Monday, September 17, 2018

National Museum of Brazil Fire [Why We Do This Job]

On the evening of September 3, 2018, the National Museum of Brazil was gutted by fire. This 200 year old institution, a former palace for the Portuguese royal family, housed more than 20-million items and artifacts. Ninety percent of these items have been lost. These items represent a past that no longer exists for Brazil, languages that are no longer spoken, skeletal remains of the earliest living humans, and 200 years of research and collected knowledge.

This tragic loss serves as a poignant reminder for the reason why we, fire prevention, protection, and life safety professionals, do this job everyday. And the importance of our role in preventing these tragedies within our communities.

Several years ago the United States Fire Administration published a document that outlined the five impacts of fire. The premise of the document was that no fire is ever “just a fire”. Fire loss, of any size, has the potential to affect the community and the organization in five distinct ways: economically, organizationally, legally, psychologically, and politically.  As the news stories and editorial pieces continue to come out on the National Museum fire, we can clearly see how these five impacts of fire are affecting the local community, the people of Brazil, and International interests.

This is evident in the headlines and stories that include the following quotes:

“...our tangible record of life on earth…”
“...destruction of careers…”
“...a crime…”
“...systemic neglect of cultural institutions…”

Records and reports dating back to the 1950’s show a pattern of fire protection and life safety neglect. Recent citizen complaints identified the specific hazards of flammable plastic roofing material and exposed and jury-rigged electrical wiring. Additionally, other reports state “beyond a few fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, the museum did not have a fire suppression system.”

Preliminary reports have identified the cause of the fire as originating from a paper balloon lantern or an electrical short circuit in one of the museum’s lab areas.  However, there are three core reasons, at the highest government levels, that allowed this preventable loss to happen:
  • Tight budgets and availability of funds
  • Mismanagement of money and resources
  • Neglect and lack of prioritization 
These three dangerous actions and mindsets are not unique to Brazil, but are common throughout many communities. Beyond our responsibilities related to code compliance, plan review, and fire inspections, as fire protection professionals we also have a great responsibility to mold and change mindsets of our community leaders and citizens. We must constantly work to keep investments in  fire protection and life safety at the forefront, and consistently reiterate the life altering effect and impacts that lack of these essential services and systems will lead to.

Related Resources:

Monday, September 10, 2018

Developing a Fire Safety Program [for the Construction Industry]

Two construction workers lost their lives and six others were injured when a Denver building, that would be 5 stories and be comprised of 85 apartment units, burned to the ground. The fire was so large and burned so hot, more than 30 vehicles and 12 surrounding structures were damaged. An investigation has determined that trades were not at fault, and it does not seem that the cause is electrical. The official cause remains as “ will remain open and under investigation.”

Every year fires in construction, renovation, or demolition sites result in approximately 13 deaths, 132 injuries, and more than $300 million in direct property damage. The top causes of these fire incidents are cooking, heating equipment, and intentionally set fires. With losses like these it is important to see why a properly managed construction site fire prevention program is essential.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the International Fire Code (IFC), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) each have requirements for the development and maintenance of a fire prevention program at construction job sites.

OSHA 29 CFR Part 1926, Safety and Health Regulations for Construction, states, “The employer shall be responsible for the development and maintenance of an effective fire protection and prevention program at the job site throughout all phases of the construction, repair, alteration, or demolition work….” [Subpart C, 1926.24]

IFC, Chapter 33, Fire Safety During Construction and Demolition, states, “The owner or owner’s authorized agent shall be responsible for the development, implementation and maintenance of a written plan establishing a fire prevention program at the project site…” [IFC 3308.1]

NFPA 1, Fire Code, states, “An overall construction or demolition fire safety program shall be developed.” [NFPA 1:]

Specific components and requirements of the fire protection program are outlined in each standard. OSHA program requirements are defined in 29 CFR 1926, Subpart F.  However, both, the IFC and the NFPA reference the requirements of NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations.

NFPA 241 was developed, and is intended, to “prescribe minimum safeguards for construction, alteration, or demolition operations in order to provide reasonable safety to life and property from fire…”, and to provide “measures for preventing or minimizing fire damage” during construction operations. This standard provides a guide for the placement of temporary structures and storage of equipment and materials, safe conduct of hazardous construction processes and operations, protection of utilities, and required components of a fire protection program.

NFPA 241 provides a list of items that must be addressed within the fire safety program. Within each of these are further requirements described in full within the chapter.

  • Good housekeeping (to include location and storage of equipment, materials, and temporary structures and safe and proper application of construction methods and processes)
  • On-site security
  • Fire protection systems (installation and demolition)
  • Organization and training of an on-site fire brigade
  • Development of a pre-fire plan with the local fire department
  • Rapid communication
  • Considerations for special hazards and conditions
  • Protection of existing and surrounding structures and equipment

As with any part of a construction job, many players are required to accomplish the task, it is the same with the fire safety program. Key players are the AHJ, the building owner, fire prevention program manager, and site security personnel.

It is the responsibility of the AHJ to approve the fire safety plan. Each of the codes and standards provide allowances for the  modifications of, or additions to, the fire safety plan by the AHJ. The AHJ is responsible for clearly communicating this expectation. He may also be involved in assisting and coordinating pre-fire planning between the construction site management and the local fire department.

Ultimate responsibility for the fire safety of the site, and the development of the fire prevention program lies with the owner. The owner may manage this process directly or he can designate a program manager. Maintenance of all fire protection, inspections, and safety records are the responsibility of the owner or the designated program manager.

The owner’s designee, or the fire prevention program manager must have full authority to enforce the fire prevention program, he should be knowledgeable in fire codes and standards, and have a thorough understanding of fire protection systems and inspection procedures. The program manager is the controls the fire prevention program, and is responsible for its day-to-day implementation. His responsibilities are many and include:

  • Provide training in use of fire protection equipment
  • Supervising hot work permitting process
  • Conduct and document weekly self-inspections
  • Management fire protection system impairment procedures
  • Development of pre-fire plans and coordination with local fire department
  • Maintaining inventory and operability of fire protection devices/appliances/equipment
  • Oversee site security/guard service

Guard service and site security personnel, though strongly encouraged, may not be required on every construction site. However, it is recommended that they be required on all major projects, and other sites based on hazards, risk, firefighting access, and physical security of site and surrounding areas. Whether or not a guard service is to be provided is based on requirements of the local jurisdiction and AHJ.  Security personnel should be trained in, and will be responsible, for:

  • Emergency notification of fire department and management.
  • Use of fire protection equipment
  • Familiarity with fire hazards
  • Operation and control of construction elevators
  • Staying informed on status of emergency equipment and hazards.
  • Regular patrol of construction site/area

For additional information specifically related to the selection, training, and duties of guard service personnel, NFPA 601, Standard for Security Services in Fire Loss Prevention, should be referenced.

Monday, September 3, 2018

What is the "small room" rule?

In conducting plan reviews or fire sprinkler field inspections you may have heard, or seen, the invocation of the “small room" rule. Though not specifically stated in NFPA 13 as the “small room" rule, it is a combination of several code sections within the standard that can be utilized to provide advantages in hydraulic calculations and flexibility in sprinkler spacing.

To apply the small room rule, the space must meet all the requirements of a small room as defined in NFPA 13. A “small room” is a space that is classified as light hazard, has unobstructed ceiling construction, and is no greater than 800 sq.ft.  Application of the small room rule will affect two critical system design elements, maximum area of protection and sprinkler spacing.

The normal method for determining the area of protection per sprinkler head is to use the formula:

As = S x L

In this case the distance between sprinklers along a branch line (S) and the distance between branch lines (L) is determined and then multiplied to establish the “maximum allowable protection area of coverage for a sprinkler” (As).  The small room allowances of Section permits the sprinkler designer to ignore the rules and requirements of the S x L formula. Instead, an alternate method is allowed. If the space meets the requirements for a small room, then maximum coverage area per sprinkler can be determined by simply dividing the area of the room by the total number of sprinklers in the room.

Sprinkler spacing and distance between individual sprinklers is calculated using the tables and guidance in Section 8.6.3. In these tables, the maximum spacing distance for sprinklers is 15 feet between sprinklers and 7.5 feet from a wall. Utilizing the small room rule requirements, allows sprinklers to be spaced up 9 feet from any single wall.

The small room rule can be stated as:

In a room of 800 sq.ft. or less, having unobstructed ceiling construction, and light hazard contents, sprinklers may be located up to 9’ from any single wall with the maximum area of coverage being determined by dividing the size of the room by the number of sprinklers.

Code summary for small room rule:
NFPA 13:3.3.22 - small room defined
NFPA 13: - max. area of coverage
NFPA 13:8.6.3..4 - sprinkler spacing from a wall

Monday, July 16, 2018

On Sabbatical


An extended period of absence from a customary practice, taken in order to fulfill some goal, to rest, or acquire new skills and training.

I will be taking a short sabbatical from the blog,  I will be using this time away to vacation with family, pursue other interests, and lay out plans and goals for the rest of this year and next.  

Thank you for understanding.  Look forward to seeing you again soon.  

In the interim, here are the top ten posts people are reading right now: