Monday, June 26, 2017

Why is London Burning?

In the early hours of Wednesday, June 14, 2017, forty fire engines and 200 firefighters responded to a fire in Grenfell Tower.  The fire started on the fourth floor of the apartment complex, and within fifteen minutes had scaled the exterior of the structure burning through the building’s 24 floors.  As of this writing, the death toll has reached seventy-nine with others still unaccounted for.

The rapid spread and magnitude of this incident can be attributed to the combustible cladding used in the exterior construction of the tower. The void space between the aluminum panels and building fabric can create a “chimney effect” allowing fire to rapidly move up the side of a structure.

Within the last year, UK fire officials and experts, issued a report warning of the dangers of buildings being wrapped with combustible materials. The report noted an increase in the use of these combustible materials due to the desire for increased building efficiency, improved thermal effectiveness, and a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Why is this type and magnitude of fire destruction not happening in the United States? Many years past, the fire engineering community noticed a trend in the increased use of combustible components in exterior construction.  Predicting the fire and life safety issues that this use of construction would present, research was conducted and a test method was developed, NFPA 285, StandardFire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of ExteriorNon-Load-Bearing Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components. This standard outlines the requirements and test procedures to determine if a given wall assembly could support a self-accelerating or self-spreading fire up an exterior wall, or spread fire to interior floors above the fire floor.  Through application and enforcement of this standard, America has been spared the costs and loss of these specific fire incidents.

The future prevention of these incidents, however, seems uncertain.  “Green building” and energy conservation interests have been pushing for reductions to, or elimination of, NFPA 285 testing requirements. The goal of these efforts is to allow “unfettered latitude in the use of plastics in exterior walls”.  Attempts to modify these fire safety requirements in the model codes have been unsuccessful. In Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Indiana, and Minnesota NFPA 285 testing requirements have been successfully eliminated or reduced, however, through the local code adoption process.

By examining exterior wall fires around the world, understanding the history and development of NFPA 285, and reviewing the test method, Building Exterior Wall Assembly Flammability: Have We Forgotten the Past 40 Years?, demonstrates how the continued use and enforcement of NFPA 285 is essential in preserving a fire safe America.

Monday, June 19, 2017

7 Response Objectives for Fire Departments

Fire on a rainy day, by Canadian Pacific

The purpose of NFPA 1710 is to provide minimum criteria to address “the effectiveness and efficiency of career” fire department personnel and operations.  This standard outlines seven objectives that fire departments must meet.  Stations, staffing, and systems, of the department should be organized appropriately and work together to meet these objectives.

  1. Alarm handling time.
  2. Turnout time.
  3. First unit on-scene time.
  4. Time to full alarm assignment deployment.
  5. Travel to full alarm assignment deployment at high-rise incidents.
  6. Time for AED on-scene.
  7. Time to arrival of ALS unit.

Alarm handling time. At least ninety-five percent of alarms must be answered within 15 seconds, and no more than 40 seconds for ninety-nine percent of alarms.  Alarm answering time is the length of time from the alarm being received at the communications center to the time that it is acknowledged.

Turnout time. Eighty seconds for fire and special operations, and sixty seconds for EMS. Turnout time is the time between  when the fire station receives an alarm and units go ‘en-route’, begin traveling to the scene.

First unit on-scene time. The first engine shall arrive at a fire scene within 4 minutes.

Time to full alarm assignment deployment. A full alarm assignment is to be deployed on the fire scene within 8 minutes.

Time to full alarm assignment at high-rise incidents.  A full alarm assignment is to be deployed on a high-rise fire scene within 10 minutes (610 seconds).

Time for AED on-scene. A first responder with AED (automatic external defibrillator) shall be on-scene at any emergency medical incident within 4 minutes.

Time to arrival of ALS unit. For departments that provide advanced life support (ALS) services, an ALS unit is to be on-scene at all emergency medical incidents within 8 minutes.

Additional Resources

Monday, June 12, 2017

Holistic Fire Engineering

The fire industry has seen a broad shift from prescriptive based to performance-based codes. However,  there are still a issues to be addressed.
  • A performance based approach can potentially allow for a spectrum of solutions. However, what determines that the solution put forward is the most optimal in terms of efficiency, logistics and economics?
  • There remains confusion and mistrust regarding a performance-based approach. Those with the responsibility for approvals ask if the design solution is “code compliant” which is probably not the correct terminology given the flexibility in application.
  • A number of national regulations still do not adequately embrace performance-based solutions.
  • “This fire strategy does not consider extreme events”. What may have been once an extreme event may now be more commonplace. Should not a strategy consider everything that could realistically lead to a fire?
  • There is still insufficient buy-in from stakeholders. Project meetings can end up as a tussle between the fire engineer, architect, client, project managers, or enforcers.

These issues require the next evolution in fire protection engineering and design.  Paul Bryant, FireCubed LLP, has coined the term, “holistic fire engineering”, to describe this next evolution in fire engineering methodology.

Holistic fire engineering embraces the following principles:
1. To ensure that a fire engineered solution properly accounts for the real and perceived threats affecting the building, its occupancy and processes. Extreme events may or may not be included based upon a risk evaluation.
2. That we consider, fully, all objectives, and not just those applicable to national regulations. Note that comparison with national regulations will need to be included within the process.
3. We use all recognized means to develop holistic fire strategies.
4. Critical to holistic fire engineering is that the analysis and design process is controlled by a measurement system to allow full auditability and comparison at any stage of the process. Consequently, third parties can be provided with greater assurance that the solution is compliant with “holistic fire engineering” metrics.
5. The process and metrics must be transferable globally such that they will be the same wherever they are applied.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Testing Smoke Control Systems

Large-volume spaces are large, usually multi-story, and uncompartmented spaces in which smoke or fire can freely move and accumulate without restriction.  It is within these spaces and under these conditions that a smoke management system may be required.  

NFPA 92, Standard for Smoke Control Systems, defines requirements for the design, installation, testing, and maintenance of these systems. Smoke control systems are designed to prevent smoke from going where it should not, into stairwells, means of egress, and areas of refuge. The system design is also must prohibit smoke movement and migration to other parts of building and provide optimal conditions for emergency responders to conduct their operations.

Once these systems have been installed, they must be tested to ensure that they will work properly, and in conjunction with, all other associated fire protection systems.  Chapter 8, of NFPA 92, provides direction on the testing of these systems. There are five critical steps that taken to ensure the system's operability and functionality.

Step 1. Review the design criteria and system documentation.

Step 2. Inspect the building and construction components.

Architectural components and structural features should be inspected to ensure that their installation is complete.  Items to inspect may include: smoke barriers, shaft integrity, firestopping, doors and closers, glazing, partitions and ceilings.

Step 3. Test individual system components.

All trades should be completed and signed-off on their work. Components that will be affected by the smoke controls system, and should be individually tested include: fire alarm systems, HVAC systems, electrical systems, power and standby power systems, automatic doors, elevators, other smoke control or smoke management systems, and firefighter control stations.

Step 4. Conduct full operational acceptance test of the smoke control system.

  1. Building equipment should be in normal operational mode.
  2. Demonstrate that the correct outputs are produced for the proper given inputs.
  3. Test the complete operational sequence:
    1. Normal mode
    2. Automatic smoke control mode
    3. Transfer to standby power, if applicable
    4. Return system to normal

Step 5. Confirm and document that all fans, dampers, and related equipment functioned properly.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Unaccounted Four - novella

A private investigator. A thirty year old case. A fatal structure fire. Four siblings are unaccounted for, only the fifth sibling knows the truth.

Private investigator, Alex Jackson, takes on a case that will take him from his South Florida office into the deep hills of West Virginia. There turns out to be much more to the “cheating spouse” case that he landed than what appears on the surface. The mundane case has deep connections to a thirty year old, cold case, arson fire. Only Alex Jackson can connect the dots and re-assemble the jagged lives of those affected.

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Aaron Johnson is prolific writer who has authored over 400 articles and blog posts. He started out, and continues to write, in the non-fiction genre. The Unaccounted Four is his first fictional work.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Managing the Implementation Team (Part 4)

 This is Part 4 of a 7 part series collectively titled, McKinsey Method for Fire Protection Solutions. As you read keep in mind that these systems and processes can be applied to  fire protection organization and leadership, and to physical fire protection systems and components.

After a problem has been analyzed and a solution has been presented and accepted, the work of implementation begins. Implementing the problem solution requires the effective management of three components:
  1. The Team.
  2. The Client.
  3. The Individual.

The Team.
These are the people that you will be working together with to implement the problem solution. The manager has three responsibilities related to the team, he must assemble the right team members, he must keep them motivated to complete the task, and he must ensure their continued professional development.

Effective team management starts with recruiting, or assembling, the right people. To acquire the best talent for the team, the manager should start with a structured plan.  The plan should let the manager easily see what type of personality would fit best, what types of skills are needed, and what specific knowledge may be required. Using the plan, the manager can select those individuals that bring the strengths necessary to the project.  A team that is has all the same strengths and weaknesses will fail.  When assembling the team, maintaining the right mix or knowledge, skills, and abilities is critical.

McKinsey keeps its people motivated by spending time together and providing adequate rewards.  Motivation can be maintained by creating a familiar atmosphere to work in.  Create a workplace that people want to come to, a place where they feel like they contribute and are a part of something bigger.  Planned team events, bonding outings, can be effective also. The most effective of these are the more “impromptu” events that are put together by someone other than the “boss” or manager.  Provide rewards, above and beyond compensation, for the team members.  Rewards can include things like dinners and lunches paid for by the organization, and additional days, weekends, or time off. When the team members feel that the organization has taken notice of their work, appreciates their contribution, and acknowledges the existence of their personal and family life, they will be motivated to continue giving their best to the solution implementation team.

Team members want the organization to contribute to their professional development.  The effective team manager can accomplish this by setting clear expectations and providing regular and consistent evaluations. Clarity of expectations ensures that all the team members know what they are working for and how their work product and performance will be evaluated. This allows them to focus on areas of their profession that should be developed in order to meet and exceed the expectation.  Regular and consistent evaluations by the manager, let the team member know that he is on the right track, and his performance is meeting the expectation. At least, six month, evaluations are recommended.  This allows the manager to see what the employee has accomplished so far, and what professional goals and development benchmarks have been set for the next six months.

The Client.
This is who you work for. In the private sector this is the company or organization that is paying for the services. In the public sector, this is the community, municipality, and stakeholders.

Effective management of the client requires that they be informed, involved, and inspired. Communication is key. The client should always be “in the loop” and never be surprised by any changes or developments in the planned solution. The client wants to feel like they are involved and contributing to this project.  Let them be involved. Invite them to the meetings, assign them tasks that need to be done that they can do.  Utilize them as part of your team.  They need to stay inspired. The manager must continue to sell the solution throughout its implementation, so that the client stays focused on their desired outcome and keeps the big picture at the forefront of his mind.

The Individual.
Yourself. Individuals have a hard time providing a good work product when they are out of balance with their personal life. The manager cannot effectively manage the team, if his personal life feels like it is being mismanaged.

Often individuals search for work/life balance, however, the true ‘sweet spot’ is in the seamless integration and intertwining of work and life. A situation where the two exist and flow together. This work/life flow can be achieved through mentors, supporting one another, sharing the load, and effective time management. Maintaining work/life flow and avoiding “burn out” requires the individual to stay focused on the purpose, vision, and goals of the task at hand.

Monday, May 22, 2017

7 Habits of Highly Effective Fire Prevention Organizations

Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. -Aristotle

NFPA 1730, Standard on Organization and Deployment of Fire Prevention Inspection and Code Enforcement, Plan Review, Investigation, and Public Education Operations outlines essential functions and tasks of the fire prevention organization. The guidance of this standard provides the basis for the 7 habits of highly effective fire prevention organizations. For maximum effectiveness these habits must work together as an integrated fire prevention organizational system.

Highly effective fire prevention organizations:

  1. Know their community.
  2. Have a plan.
  3. Enforce the code.
  4. Are proactive with plan review and field inspections.
  5. Investigate fire incidents.
  6. Educate the public.
  7. Are adequately staffed.

1. They know their community.
Successful and effective fire prevention organizations know their community. They become intimately familiar with their communities demographics, economics, geographical features, fire experience, buildings, structures, and specific hazards.  This information is gained through the conduct of a Community Risk Assessment (CRA).

The CRA is conducted in 3 steps: information gathering, data analysis, and strategy development. The CRA compiles data from a variety of sources in order to provide a picture of the community and its fire and life safety history.  Through data analysis and evaluation specific risks that a community is exposed to can be identified. From this data collection and analysis process, a fire protection and life safety strategy can be formulated to reduce these risks.

2. They have a plan.
From the CRA process a fire and life safety strategy can be formulated. This strategy is referred to as a community risk reduction (CRR) plan. The CRR will be different for every community, however, common risk reduction elements include, existing building inspections, plan review, origin and cause investigations, and public education. Each of these tasks come with their own set of challenges. The amount of time and complexity alloted to these tasks will vary based on community needs.  

3. They enforce the code.
The most critical task of the fire prevention organization is the inspection and code enforcement of existing structures.  All structures within a community can be identified as high, moderate, or low risk, or critical infrastructure. High risk structures include healthcare, education, multi-family, detention, and assembly occupancies. Critical infrastructure can be defined as those systems, structures, or assets that are essential for the community to function.  This would include power plants, public safety, and water treatment facilities.  The higher the risk category the more frequent and extensive the inspections should be. Structures identified as high risk should be inspected at least annually, and those identified as critical infrastructure, even more frequently.

4. They are proactive with plan review and field inspections.
The plan review process can let a builder or property owner understand the feasibility and expected costs of their project. It also provides a preview of what the fire department can expect to be coming to their community.  The plan review process reveals site access, water supply, construction features, fire protection systems availability. Hazardous processes that take place within the structure, or hazardous materials stored on-site can be discovered in the plan review phase. Compliance with construction codes and installation standards is ensured through the field inspection activity.  Systems are tested for functionality and the structure and operational features are inspected throughout the process to culminate in the building owner receiving his final Certificate of Occupancy to signify that compliance standards have been met, and the building is safe for occupancy.

5. They investigate fire incidents.
Fire origin and cause investigations can detect product defects, determine fire cause trends, and prevent arson and related crimes. The data collected from the investigation process can play an important role in community risk reduction.  Origin and cause investigation can be a time consuming, and sometimes slow-moving, process. The investigation process includes on-scene time, research and data mining, interviews, report writing, and case preparation time.  For departments that are operating at minimum staffing levels the use of company officers can considerably decrease the workload of the fire investigator and other fire prevention personnel.

6. They educate the public.
By identifying root fire causes, and at-risk populations a public education agenda can be set. Whether the population is senior citizens, young children, a college town, or the workplace there is a multitude of existing programs that can be used to effectively educate and reduce risk. Behavior only changes with education.

7. They are adequately staffed.
By identifying the risks posed to a community, fire prevention functions activities can be prioritized, and staffing required to complete those tasks can be determined.  Using the program and organizational guidance provided in NFPA 1730 the case for staffing and budget requirements can be clearly presented.

Through the regular practice of these 7 habits, the fire prevention organization can function at a high level of of excellence while maintaining maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

Monday, May 15, 2017

No Post This Week

We have no blog post this week.  Enjoy reading some of our past posts.  We will be back with something new next week!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Arson Prevention at Houses of Worship

Today marks the start of the United States Fire Administration’s, National Arson Awareness Week.  The theme for 2017 is, “Arson Prevention at Houses of Worship”

Each year there is an average of 103 fires that affecting houses of worship.  The burning of a house of worship is a stressful event; it not only devastates the affected congregation, but wounds the entire community. Whether the motivation behind the arson is hate or reckless vandalism, a congregation views it as an attack on their beliefs and values.

Arson robs congregations of their valuable assets, lives and property. Arson destroys more than the buildings used as houses of worship; it can devastate a community, resulting in the decline of the neighborhood through increased insurance premiums, loss of business revenue, and a decrease in property values.
Houses of worship are particularly vulnerable to fire damage because they’re often unoccupied for long periods of time, and in many cases, in rural areas. Rural properties will generally sustain more severe damage – even with an accidental fire – since discovery and response time may be delayed.
Full resources and information for Arson Prevention in Houses of Worship can be found at, National Arson Awareness Week Resources 2017.

A real threat to houses of worship are those that exist from terrorism and terrorist activity. The Al-Qaidah publication, Rumiyah, Edition 5 outlines how to cause an incendiary attack.  The article outlines ways and means, and also provides a list of targets.  The below image and caption comes from the publication:

Caption reads: "1707 San Jacinto in Dallas, Texas - A popular Crusader gathering place waiting to be burned down"

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Fire Rated Areas in Hangars

Aircraft hangars are those structures, or portions of, that house aircraft for storage or servicing. Construction and fire protection requirements for these structures is outlined in NFPA 409, Standard on Aircraft Hangars. Hangars are unique structures housing high value goods. To prevent fire or minimize fire damage, and ensure the reliability of fire protection systems, proper fire-rated compartmentalization is critical.  

The table below outlines the required fire-rated areas, as required by NFPA 409.

Click to enlarge.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Design Method for Aircraft Hangar Protection

NFPA 409, Standard on Aircraft Hangars defines hangar group classifications, construction features, and fire protection requirements for aircraft hangars. Group I and II hangars require foam and foam-water type systems.  The design the criteria for these is referenced in NFPA 409, Chapter 6. Determining the correct system design is essential to proper functioning of these systems.  In, Design of Special Hazard and Fire Alarm Systems, Robert Gagnon outlines a 12 step design method for aircraft hangar protection.

Step 1. Determine aircraft hangar group and select protection system type.
Each hangar group permits only specific types of fire protection systems designs. These options can include a foam-water deluge system, with underwing supplementary protection, automatic sprinkler with low-level foam, low-level high expansion foam, or a closed-head foam water system.

Step 2. Determine foam application time.

These times can vary based on the hangar group classification and foam systems utilized.
  • Low-expansion foam - 10 minute application time
  • High-expansion foam - 12 minute application time
  • Foam-water hand hose stations - 20 minute application time

Step 3. Determine system design density.

This will be based on the system coverage area, sprinkler spacing, type of foam used, and design density as outlined in the various component sections of NFPA 409:6.2.

Step 4. Estimate protection discharge rate.

Use the formula:
       D = (A) x (R)
D = foam solutions discharge rate, gpm
A= hangar floor area, square feet
R= application rate (from Step 3), gpm per square foot

Step 5. Estimate concentrate quantity for protection.

Use the formula:
    Q = (A) x (R) x (T) x (%)

Q= foam concentrate quantity, gallons
T= foam discharge time
% = concentrate percentage, decimal

Step 6. Determine aircraft wing area.  

Hangars that house aircraft having a wing area in excess of 3,000 sq.ft. are required to have supplementary under-wing protection. Without this under-wing protection the low-expansion foam system may be blocked from accessing the fire. The most common and effective supplementary under-wing protection is the use of oscillating monitors.

Step 7. Determine under-wing oscillating monitor location.

These should be located perpendicular to the fuselage to provide unobstructed protection beneath the wings.

Step 8. Determine oscillating monitor coverage area.

Monitors by different manufacturers will throw water in a certain radius and distance. When the radius is obtained the area of monitor coverage must be determined.  To determine coverage area use the following formula:
   Monitor area = [(3.1416) x (r2)] x (area of coverage/360)

Step 9. Apply oscillating monitor discharge time and application rate.

Discharge time is 10 minutes. Application rate is 0.10 gpm per square foot.

Step 10. Determine oscillating monitor discharge rate and concentrate quantity.

Use the formula:
   D = (A) x (R) x (N)
   Q = (A) x (R) x (N) x (T) x (%)

N = number of monitors installed

Step 11.  Determine supplementary hose discharge requirements.

A minimum of (2) hose lines at 60 gpm each for 20 minutes is required.

Step 12. Determine hose discharge rate and concentrate requirement.

Use the formula:
    D = (N) x (R)

    Q = (N) x (R) x (T) x (%)

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