Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on April 26, 2021.

Animal Welfare

Fire at German pig breeding facility stresses the importance of fire safety in animal housing facilities


On March 30, a massive fire tore through a pig breeding facility in northeastern Germany. According to news reports, the blaze killed an estimated 55,000 animals.

“It spread quickly, in part through ventilation shafts, and destroyed the stalls where animals were kept,” the Associated Press reported. A cause of the fire had not been given as of mid-April. 

While the incident set off a storm of charged social media debate over the issues of animal cruelty and meat-eating in general, for fire safety professionals the blaze stressed the importance of implementing fire and life safety protection measures at animal housing facilities. They hope a new edition of NFPA 150, Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities Code, which went into effect in April, will help achieve those goals. 

One major change for the 2022 edition of NFPA 150 is a new section on inspections at facilities that house animals, said Tracy Vecchiarelli, the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 150. “It’s really going to improve fire safety in these facilities,” she said. “It asks people to identify electrical, structural, and housekeeping hazards, and a lot of these fires are occurring because of electrical hazards.”

One group that advocated for the change was the Washington, DC–based Animal Welfare Institute. 

“The Animal Welfare Institute found that from 2013 to 2017, heating devices were the leading cause of fatal barn fires, followed closely by other kinds of electrical malfunction,” the institute wrote in a letter submitted to the NFPA 150 technical committee. “Almost 50 percent of barn fires that caused farm animal fatalities started due to heating lamps, space heaters, and other heating devices. Inspections designed to identify electrical hazards, structural problems, and housekeeping or maintenance issues can work to preempt fires and allow farmers necessary time to fix heating or electrical problems before a fire breaks out.”

The new inspection section embodies the overall strategy of NFPA 150, which is to focus on reducing the risk of a fire occurring in the first place. “It’s about being proactive rather than reactive,” Vecchiarelli said. That’s because when fires do occur, evacuation and emergency response can be incredibly challenging. Animal behavior varies widely and can be unpredictable, and with the exception of zoos, many animal housing facilities are located in rural areas where fire departments may take longer than usual to respond. 

Although NFPA 150 has existed in some form since 1979, it wasn’t until 2006 that the scope of the standard was expanded beyond racehorse stables. The 2019 edition reflected a comprehensive rewrite that was covered in “Critter Life Safety Code” in the November/December 2018 NFPA Journal. 

Since the new edition is essentially only the second version of the modern NFPA 150, Vecchiarelli said there is still room for improvement when it comes to increasing awareness of how to use the document. But references to the standard in NFPA 1, Fire Code, and the International Building Code have helped. “More attention is being brought to it, and we’re seeing more adoptions, which is great,” she said.

ANGELO VERZONI is a staff writer for NFPA Journal. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni.