fire departments in the United States, with the majority (82%) of the fire departments being all or mostly volunteer.   These are the departments that protected almost one third of the US population.  Fire departments categorized as all-career or mostly career represent one-sixth (18%) of all the fire departments in the US and protect more than two-thirds of the US population. Estimates of the number of apparatus and fire stations in the US during 2018–2020 indicate that there were 68,800 pumpers; 7,400 aerial apparatuses; 76,300 other suppression vehicles (e.g., pumpers less than 1,000 gpm, brush vehicles, tankers); 48,800 other vehicles (e.g., rescue, lighting, and ambulance vehicles); and 54,600 stations. Nationwide, 37 percent of fire departments provided no emergency medical services, 46 percent provided basic life support (BLS), and 17 percent provided advanced life support (ALS). Curious about trends and statistics by population protected? See the full report.

CRAIG 1300™ State Trailblazer Helps Improve Community Risk Reduction Programs

If you want to make your state a safer place through community risk reduction (CRR) but struggle with the time and resources to take a new community risk assessment (CRA) project, CRAIG 1300 is the cutting-edge tool to help you do it. And with NFPA kicking off its limited-time CRAIG 1300™ State Trailblazer discount*, now is the best time add CRAIG 1300 to your team’s community data toolkit. Powered by mySidewalk—an innovative community intelligence platform—CRAIG 1300 is your state-of-the-art CRR sidekick that can help make better sense of data through the application of NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development. Generate and Share Data Insights Visually To make your state safer, you need to make decisions grounded in data. With CRAIG 1300—which stands for Community Risk Assessment Insight Generator—you can easily aggregate and analyze publicly available data, find impactful community insights faster, and share your research and proposals with other stakeholders using eye-popping graphs, charts, and heatmaps. “The great thing was the visual,” said Jeremy Holmes, Fire Chief for Covington Fire Department. “Once you’re able to pull the program up and show your counsel and leadership the data—and you’re able to map it out—it’s huge… It wasn’t just me saying it. It was them seeing it. And because of that, they jumped on board immediately.” Alice Morrison, data analyst for the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office (WVSFMO) said, “The data makes sense when you see it on these maps and charts, and I think that’ll be a great encouragement to the fire departments—as well as the public—to be able to see it.” For a limited time, your state can obtain this powerful CRR asset at a discount using the CRAIG 1300 State Trailblazer discount from NFPA®. CRAIG 1300 State Trailblazer As your department’s digital data assistant, CRAIG 1300 can be customized to your team’s unique needs; the State Trailblazer offer covers two of the CRAIG 1300 user-friendly dashboards that save you time and resources so you can focus on what matters most—improving community safety in your state. CRAIG 1300 State Pro: This turnkey dashboard uses geospatial analytics to identify your community’s unique characteristics without inputting any of your own data. CRAIG 1300 State Plus: This expanded dashboard option includes five additional custom indicators and NFIRS data to support your state’s public safety programs with data-driven CRR. WVSFMO’s State Fire Marshal, Ken Tyree, shared his biggest CRAIG 1300 success: “Based on our data from this program, we had the opportunity to participate in a smoke alarm installation program with the Marshall University football team.” Community Risk Reduction (CRR) Through Community Risk Assessment (CRA) An effective CRR plan is informed by a comprehensive CRA that defines, identifies, and prioritizes risks in a community through the nine NFPA 1300 community risk profiles: Building Stock Community Service Organizations Demographics Economics Geography Hazards Pass Loss and Event History Public Safety Response Agencies Critical Infrastructure Systems  Using several reputable data sources, CRAIG 1300 crunches the numbers and combines them into the profiles with speed and precision so you don’t have to. Find the CRR Solution for You With CRAIG 1300 State Pro, CRAIG 1300 State Plus, and CRAIG 1300 State Flex options, you probably want to know what CRR solution is right for you—here’s how to find out: Speak with a representative from mySidewalk—our CRAIG 1300 partner will walk you through the process of selecting the right CRR solution. Visit nfpa.org/CRAIG1300 to learn more about CRAIG 1300 State Trailblazer. *Offer valid for state agencies who sign prior to Dec. 31. Flexible payment/invoicing terms are available. No more than a 5% pricing increase will be applied upon renewal. However, this may limit availability of new features added to CRAIG State products. 

A level of Safety – NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend The 1st University of Maryland/NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem Symposium, in College Park, Maryland, U.S.A, where fire and life safety experts from across the globe gathered to discuss the principals of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™ and its application to address today’s fire safety issues. For those of you who are not familiar with the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™, it is “a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries and death from fire, electrical and other hazards.” In other words, it identifies the items NFPA feels contribute to achieving the expected level of safety when it comes to fire and electrical hazards. Each component is depicted as a cog, each of which connect to form a circle. Over the two day symposium attendees reviewed case studies on the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire in Oakland, CA (2016); the Grenfell Tower Fire in London, UK (2017); and the Camp Fire, Butt County, CA (2018); and also discussed emerging issues involving residential fires; the safe use of alternative energy; and how to think about fire safety when using new building materials. Each topic was evaluated through the lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™.  In many of the case studies multiple components of the ecosystem failed or lacked effectiveness. When discussing the emerging issues, no single component would solve the challenge presented. This seemed to lend to the idea that all the cogs must be working together to ensure the expected level of safety, so what happens if just one isn’t operating at peak performance? Does the ecosystem still provide a level of safety because the cogs remain connected? One example that came up several times was the need to mandate automatic fire sprinkler systems in all new and existing high-rise buildings. According to research done by NFPA, fire Sprinklers have been shown to be an extremely effective of increasing life safety with an 89% reduction in fire deaths in properties with automatic fire sprinklers as compared to those without. So, sprinklers would certainly make an impact on reducing deaths in fires. NFPA 1 Fire Code requires automatic fire sprinklers systems in all new high-rise building and all existing high-rise buildings within 12 years of the code becoming law. Mandating compliance with the most recent edition of this code through legislation falls under government responsibility cog. If the government responsibility cog was effective, this incorporation of NFPA 101 Life Safety Code would be one way they could create laws which prioritizes public safety needs.  However, as is sometimes the case a local government also could incorporate into law a modified NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, one which doesn’t mandate sprinklers in all high-rise buildings, specifically existing buildings. In the second case, one could argue that this cog would not be functioning at its optimal potential. How does this impact the level of safety in existing high-rise buildings? There are many examples of major fires in non-sprinklered or partially sprinklered high-rise buildings including the One Meridian Plaza fire (1991), the Cook County Administration Building fire in Chicago (2003), the Marco Polo Apartment Building Fire in Hawaii (2017) and the Twin Parks Northwest fire in New York City (2022). In all these cases a review of the fire concluded fire sprinklers could have made an impact, however all had multiple challenges; One Meridian Plaza had issues with water supply in the standpipe system; the Cook County Administration Building had locked doors preventing reentry on the floors above the fire; and both the Marco Polo and Twin Parks Northwest fires both had issues with self-closing doors. These challenges touch the Skilled Workforce, Code Compliance, and Investment in Safety cogs, resulting in the entire system failing. As I reflect on the discussion during the first NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem Summit, I can’t help but wonder if another part of the ecosystem concept is the resiliency of the anticipated level of safety in buildings. Each cog is interlaced with the next, adding elements of safety which can work together in an emergency to prevent a major tragedy. When one cog is not functioning at its optimal potential does the circular concept of the ecosystem allow the others to “turn” or function which will provide some level of safety, reducing the likelihood of a significant incident? As we wrap up fire prevention week, let’s think about all the cogs and how they’ll advance the level of safety for the public. Government Responsibility, Development and Use of Current Codes, Reference Standards, Investment in Safety, Skilled Workforce, Code Compliance, Preparedness and Emergency Response, and Informed Public all work together. Buildings which are designed, constructed, and operated with all these in mind really do have a level of safety which works to protect their occupants. Check out the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™page for more on the concept, an assessment tool as well as the 2020 & 2021 Year in Review reports on the state of the ecosystem.

First draft of NFPA 1970 proposes changes to firefighter PPE standard and will be open for review and Public Comment through January 4, 2023

In my continuing effort to keep interested parties apprised of the latest standards activity related to firefighting gear and conversations about the presence of PFOAs, the first draft of the upcoming edition of NFPA 1970, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural and Proximity Firefighting, Work Apparel and Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, and Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS) has been posted online and is now available for review and Public Comment through January 4, 2023. One of the proposed changes within the draft includes the elimination of the light degradation resistance test on the moisture barrier layer of jackets. It will be replaced by a multi-environmental conditioning procedure (9.1.22) that will be applied to composite test samples before certain tests. Some of the additional changes in the NFPA 1971 portion (protective ensembles) of NFPA 1970 include: Added new requirements for manufacturer indication of “PFAS FREE” gear. (6.1.7.6 & 6.4.13) Added new requirements for acceptable levels of specific restricted substances and added a test method to determine the presence and quantity of specific restricted substances. (7.1.14, 7.4.9, 7.7.6, 7.10.10, 7.13.7, 8.20, & 9.83) The Correlating Committee recommended to consider adding similar requirements for SCBA in Chapter 17 of NFPA 1970 (NFPA 1981 portion). Added requirements to test for ease of cleaning. (8.1.29, 8.4.17, 8.7.26, 8.10.19, 8.13.12, & 9.81) Added requirements to test for effectiveness of cleaning. (8.2.7 & 9.82) Added requirements to test for liquid repellency and penetration resistance of persistent contaminants. (8.2.8 & 9.84) Added requirements to test for leaching of material substances. (8.2.9 & 9.85) It’s important to note that these proposed changes and additions reflect the recommendations of the Technical and Correlating Committee on Hazardous Substances in the NFPA 1970 First Draft Report. As I outlined in a previous blog, NFPA does not create or dictate the provisions within our codes and standards. NFPA is the neutral facilitator of the standards development process; each standard is developed by balanced voluntary technical committees. It is an open and transparent process in which anyone (except NFPA staff) can review and provide input and comment. I strongly encourage everyone who has opinions, perspectives, and insights on these proposed changes to make sure their voices are heard by the committee. Comments will be accepted through January 4, 2023. Anyone who believes the first draft of the standard should be changed to address these and other topics is strongly encouraged to submit proposed changes (public comment) to the next edition of the standard. You do not have to be an NFPA member or on an NFPA Technical Committee to provide comment and propose additional changes.  Anyone (except NFPA staff) can propose a change to the standard by suggesting specific wording and providing a technical rationale through our online submission system, which is accessible at nfpa.org/1970next.  The deadline for Public Comment is January 4, 2023. In the following months, the Technical and Correlating Committees will consider all of the proposed changes received by the deadline and will develop a Second Draft of NFPA 1970.  NFPA anticipates that the Second Draft Reports will be posted for public review in the Fall of 2023. Throughout the process, the latest information on this standard can be found at nfpa.org/1970next.

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. 
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