Best of the Blog 2013

Here are the top 10 posts of 2013:

  1. Understanding Pre-Action Sprinkler Systems
  2. 13 Changes to NFPA 13
  3. How to Conduct NFPA 80 Inspections
  4. What in the HDPE is going on?
  5. Building Fire Stations
  6. Wind Turbine Response
  7. Electrical Safety
  8. Protecting Your Pets - Understanding NFPA 150
  9. From Mall to MegaChurch
  10. Building a Car Wash

What was your favorite post?  What would you like to see more of?

What to expect for 2014:

Expect webinars.  We will host our first webinar in January 2014 with plans for additional webinars each month.  We have been reviewing various platforms for hosting these, and have decided to utilize Google+Hangouts On Air, so get a head start and create your free Google account now, if you do not already have one.

Expect more free resources.  We will be creating and providing more downloadable free tools and resources to enable you to do your job more effectively and efficiently.  What are some tools that you are looking for? How can we help you?

Expect a new video segment.  We will be creating a short video segment each month entitled, "Two Minute Terminology". This segment will briefly define and explain one of the thousands of definitions encompassed by NFPA and other code bodies.

I hope you have had a great year in 2013. Looking forward to spending 2014 with you all!  Have a Happy New Year!

I want to leave you with this thought from Seth Godin
My most popular blog posts this year
...weren't my best ones.
As usual, the most popular music wasn't the best recorded this year either. Same for the highest-grossing movies, restaurants and politicians doing fundraising.
"Best" is rarely the same as "popular."
Which means that if you want to keep track of doing your best work, you're going to have to avoid the distraction of letting the market decide if you've done a good job or not.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! 

Firefighters Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the town,
The fire siren echoed blaring its sound.
The firefighters came running from far and from near,
And raced to the trucks quickly donning their gear.

And I in my bunkers, my boots and my hat,
Jumped to the engine to see where the fire's at.
Down at the corner of Fifth and of Oak,
The dispatcher informed us of a house filled with smoke.

Smoke poured from the sides, from up and from down,
Yet up on the roof there was none to be found.
So up to the rooftop we raised up a ladder,
And climbed to the top to see what was the matter.

I came to the chimney and what did I see,
But a fellow in red stuck past his knees.
Well we tugged and we pulled until he came out,
Then he winked with his eye and said with a shout.

"These darn newfangled chimneys they make them too small,
For a fellow as I, not skinny at all."
With a twitch of his nose he dashed to his sleigh,
and called to his reindeer, "AWAY now, AWAY."
As we rolled up our hoses he flew out of sight,
Saying "God bless our firefighters" and to all a good night!

Key West Fire Academy 2014

Check out the below post and information from Paul Bryant, fire strategist, engineer, author, and owner of Kingfell.

Following the publication of my book Fire Strategies-Strategic Thinking, my plan was to set up specialist fire strategy workshops around the US and elsewhere. However, after setting up a second home in Key West and meeting a number of enthusiastic fire professionals there, we realized that setting up a series of workshops in "Paradise" could be an attractive alternative.

What type of workshops?
The idea is to bring the world of new and innovative fire engineering thinking to US fire professionals and to anyone who can take out two or three days to get there. Initial subjects will include the concept of strategic thinking when preparing a fire strategy. Other subjects will be structural fire engineering developments, fire engineering for transportation hubs and tunnels, and fire training techniques. Speakers will initially be from the UK, Egypt, Germany and Ireland. This will increase as the Academy develops. 

The venue?
Workshops will be held in the Firehouse Museum in the centre of old Key West.

Next steps:
The website is being set up which will provide more information on courses and speakers. We are also seeking NFPA accreditation for each of the courses.

Join the Key West Fire Academy LinkedIn group:

Commissioning New Occupancies

NFPA 3:Recommended Practice on Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safey Systems, was created to give clear guidance to the integrated testing of fire systems, and
provide a reliable means of ensuring that all active and passive fire and life safety systems work as they are intended to.

What is commissioning?

Fire and Life Safety Commissioning(Cx) is defined as, “a systematic process that provides documented confirmation that fire and life safety sytems function according to the intended design criteria set forth in the project documents and satisfy the owner’s operational needs, including compliance with requirements of any applicable laws, regulations, codes, and standards requiring fire and life safety systems.”

Who can provide commissioning services?

Although, NFPA 3 does not require any type of certification for commissioning agents, it does outline knowledge and skills that a commissioning agent should posess.  The Fire Commissioing Agent (FCxA) is the person or entity who leads, plans, schedules, documents, and coordinates the fire protection and life safety commissioning team, implements the commissioning process, and ensures that integrated systems testing is appropriately conducted.  

With this as the primary objective a FCxA should possess the following:
  • thorough knowledge of the recommendations of NFPA 3 and general industry practices
  • be capable of providing an objective and unbiased perspective
  • advanced understanding of the installation, operation, and maintenance of systems to be installed
  • ability to read and interpret drawings and specifications
  • capable of analyzing and facilitating resolution of issues related to system failures
  • clear written and verbal communication, report writing, and conflict resolution skills

How is commissioning conducted?

Fire and life safety systems commissioning takes place in 4 phases: planning, design, construction, and occupancy.  The below information provides an overview of each of these, however, NFPA 3, chapter 5 provides in-depth direction for each of the phases.

During the planning phase the owners project requirements are layed out and developed, the fire commissioning agent is selected and the commissioning team is put into place, the commissioning plan is created, all planning documents and regulatory codes are reviewed and analyzed, and the commissioning plan is put into action.  

The fire protection/life safety commissioning team can vary in size and mat include the owner, contractors, manufacturers representatives, insurance representatives, design professionals, facilities personnel, the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), and others.  Each team member must meet the minimum requirements as listed in NFPA 3, chapter 4.

The OPR, or owner’s project requirements, is the document which will form the basis of all design, construction, testing and operational needs, and will drive the decision-making process.  This document should include such vital information as infrastructure requirements, occupancy use and classification, future expansion requirements, applicable codes and standards, and any other special needs or specific requirements.  This can be a dynamic document that should be updated as necessary throughout the 4 phases of the building life cycle.

The basis of design (BOD) is the focal point of the design phase. This is a driving document that should clearly show the concepts, ideas, decisions, codes, regulations, and standards required to meet the owner’s project requirements.  It is in the design phase that fire protection/life safety system drawings should be reviewed, commissioning procedures outlined and scheduled, and all documents verified to ensure that they comply with the BOD.

It is in the construction phase that all systems are delivered, installed, and tested.  During this process the fire protection and life safety commissioning team should closely monitor the construction process as they will be responsible for maintaining the commissioning schedule, ensuring that all materials and their installation are in accordance with the BOD, confirm that all work is being conducted by properly licensed and qualified professionals, performing all testing and inspections, and document all actions and any issues.  The final action of the commissioning team in this phase is final acceptance testing and turning over all close-out documents to the facility owner.

The occupancy phase is the final stage of the commissioning process.  It is at this point that all “loose ends” should be tied up, all final inspections conducted (and passed), all test and inspection reports completed, and system maintenance and product manuals turned over to the building owner.  It is important that the owner and other related personnel are adequately trained on the functions, operation, and maintenance procedures of the system.  Every effort should be made to ensure that this training is complete and high quality, as education is a key component in continued effectiveness of any fire protection or life safety system.

This article provides just a brief introduction to and overview of the commissioning process.  We have created a special “4 Phases of Commissioning” checklist, that outlines what must be done throught each step of the commissioning process.  It is our hope that this will be a valuable tool that will be utilized, in conjunction with the forms provided in the annex section of NFPA 3, to make the road to commissioning easy to navigate.


For more information on NFPA 3 and the commissioning process please check out these other articles and related links from around the web.

Related Links

Cultivating Accountability

A common issue that arises among personnel and leadership is the problem of accountability.  As I was reading through the NIV Leadership Bible I came across the following scripture and accompanying article.

Galatians 6:7 says, "A man reaps what he sows."  If we want to reap a workforce of service, performance, and excellence, then, as leaders we must demonstrate those qualities and also hold others accountable for meeting this expectation.  Theo Gilbert-Jamison gives the following five steps for holding employees accountable.

  1. Clearly define the expectation or standard - often times in the workplace when accusations are flying and goals are not being met, it is related to an incorrect or ill perceived expectation. Sometimes it becomes necessary to communicate the expectations of each individuals part on the team, so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to realistic expectations, and maintaining the standard. "People cannot be held accountable for what they have not been informed of."  
  2. Involve staff in efforts to raise the bar - after the expectation and standards have been set, allow all personnel to comment on, discuss, and voice their opinions or concerns on the new standard.  If everyone is talking about it, then you can be sure that it is understood and achieve buy-in.
  3. Integrate the new standard - Gilbert-Jamison says, "...expectations must be fully integrated into every aspect of the work environment to include the training and development process, performance review criteria, and all applicable systems and work processes."
  4. Set up measurements to quantify success - establish measurements and indicators to assess the effectiveness of the new standard, and ensure that it is being followed or implemented properly. This is a primary use for accountability, it allows this assessment to happen naturally.
  5. Recognize success and coach for improvement - accountability reveals our strengths and weaknesses. When we identify these, we can then focus our coaching and development efforts where they are most needed.

Happy Thanksgiving 2013!

We are thankful for you, our readers, and community, for their efforts in making the world a better and safer place through excellence in fire protection and life safety. 

Something to keep in mind:

Happy Thanksgiving from!

A Tale of Two Labels

OSHA recognizeds two types of labeling in its Hazard Communications Standard, GHS and NFPA 704.  GHS is the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, and NFPA 704 refers to the National Fire Protection Association document 704, Identification of the Hazard of Materials for Emergency Response.

NFPA 704 provides an easily recognizable combination of color coding and numbers so that first responders can quickly identify the hazards associated with a certain product.  The Hazard Communications Standard (HC2012) is an information system intended for those who work with chemicals on a routine basis.

Of the more confusing differences is the fact that NFPA 704 utilizes a numerical system for rating hazards, and the GHS system does, as well. However, NFPA 704 numbering is from 0-4 with 4 indicating the highest hazard.  GHS numbering is from 1-4 with 4 indicating the lowest hazard.

NFPA has created a .pdf document that outlines these differences (image below). This document was created so that it could be printed, laminated, and utilized as a quick reference guide. Get the full  document here, NFPA704/HC2012 Quick Card.

Learn to SCORRE

I remember attending a conference keynote that was being delivered by a prominent author of a widely read fire investigation textbook.  I looked forward to it, as this was to be a person with much experience and interesting fire scene stories.  However, I found myself fighting sleep and wondering why he wasn't getting to the meat and potatoes of his presentation.

We've all suffered through fire department presentations, classes, conferences, and in-service training, delivered ineffectively.  This is unacceptable.  The fire service naturally lends itself to interesting content that people want to hear.  Why do we deliver so poorly?

This should not be.  Here is a great resource to make all your presentations effective.

For more than 30 years, Ken Davis, author of Secrets of Dynamic Communications: Prepare with Focus, Deliver with Clarity, Speak with Power, has been teaching people the art and science of public speaking through his SCORRE Conferences.  In, Secrets of Dynamic CommunicationsDavis shares the SCORRE process, and educates the reader on how to deliver powerful and memorable presentations. The book is divided into 3 parts:
  1. The Preparation - outlines the SCORRE process
  2. The Presentation - teaches effective speech delivery skills
  3. The Application - how to use the SCORRE process to achieve great results
Each sections is tied in closely to the SCORRE elements:

S - Subject

C - Central Theme
O - Objective
R - Rationale
R - Resources
E - Evaluation

Davis provides a clear model outline process for the actual presentation, and how to present within given time frames. This is one of the most clear and concise titles on public speaking that I have read.  It offers great content and presentation techniques.  With only 144 pages, this book can easily be read in a single afternoon, literally improving your presentation skills overnight.  Whether you are a chief, company officer, inspector, life safety educator, or one that desires to be a better communicator, Secrets of Dynamic Communications is a must read. 

Related posts:

Proper Fire Door Installation

The below video, on how to install fire doors, is from the UK based "Fire Door Safety Week". Although, UK based, which has some slight variations from US requirements, the principles are applicable to our fire door installation and awareness.

The only way to be sure that your installed fire doors will work as expected in a fire, is to perform annual inspections, testing, and maintenance.  The below video gives a brief overview of items to look for on an inspection.

Related posts:

A New Logo

Check out our newly designed logo.  We feel that this mark fully represents the professionalism and quality of services that are provided by the The Code Coach.  Though we are passionate on educating through writing and blogging on fire prevention codes, leadership, and resources; The Code Coach also provides a wide array of fire protection and life safety consulting services. These services are designed to ensure that your facility is completed on time and in budget while maintaining the highest standard of fire and life safety.

  • Fire/Life Safety Code Analysis and Evaluation
  • Plan review
  • Commisioning
  • Training/education
For more information on these and other services check out the Consulting page.

What makes a leader crumble?

As I have been preparing to teach a building construction for the fire service class, I was struck by the section on building failures.  As I studied why buildings fail, I could not shake the thought that the same things that make a building susceptible to failure is the same thing that can put us, as leaders, at risk of failure.
A building failure occurs when a structure is "no longer capable of performing its required function in a satisfactory manner".  The potential cause of a building failure can usually be traced to one of these three sources:
  1. Structural integrity
  2. Building systems
  3. Design deficiencies
Structural Integrity
Related to buildings under fire conditions, the structural integrity is fully related to the fire resistance and combustibility of the materials used in the construction of the structure and the buildings contents.
"The structural integrity of a building under fire conditions is related to the fire resistance and combustibility of the materials of which it is constructed.  Combustible materials may possess some initial fire resistance...and be able to act as a barrier to fire, but ultimately they will be consumed...noncombustible materials...may also retain structural integrity at first but will fail from the effects of the heat. 
Fire-resistive materials possess the ability to maintain structural integrity.  Structural integrity permits effective interior attacks and, therefore, is of fundamental importance to the firefighter." (Building Construction Related to the Fire Service, 3rd ed., pg 21)
It seems that we are seeing leadership failures from this source more and more often, especially in the political realm.  We see leaders that pilot an organization or people through a trying time, only to find out that behind the scenes the leaders integrity has failed.

Integrity has been defined as, "the person you are when no one is watching".  There is an old saying that states, “You can fool some of the people all the time, you can fool all the people some of the time, but you can never fool all the people all the time”. There is no truer statement than this when it comes to the leader who lacks true integrity. The insincere leader can hide his lack of integrity for a while, around certain groups of people, he may even at times, fool everyone into thinking that he is the real deal, a real hero, one to be looked up to and emulated. However, when it comes time for him to act, when his leadership is put to the test, his true colors will shine through. Without integrity he will fail, he will be found out. Integrity is the glue that holds that holds the leader together through every trial that may arise.

Building Systems

It takes many components and separate systems all working together to create a functional, productive, and comfortable facility. These systems include HVAC, electrical, plumbing, communications, elevators, and the list could go on.
"Improper or inadequate design of these systems can contribute to building failures under fire conditions...the duct work and circulating fans of a ventilation system can contribute to the spread of products of combustion throughout a building.  Good design practice requires that provisions be built into a system to prevent the spread of combustion products.  These provisions would include such measures as smoke detectors to initiate the shutdown of units or to operate dampers in ducts." (Building Construction Related to the Fire Service, 3rd ed., pg 21)
In order for these systems to prevent building failure, they must be in place, and they must be inspected, tested, and maintained at regular intervals.  Many leaders fail because they have not placed safeguards and systems into their life, organization, or leadership.  Leaders should have accountability in place, they should be accountable to the communities they serve, the people they lead, and in their personal lives (see above).  The leader who does not have accountability systems in place will quickly fail (due to his own errors, or accusations of).  The leader should be open and forthright in all his dealings, he should have people in his life that are going to hold him to a high standard of excellence and integrity, in both, his professional and personal life.  These people are there to celebrate the leaders victories, but also to guide him back when he strays, and call him out on his mistakes. This relationship, needs to be in place, but also should be inspected and maintained from time to time to ensure that it is still a viable accountability partnership.

Design Deficiencies

A design deficiency occurs when a building is utilized for other than its intended purpose.  If a structure is built to be a business occupancy, a bank for instance, but is utilized for a food establishment and performance venue, then there will be several problems related to life safety. Exiting requirements are different, fire protection and detection systems and demands will need to be upgraded and addressed. Or, perhaps a warehouse is constructed for storage of ordinary hazard materials, but then high hazard items are stored there, the systems in place will soon be overpowered, as they were not designed for a high hazard.

This is probably the most innocent of the causes of leadership failure.  People who are put into leadership positions that they are not designed for, or have yet obtained the mentality to achieve to.  In the fire service this often plays out by promoting people into leadership roles (lieutenants, captains, chiefs) simply because they have the required time or connections.  However, many of those promoted do not have the mental characteristics for this position.  They think and behave like a firefighter, instead of a leader. And there is a huge difference. 

Often times, we long for the benefits of the promotion so we will try to go for it, even though we realize that it is not what we are designed for.  It is outside of our realm of things we are passionate about, and excel in.  I use myself as an example here.  I am passionate about the fire prevention side of the fire service.  I enjoy and excel in the areas of code development, fire systems, public education and inspection practices.  Though, I am a certified firefighter, when it comes to the strategy and tactics of fire attack, RIT operations, vehicle extrication, or emergency medical procedures, I sort of glaze over.  So, for me to serve in the role of operations lieutenant I would be putting myself and crew at risk of failure.  However, if I were at the same rank the Fire Prevention Bureau, I and my team, would have great success.  Sometimes, we have to say no to some really good things, in order to stay focused on the excellent thing that we were designed for.

We make ourselves susceptible to leadership failure when we try to act outside of what we were designed for.

As you continue to climb the ladder of success ensure that you maintain your structural integrity, implement and maintain systems of accountability, and always hold to what you are uniquely designed for.



Backtracking on Fire Safety

Fire Engineering magazine recently published an article entitled, Should Healthcare Fire Safety Backtrack on 60 Years of Improvement. This article clearly outlines where healthcare fire safety started, what it has evolved to, and the decreases in fire safety that are currently being proposed. 

Read the whole article here --> . This article calls for code officials to get involved and speak out at the ICC Public Comment Hearings being held October 2-10 in Atlantic City. 

An organization involved in preventing these changes, is the Patient Fire Safety Coalition.
I would encourage you to visit their site for more information and to get involved. You can also contact them directly at,


Youth Firesetter Intervention

Here is an overview of the youth firesetting intervention program for the state of Florida. Pay special attention to relation between program cost and program impact:

Find out more at,, or the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association.

Other posts on youth firesetting:

How To Conduct NFPA 80 Inspections

One of my first large projects in my new position was to ensure that the facility was compliant with all egress and fire door inspection requirements.  Having personally conducted inspections of all 200 doors on the facility, I became intimately familiar with the requirements of NFPA 101:7 and NFPA 80Recent editions of NFPA 101 require that egress and fire doors be inspected annually.

NFPA 101:
Where required by Chapters 11 through 43, door assemblies for which the door leaf is required to swing in the direction of egress travel shall be inspected an tested not less than annually in accordance with throught

NFPA 101:
Fire-rated door assemblies shall be inspected and tested in accordance with NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives.

NFPA 80 clearly outlines how these annual inspections are to be conducted and what components must be inspected.

NFP 80:5.2.41 clearly states that fire doors must be inspected annually. Some occupancy types require more frequent inspections (NFPA 409 requires monthly visual inspections, for example).  Although there are several fire door inspection agencies, organizations, and certification courses around, NFPA 80 does not require a special certification, it merely states a person "with knowledge and understanding of the operating components of the type of assembly being subject to testing".  It is also not the AHJ's job to conduct the fire door inspection, it is on the building owner to have the inspections conducted and a record available for the AHJ.

One of the most important considerations is to ensure that the inspections (and any deficiencies) are clearly documented, and all required components are thoroughly inspected.  One of the best forms for this is available for free from, it is a single checklist (each door on the facility should have its own inspection sheet), that thoroughly lists all inspection criteria.

**Using Target Solutions for inspections? E-mail me to receive a fire door inspection template.**

Another important form to have available is an inventory sheet of all facility doors, here is a simple one that I created for use on our facility (feel free to steal):

Inspection records are required to have the following information:

(1)  Date of inspection
(2)  Name of facility
(3)  Address of facility

(4)  Name of person(s) performing inspections and testing
(5)  Company name and address of inspecting company
(6)  Signature of inspector of record
(7)  Individual record of each inspected and tested fire door assembly
(8)  Opening identifier and location of each inspected and tested fire door assembly
(9)  Type and description of each inspected and tested fire door assembly
(10)  Verification of visual inspection and functional operation
(11)  Listing of deficiencies

Doors should be inspected from both sides to ensure compliance. Inspections should denote the following deficiencies (NFPA 80:

(1)  Labels are clearly visible and legible.
(2)  No open holes or breaks exist in surfaces of either the door or frame.
(3)  Glazing, vision light frames, and glazing beads are intact and securely fastened in place, if so equipped.

(4)  The door, frame, hinges, hardware, and noncombustible threshold are secured, aligned, and in working order with no visible signs of damage.
(5)  No parts are missing or broken.
(6)  Door clearances do not exceed clearances allowed.

(7)  The self-closing device is operational; that is, the active door completely closes when operated from the full open position.
(8)  If a coordinator is installed, the inactive leaf closes before the active leaf.

(9)  Latching hardware operates and secures the door when it is in the closed position.
(10)  Auxiliary hardware items that interfere or prohibit operation are not installed on the door or frame.
(11)  No field modifications to the door assembly have been performed that void the label.

(12)  Meeting edge protection, gasketing and edge seals, where required, are inspected to verify their presence and integrity.
(13)  Any signage is properly affixed to the door (per NFPA 80:4.1.4).

Fire doors must not exceed allowable clearances between the door and the frame, the door and the sill, or between two doors.  The required maximum clearances are as follows:
  •  the clearance under the bottom of the door must not exceed 3/4"
    • if bottom of door is more than 38" AFF clearance cannot exceed 3/8"
  • clearance at top of a steel door or between pairs of doors must be 1/8-1/16"
    • wood doors must not exceed 1/8"
There are several useful tools for checking these clearances quickly and reliably (much better than using a tape measure and "eyeballing" it).  I personally use, and recommend, this this one from Aegis Fire Barrier Consultants, or this one from DoorGap Gauge.

All inspection records are to be kept for three years. 

The most important part of any inspection program is, not just documenting deficiencies, but ensuring that they are corrected.  It is only when these fire doors are properly installed and maintained that they can effectively accomplish their intended purpose.

Further reading: