Friday, August 31, 2012

Campus Fire Safety Month

As college dormitories are filling up, and classes are going full-throttle, September is Campus Fire Safety Month.  Campus Firewatch is providing free resources for schools and fire departments to utilize in order to educate students are fire prevention and life safety. Resources provided include:
  1.  9 Fires Documentary
  2. Tip-a-Day Twitter program
  3. Current information sheet
  4. Campus related fire-deaths (spreadsheet and map)
  5. Campus fatal firelog
  6. RA safety guide, presentations, and posters
  7. Live burn demonstrations and plans to conduct your own
  8. Fire safety for students with disabilities
All these resources can be found at http://www.campus-firewatch.com/resources/ncfsmresources/.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

7 Ways to Die In a Nightclub



A couple of weeks ago, a fire at a nightclub in Thailand killed 4 people.  And just a few years ago, at the Santika nightclub in Bangkok 66 people were killed.  People enjoy going out and having a good time, and although life safety responsibility should fall on the club owner (the Station nightclub owners learned this at a cost of $176,000,000), ultimately you are responsible for your own safety.

When entering a club, or to ensure the safety of your favorite watering hole, here are 7 things to look out for to ensure that you come out alive. I call these, "The 7 Deadly Sins of Life Safety."
  1. Fire protection systems: this include fire sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems.  Look at the ceiling.  Do you see sprinkler heads?  Look around do you see hornstrobes on the walls or pull stations near the door you just entered?  Having these required systems in place are the first line of defense in fire prevention and life safety.
  2. Overcrowding: nightclubs (and similar establishments) are given a specific occupant load by the local fire authority (typically 7 square feet per person), this occupant load numberis to be posted in a conspicuous location.  Does the club feel too crowded? Is it problematic to just stand without getting knocked over? Can you get from where you are to where you want to be with reasonable ease? An overcrowded club can presents multiple dangers to yourself.
  3. Exits: when you first arrive locate all exits.  Are they clearly visible and accessible? Is the path to the exit clear of obstructions? In case of emergency, most people will exit through the way they came in, it is important to locate alternate exits and plan for their use.
  4. Interior finish:  this includes all papers and coverings that must meet a certain flammability rate.  You will not be able to know this, however, you can look around to see if there are open flames (tiki torches) inside, lots of vegatation, hangings/material/cloth strung throughout the ceiling, or carpet and foam on the walls.  These are potential warning signs, of unapproved interior finishes.
  5. Electric: are there many extension cords strung together/interconnected throughout the facility or attached to the ceiling? Can you spot exposed wiring and open outlets/switches/junction boxes?  These are electrical hazards, and are in violation of the National Electric Code.
  6. Pyrotechnics: all pyrotechnics are to be permitted through the local fire authority.  A properly permitted pyrotechnic display will have evident safety features, and often time official personnel on standby.  Always use your goat.  If something does not look right, or feels unsafe, you should probably leave, because you could be putting yourself at risk.
  7. Emergency plan:  all nightclubs are to have an emergency plan in place, that the employees are trained on.  This plan should outline potential emergency situations, and actions to be taken.  You will not know this plan.  The next best thing is to always have a plan of your own. Identify a person to contact in case of emergency, have a meeting place, if alarms sound or sprinklers activate exit the facility immediately.
These are just a few things to look out for.  Implementing a quick look around every time you enter these places of assembly can be your best plan of protection and ensure that the good times keep on rolling!

For more information and safety sheets check out the National Fire Protection Association.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Protecting the Cloud



Cloud ceiling: a suspended ceiling that covers only a portion of a room or space below


These cloud ceilings present unique challenges to fire sprinkler installation. The solution to these challenges are not always easily found clearly in the pages of NFPA 13. However, by applying the obstruction and clearance principles the solution will make itself clear.

• Sprinklers are to be located within 12 inches of ceiling

• 18 inch clearance is to be maintained below the sprinkler head and vertically to.

Typically, cloud ceilings will be greater than 12 inches below the ceiling, requiring sprinkler protection above. Usually, the size of these create an obstruction preventing the spray pattern from reaching the floor, thus requiring sprinkler protection beneath.

Sprinkler protection below may be omitted if the cloud is less than 4’ wide, and configured in such a way that spray pattern obstructions are not created. Sprinkler protection above the cloud may be omitted if the sprinkler deflector below the cloud is within 12 inches of the main ceiling.

For more information check out the article in the July/August 2012 edition of the NFPA Journal, I Really Do Know Clouds, by Matt Klaus.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Understanding Pre-Action Sprinkler Systems

When installing a fire sprinkler system there are three general types, wet-pipe, dry-pipe, and pre-action. A wet-pipe system contains water under pressure at all times and utilized closed sprinkler heads. A dry-pipe system is used in areas where temperatures drop to less than 40 degrees Farenheit, contains no water in the above ground piping prior to system activation, and is charged with air under pressure. The pre-action system, similar to the dry-pipe, is charged with air under pressure.




In a pre-action system the water supply is held back by a pre-action valve. This valve is connected to a supplemental detection system. Water will not enter the pipe until the detection system is activated. Once activated, the valve is released and allows water into the sprinkler piping. Water will not come from the system, until sufficient heat causes the individual sprinkler head to activate (after the pre-action valve activates, the system functions the same as a wet-pipe system). This type of operation is known as a standard or single-interlock system.


The air pressure on the pre-action valve is constantly monitored. If the pressure changes (due to leak in pipe or other issue) an alarm will sound, however, the system will not activate under this condition. The valve will remain closed, preventing water running into the system until the detection system is activated.

Another type of pre-action system known as a double-interlock system will only operate when both the supplemental detection system and a sprinkler head is activated.


These systems are commonly found in high value areas such as computer rooms, communications centers, and museums.

These systems are to be installed per the requirements of NFPA 13 and NFPA 72. The following inspections are required for system acceptance:

1. Standard hydrostatic test at 200psi for 2 hours.

2. Air pressure leakage test at 40psi for 24 hours.

3. Signage and labeling of all controls and valves to be posted.

4. Alarms monitoring the supervisory air pressure shall be tested.

5. Flow switch and water flow alarm are to be tested.

6. Operational test shall be performed, requiring the pre-action valve to trip.

7. The supplemental detection system shall be tested without operating the pre-action valve.

8. Full fire alarm system function test to be conducted.





Want to learn more about fire protection systems?  Check out:







Thursday, August 9, 2012

2 Headed Rescue Vehicle

In the early 1900's the children's story character, Dr. Doolittle, introduced us to the pushmi-pullyu.  This was a gazelle-unicorn like animal having two heads each pulling in its own direction. A more contemporary example might be that of Nickelodeon's CatDog, an animal with two heads on each end, one a cat, and the other a dog.

Now the fire service has it's two headed "animal".  It is a tunnel rescue vehicle, being used in Croatia, called "Merkur".



The Merkur solves a unique set of problems found only in vehicle tunnel situations.  These problems include:
  • poor visibility due to smoke in fire events
  • little room for vehicle maneuvering
  • lack of oxygen (needed to keep combustion engines running)


The Merkur has two cabs, allowing drive in both operations. It runs on electric, therefore, requiring no oxygen for operation.  This vehicle is reported to be extremely simple to operate.  There is no gearbox required, merely a lever indicating 'forward' and 'reverse'.  Only one cab can be in operation at a time. The driver can simply walk through to the other side for operation. The Merkur is equipped with thermal imaging cameras allowing operation even under extremely low visibility conditions.

The driver gets oxygen through a personal breathing apparatus, however, the Merkur is equipped with a fresh air breathing unit, supplying oxygen to those in the vehicle.  This vehicle can evacuate up to 12 people at one time, each spot has its own oxygen mask connected to the vehicles system.  For firefighting, the Merkur puts out a fine water fog from the base of the vehicle and around all the tires, allowing access to the source of the fire.

This vehicle is an amazing testament to the power of creativity in the fire service.  We must become more accustomed to utilizing our creative capacity in solving the problems that are unique to our departments and communities.  As much as we must exercise creativity when it comes to fire ground strategy and rescue tactics, we also must utilized it in administration.  We must exercise creativity in the marketing of our fire departments, and in the finances of our departments (to not just make cuts, but to create new revenues).

For more on the Merkur tunnel rescue vehicle check out Hemming Fire.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

3 Skills To Unlearn for More Powerful Presentations

In this short video from youth speaker, Josh Shipp, he shares 3 skills that every public speaker, teacher, or trainer needs to unlearn in order to present a powerful presentation.  Unlearn these skills to be more effective, and leave a lasting impact in your public education presentations.


  1. Stop speaking to the audience; start speaking to the individual.
  2. Stop caring so much about audience feedback.
  3. Stop thinking that you are changing lives.