4 FM quick reads on fire safety
1. Fire Safety in Food Service
It doesn't take a lot of fuel load to sustain a fire in a grease exhaust system to the point that it would spread out of the hood system into the rest of the building. In his presentation on Ensuring Fire Safety for Food Service Operations in Commercial Facilities at this year's NFMT, Nelson Dilg said that what it took was more or less the equivalent of rubbing a stick of butter all over the hood -- certainly not an amount that would be visually alarming.
But trying keep the grease exhaust system perpetually grease-free is pretty much impossible, so the goal becomes keeping the fuel load low enough that the fire will burn itself out while it is still in the hood, before it breaches the duct system. What's more, the responsibility and liability for ensuring this level of maintenance lies on the operator, not on the contractor cleaning your hoods. Dilg suggests making the cleaning company show you they've cleaned right on the spot, since they'll have the panels off and the ladders up so you can get close enough to verify.
The heaviest accumulation of grease occurs where the duct changes direction, with two to three times as much accumulation as in the straight runs. With proper access panels in place, there should be no area of the grease exhaust system that is uncleanable.
The exhaust path needing regular maintenance extends all the way to the roof, where a containment system around the fan should be in place to trap grease which would otherwise leak onto the roof and underneath the membrane, where it would create a fuel load difficult to combat in the event of a fire.
2. Green Building Design and Fire Safety
Green building performance can butt heads with fire systems code compliance, in sometimes surprising ways. Here are some of the challenges to navigate at the intersection of green building design and fire safety:
PV Panels: Even after the electrical mains are disconnected, a standard procedure to protect the safety of firefighters during a fire, photovoltaic arrays stay energized. Even if the solution were as simple as turning off the switch to the devices that deliver green power, locating and activating the switches can be problematic as they can be on the roof. Also, an array can remain powered between devices.
Atriums: Unique configurations require more detailed smoke analysis. Different glazing can conflict with fire-rated construction. Large sunshades or similar devices may result in difficulty with sprinkler and fire alarm device placement or operation.
Wind Turbines: In addition to potentially always being powered, new wind turbine designs which are integrated into high-rise office structures, located half way up, introduce ignition sources - lube, oil - that would not normally be there. Also turbines have a long wind-down period.
New Materials: New composite materials are an unknown when it comes to fire ratings. The use of reclaimed and recycled materials presents another challenge, since it can be difficult to obtain traditional materials fire-testing properties (for flame spread, smoke development, etc.) from those materials. That can make it hard to perform materials-hazard assessments within the context of the codes.
Vegetated Roofs: Improperly maintained vegetated roofs could become a building-to-building fire-spread hazard.
Experts are careful to caution though that green building designs do not equate increased fire- and life-safety hazards. Rather, owners of green buildings might have to be aware that the green designs can present previously unconsidered challenges that arise as a direct result of construction choices and should use performance-based design to meet the safety levels needed.
3. Dorm Fire Safety Tips
With the annual migration of college students from home back to their dorms, now is the perfect time to highlight dorm fire safety with your campus' population.
The National Fire Protection Association has a one-page tip sheet link: (http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/Public%20Education/Campussafety.pdf) available dealing with campus fire safety that you can use in your education effort. It is geared at the student audience, with a common sense approach. From what I remember of my college years, never underestimate a student's inability to intuit what "common sense" might mean.
The tips include such items as:
"Learn your building's evacuation plan and practice all drills as if they were the real thing."
"Stay in the kitchen when cooking."
"Use a surge protector for your computer and plug the protector directly into an outlet."
The tip sheets can be found under the Safety Information tab at www.nfpa.org.
4. Testing the Fire Safety System
The moment to find out something is amiss with the fire safety system in your facility is not during a fire, which is why its so important to maintain a rigorous and thorough testing schedule. Facility managers can look to the National Fire Protection Association's standard NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems for guidance.
NFPA also provides forms to document that testing has been completed. Facility managers must be careful to document that all testing, maintenance and inspection has been done appropriately, both to assure themselves that no stone has been left unturned and to protect themselves from litigation in the event of a tragedy.
In addition to testing active fire safety systems, such as sprinklers and smoke detectors, it's important to inspect the passive systems such as smoke barriers, fire doors and other structural fire protection. These are often overlooked, but are just as important in preventing the spread of fire.