Topic: Emergency Response

Damage from an earthquake

Fire history: Kobe earthquake and fire

On Tuesday January 17, 1995 a 20 second earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale occurred near the Japanese port of Kobe, about 500 km (311 mi) southwest of Tokyo. The quake killed more than  6,000 people, injured at least 30,000 and left more than 300,000 people homeless. More than 100,000 buildings were severely damaged or destroyed by the quake and the fires it caused.  148 separate fires destroyed 6,513 buildings. Several factors influenced the spread of fire immediately after the earthquake and in the days that followed.  For example, many of the structures involved were built of lightweight wood or bamboo covered with a thin layer of stucco that was not well secured.  Even if a building did not collapse, it often lost its outer layer of stucco. When this happened, the underlying wood materials were exposed, creating a large combustible fuel load. The 1995 Kobe earthquake was the worst to hit Japan since the 1923 Kanto earthquake, which had an estimated Richter magnitude of 7.9 and resulted in nearly 143,000 deaths, primarily due to fire. The Charles S. Morgan Library supports the research activities and maintains the archive of NFPA.  Our collection includes several works relating to the Kobe earthquake including the fire investigations report, 2 NIST reports(also available online), and several books.  We also have a rare copy of a 1923 report by Boris Laiming to the NBFU on the 1923 Tokyo Conflagration. Learn more about the Library and Archives, our resources, and services.
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Highlights from the FAC Reference Guide: Collaboration and Outreach

We continue to promote the contents of the, “Guide to Fire Adapted Communities,” and the additional resources and expertise of the various Fire Adapted Community Coalition members.  The guide's “collaboration and outreach” section speaks to the importance of this in a Fire Adapted Community, creating a strong local team, and available tools for success.  The outreach role of fire departments in a Fire Adapted Community is key.  The International Association of Fire Chiefs' Ready, Set, Go! Program Manager Caitlin McGuire shared with me that, “A fire service members' voice is uniquely trusted, respected, and admired by the general public. The FAC fire preparedness message can save lives, and resonates to the community t hrough the voices of our fire service members.”  Caitlin went onto explain that, “Implementing FAC outreach into your department's educational plan is the simplest way to provide important information to the varied audiences within your community. Not only does this outreach enable you to engage with the residents you serve, but it can provide great relationship-building opportunities with other agencies, local officials, local businesses, and neighborhood associations.” The guide's outreach section provides both information and context on available tools for local success.  These include the IAFC's Ready, Set, Go! Program for fire department outreach; the National Volunteer Fire Council's Wildland Fire Assessment Program for the fire service; and NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program for residents and community groups.  The section also provides a great collaboration and outreach case study of the Towns County, GA, Fire Adapted Communities effort.  Wildfire safety outreach materials for the fire service can also be obtained from the US Fire Administration.  Learn more about the role of collaboration and outreach in a Fire Adapted Community.  Please visit the resources page on Fireadapted.org to learn more or download the guide from here.
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Want extra credit? New ISO rating schedule gives points for fire prevention and education

Fire departments around the country have eagerly awaited the most recent update to the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) developed by the Insurance Services Office. This system classifies communities according to performance in emergency communications, fire response and suppression and water supply, and has provided these ratings to insurers for more than 30 years. Insurance companies purchasing this data use it to develop underwriting practices – so improved ratings can lead to lower insurance premiums for homes and businesses in many instances.What's new with this long-awaited revision? First, ISO is referencing many more NFPA codes and standards than in the past. This means that as the NFPA documents are revised, the rating schedule will be revised – a great way to ensure that the ratings keep up with new technology and changing practices. Communities all over the US will also be happy to learn that for the first time, they can earn “extra credit” – up to 5.5 points – for demonstrating fire prevention, education and investigation programs. In other words, the ratings – and thus many insurance companies – will begin to account for fire mitigation programs in a quantifiable and creditable way.NFPA has developed a resource list of all the codes and standards referenced in ISO's rating schedule, along with a wealth of resources for fire departments and communities to consider when updating or initiating fire prevention and education programs. Check www.nfpa.org/iso for a list with links to each standard and much more on Firewise®, Learn Not to Burn®, Remembering When® and other fire prevention tools that might give your community a leg up on improving its fire safety ratings.
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Seven workers die in Confined Space Accident at Corona Brewery

Well, my confined space blog may have slowed down a bit in the past couple months due to other ongoing work, but unfortunately the confined space fatalities have not slowed down... In April, seven workers were killed in a tank that was undergoing maintenance and cleaning at a plant in Mexico City operated by Corona beermaker, Grupo Modelo.  It is believed that four victims were maintenance contractors and three victims were other Modelo employees.   There are few details available on the incident.  It is speculated that the deaths were due to “unspecified toxins” and that the three Modelo employees had entered the tank in an effort to rescue the other four contract employees.   Mexican authorities are reportedly investigating the incident.   Confined spaces are or should be clearly recognized in the beer industry.  The large numbers of tanks that are entered for maintenance and cleaning, combined with hazardous atmospheres including carbon dioxide produced during fermentation, inert atmospheres, and ammonia from refrigeration systems creates significant confined space entries and hazards.   These incidents do not just happen in foreign countries, and wine makers are also not off the hook when it comes to confined spaces.  A confined space death occurred just two years earlier at Napa California at Ancien wines when a worker was overcome by nitrogen and argon gases inside a tank.   Workers entering into tanks in the beer and wine industries should be intimately familiar with confined space entry procedures.  Even if contractors were always used to perform confined space entry work, it is unclear why Modelo employees would have entered the tank if they had been trained to recognize the confined space hazard.  The Modelo company has been in operation since 1925 and is the maker of the number 1 imported beer in the United States.  This confined space incident has the largest loss of life in one entry that I am aware of.  While it is not uncommon to lose 2-3 workers, this incident claimed the lives of 7 workers.  Confined space entry hazards continue to claim lives despite improved recognition of the hazards and despite regulations and guidelines available to prevent such incidents.   The National Fire Protection Association is developing a Best Practices document for confined space entry. This document will address gaps in existing standards and will be more prescriptive in describing things like how to test the atmosphere in and around confined spaces prior to entry.  The NFPA document is looking to go beyond the minimum standards and to provide those looking to develop a “gold star” confined space entry program with the information they need to do so.  Please email me at npearce@nfpa.org for further information and/or leave a comment below for discussion.  I look forward to hearing from you!
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Home fire sprinklers requirements in California yield no negative impact on construction

The Modesto Bee reports that home building permits were up nearly 55% in the Sacramento area of California this year compared to the same period last year. The article explains that the Sacramento results mirror a statewide increase in building permits for single family homes; proving that fire sprinkler requirements do not thwart home building. California is one of two states that adopted fire sprinkler requirements in all new one- and two-family homes, effective January 1, 2011.  Maryland also adopted the requirement statewide. In other states, opponents of home fire sprinkler requirements – which are included in all national model codes representing minimum standards to achieve a reasonable level of safety – have lobbied extensively against the requirement on the claim that adoption of fire sprinklers in new home construction will negatively impact home building. This claim is refuted by a study by the Fire Protection Research Foundation that found there is no negative impact in housing supply or cost in communities adopting the requirement, as compared to communities without the requirement. The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) website contains permit data showing an overall average increase of 26% in single family home permits in the U.S., while California has experienced a 51% increase in permits issued for the same period. In contrast, South Carolina - included among the states rejecting statewide adoption of one- and two-family home fire sprinkler requirements - has experienced a 24% increase in permits; below the national average. View home fire sprinkler legislation/adoption updates by states and local communities.
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Which mulch is the right mulch? Research on mulch and fire helps you decide!

Spring is almost here and time to get out and start doing some yard work. As I stand in front of all of the different types of mulch at my local home repair store, I can't decide which one to use. Which one will be the safest? Which one will last the longest? Which one will look the best the longest? Which one will be the safest? I know, I already mentioned that one but being a firefighter by trade, these things cross my mind -- a lot! There are many choices to use to beautify your landscaping. There are wood chips, pine bark, pine needles, shredded rubber and more. But which one is the safest? I asked an employee in the garden section if he knew of any fire spread ratings of any of the mulches in the store and he looked at me with a blank, faraway, confused look. So, I decided to look into this myself. Mulch has many positive attributes. It reduces the water requirements of plants, cools the soil temperature, controls weeds and soil erosion, and visually enhances the landscape. But a major drawback is that many are combustible, which presents a huge problem in fire prone areas. Embers from an approaching wildfire can ignite areas where mulch is used. If these areas are adjacent to the home, it could be wind up to be a disastrous mix. An evaluation of mulch combustibility was performed in 2008 by the Carson City Fire Department, the Nevada Tahoe Conservation District, the University of California Cooperative Extension, and the University of Nevada Cooperation Extension. The results from this project offer recommendations for uses of mulches in wildfire hazard areas. Mulch can be defined as any material that is used to cover the soil surface for a variety of purposes. They can be classified as organic or inorganic. Organic mulches usually come from plant materials and include pine needles, pine bark nuggets, shredded western cedar and even ground or shredded rubber. Inorganic mulches consist of rock, gravel and brick chips. These inorganic mulches tend not to burn and are safe to use in any setting. Eight mulch treatments were evaluated for three characteristics: flame height, rate of fire spread and temperature. On the test day, the National Fire Danger Rating System value was Extreme. All eight mulches were found to be combustible but varied considerably in the three areas measured. Shredded rubber, pine needles and shredded western red cedar showed the greatest potential for all three characteristics.  Shredded rubber burned at the hottest average temperature (in excess of 630 degrees F at a height of 4 inches) and produced the greatest flame length at over 3 feet. Shredded western red cedar had the most rapid rate of spread, traveling at an average rate of 47.9 feet per minute. It also produced embers that moved beyond the plot perimeter and ignited adjacent mulch plots. Composted wood chips showed the slowest spread rate and the shortest average flame length, usually smoldering. So what does all of this mean? We have a variety of mulch choices in our landscaping – and we need to know the best uses for each choice. Immediately next to your home out to five feet, the best mulch to use is an inorganic one (rock, brick, pavers) or fire resistant plant materials that are well watered and maintained. Composted wood chips are the best choice of the materials tested for residential landscape use. However, they are organic and will still burn. They do tend to burn at the lowest speed and lowest flame length. If this material is ignited, it could still ignite siding, plant debris and other combustible materials. The smoldering of this product could also go undetected by firefighters during a wildland fire event. Shredded rubber, pine needles and shredded western red cedar can have their place in your landscaping design, just further from your home. These materials could be used selectively for landscaping at least 30' from your home. So, with this new information that I have now learned about mulch, I think I'll use some nice gravel with a few larger stones for some accent close to my house and save the other stuff to use away from the house. You never know when a fire is going to approach your home and I don't want to lose the biggest investment I'll ever make. Photo: A home in Rockland County, NY, damaged by fire starting in mulch in flower beds, from a white paper, "Mulch Fires: What Should the Label Say," by Thomas Williams and Michael Lane, at Vermont Chapter of International Association of Arson Investigators
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