Lessons Learned Basis for Code Development


The fire service does a lot of talking about fire prevention but does a minimal job as a whole in walking the walk. Take a look at our trade publications, and you will see little in the way of articles about fire prevention. I don’t blame the publications or those not writing about it; it just isn’t a “sexy” topic. As a profession, though, we need to better use our budgets, personnel, and training in the direction of prevention to reduce not only the loss of civilian life and property but also firefighters’ lives.

When the topic of prevention arises, the first thoughts are of kids bouncing on and off of fire apparatus or of the rookie getting dressed up in his gear and scaring those same bouncing kids. Or, you may be thinking about the dreaded firehouse tour on a Saturday afternoon right in the middle of the football game. But we can use other methods, such as after-fire prevention analysis.

Many departments conduct an analysis to evaluate strategy and tactics. EMS crews use it to evaluate how the crews performed and to determine what tasks could be done better at the next incident. But how many crews and chiefs go back and discuss what the organization could have done to prevent that event in the first place? What about things they may have observed that could have posed a problem—but didn’t—at that event and need to be addressed so they do not become a problem in the future?


On March 19, 2006, the Sullivan (MO) Fire Protection District was called to an apartment complex at 100 Pine Ridge Drive for a building fire. A first-alarm assignment was dispatched and responded at 0348 hours. The first-arriving unit’s size-up reported heavy fire through the roof and that they did not know if any occupants were trapped. A Sullivan police officer patrolling the area reported the fire.

(1) A multifamily apartment building with an exterior stairway for exit from the upper floor. (Photos by author.)

The building, a two-story, wood-frame structure with no sprinklers, was built in 1999. The building had only smoke detectors—no pull stations or local alarm system. A breezeway connected each building by the roof and a common attic space. Wooden stairs in the breezeway provided access to the four upper units. The four lower units were also accessed by the breezeway.

Each unit had a sliding glass door that led to a balcony on the upper floors and to a patio on the lower floors. The balcony was directly above the patio in each unit. The only means of escape for the upper unit tenants was the main stairs within the breezeway. This became an issue after the fire and was evaluated during a “worst-case scenario” critique.


The Sullivan District uses the International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code (IFC) for code enforcement and plan reviews. When this building was built, it did not require sprinklers, alarms, or noncombustible components for means of egress accessibility. This particular issue was investigated thoroughly, and some conclusions were made from the events of the fire.

(2) The building was provided with a sprinkler system after the fire, including all stairs and balconies.

1 The fire originated on the exterior of the north, upper-unit apartment balcony with a coffee can used to hold old cigarette butts.

2 The fire spread to the lower units and into the attic to the building connected by the breezeway.

3 Police rescued victims on the lower unit prior to the arrival of the fire department, seconds before conditions worsened.

4 Had the fire extended to the breezeway and attacked the stairs, the upper-lever tenants on the north side would have had no means of escape.

With these factors taken into consideration, the fire codes were amended to ensure that an event like this could not happen again. The IFC and the IBC, 2003 editions, allow occupancies of this type to have unprotected stairs to upper units and require that new buildings of this type be provided with a sprinkler system, including coverage for the balconies and patios. You could argue that a balcony as defined in the code could include the landing area of the stairs, but, as we know, the more vague a code or an ordinance, the more interpretations there will be.

(3) Sprinkler protection was added under the balconies and the upper landing.

Prior to the owner’s deciding to rebuild, the fire district amended its fire code to mandate protected stairs, stair components, and exit landings for all “R” type structures except single-family occupancies. The amended code requires the use of noncombustible stairs, protection from above and below the landing area, and a surface on the landing that is noncombustible or appropriately rated for the use. In addition to the amended code, the owner was required to bring the two damaged buildings up to IFC and IBC 2003 code requirements. This resulted in adding sprinklers, a lock box for fire department access, manual pull stations in the common areas, and sprinklers above and below the balconies.

(4) New stairs were required to be noncombustible.

The fire could have had catastrophic results. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, and the fire was contained to two buildings. The after-fire review identified some prevention issues our district needed to address. Although not every fire will have major consequences for code development, small changes may be needed based on your jurisdiction’s circumstances. Review your codes and ordinances, and compare them with what other jurisdictions are doing. You might find something really useful and simple that can greatly increase your preplanning or fire prevention efforts.

(5) Emergency lighting and an alarm system with pull stations were required and were installed during reconstruction.

Take prevention seriously. Think beyond schools and tours, although these functions are important, too. Apply yourself and your crews or companies to consider what you have been doing and what you should be doing. Prevention can be very boring and unexciting; it is what you make it.

JASON HOEVELMANN is a deputy chief/fire marshal with the Sullivan (MO) Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career firefighter/paramedic with the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District in north St. Louis County. His experience spans more than 20 years; he has been an instructor for more than 15 years. He is an adjunct instructor for the St. Louis County Fire Academy and is a state-certified fire officer II. He has an associate degree in paramedic science from East Central College and a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. He is a state advocate for the Everyone Goes Home® initiative, a board member of the Fire and Life Safety Section of the IAFC, and a member of the National Fire Protection Association technical committee for Professional Fire Officer Qualifications.

Life Safety Initiative Still Vital Despite Budget Cuts


Most readers of this magazine are probably familiar with the “16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives,” which are a product of the Everyone Goes Home® campaign. They are guidelines for fire service personnel to follow in an effort to reduce firefighter deaths. This article discusses Life Safety Initiative #14. Do you know what it is? To pick out an initiative number and expect you to remember its name is a tall order. Therefore, I will provide you with the answer: 

Life Safety Initiative #14: Public Education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program.

Let’s take a closer look at this initiative. Public education includes teaching the public to be safer during fires. How can that help us in our goal? If we teach our citizens how to be safer in their homes, to exit their homes during fire emergencies, and to notify arriving firefighters that everyone has safely exited the home, we can use that information to help keep us safer. Knowing there are no family members in the house, we can then consider the concept “risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little.” Although this doesn’t mean we will not conduct offensive firefighting tactics, it means we will not risk our lives to save property. I believe that everyone will agree with me that no firefighter’s life is worth risking for someone’s “stuff.”

This initiative could not have come at a worse time. During tough economic times, we know that budgets are under scrutiny. When looking at programs that may need to be cut, fire prevention and fire safety education are popular targets. However, there is still a need to educate the public about the dangers of fire, and we can do this with as little of a budgetary impact as possible.

An old-school fire chief used to tell me to leave the teaching to the teachers, and the firefighters will take care of fighting the fires. Although this sounds good and simple, how many teachers have an intimate knowledge of fire and how it behaves? They get their information about how fires behave from exactly the same place as the general public: from the movies! These grossly inadequate depictions tell audiences that fires are rarely deadly, give off small amounts of white smoke, and rarely kill. To combat this, we have to come up with ways to reach out to one of our most important groups, children.


Following are some educational activities for your community that are not cost prohibitive:

Schedule visits to schools with the first-due fire company, but make sure you explain to the teachers that you will be in service. Try to honor the scheduled time request, but explain to the teacher that if you do not show up or if you show up late, you had to respond to an emergency response. Meet with the teacher if you are late, and see if you can begin the program. If this is not possible because of other scheduled classes that can’t be rearranged, offer to reschedule with the same arrangement.

Ask firefighters if they will “adopt” a school, giving fire safety education classes to teachers who request it for their students. This may not work in all areas, but you probably have firefighters who spend quite a bit of time at their children’s school, and they may offer to “adopt” their school.

Your local cable television station may be able to record some safety messages, edit them, and put out informational pieces on the cable station to help with your educational efforts. Although this “shotgun” approach may not be the optimal solution, it can assist in getting educational messages out to the citizens with little effort and cost. We have recorded short messages that cover one or two main points as well as some longer messages. I have found that most cable departments put out some high-quality work that portrays the fire department in a favorable light.

We publish newsletters that have plenty of fire safety information in them. Currently, we distribute them with our local newspapers to subscribers. We also have some for giveaways at our fire stations. If this cost must be cut, we can put them out electronically. All of our issues are available electronically at our city’s Web site, by clicking to the public safety page, then to the fire department page, and then to the “Couplings” links on the side. The information is targeted to adults and their families in the community.

The Open House event, usually held during Fire Prevention Week in October, is a great time to meet with citizens during a nonemergency setting. At this event, have plenty of handout material for citizens who stop by for a visit. Make sure you have some fun activities planned for visitors, such as a charged hoseline hooked to a house outlet, to provide a great photo opportunity.

I believe that we can do a much better job at the normal fire station tours that take place every day in our fire stations. Typically, we don’t often consider the station tour as an opportunity to teach the citizens who come into our stations. Some consider this an undesirable duty and quickly hand it off to the newest member of the crew. This is wrong! We must try a different approach, and it all has to do with attitude. We have to raise the enthusiasm level in our firefighters and assign them roles during the typical tour. It starts with having the handout materials on hand and the station cleaned and ready. Then, we have the crew meet the tour group, introduce themselves, and welcome the group. You can send the newest member out early to talk to group members as they arrive; at the scheduled time, have everyone head out and introduce themselves.

At least two firefighters should conduct the tour. Other members can be available for their role in the tour—for example, the driver/engineer can deliver a talk about the job description and briefly describe the fire truck. Keep the information at the audience’s level of understanding. Other group members can field questions from adults as they arise and answer some of the questions that the newest department member may not be able to answer. How many times have you been asked the year, make, and cost of a fire truck? Can the newest member of the crew answer those questions? If an adult does ask these questions, do the children really care about the answers? This is where the second firefighter can prove invaluable to the tour.

When moving through the fire station, make sure that you tell the audience about how the safety items we suggest they have in their homes are also in our fire stations. Point out the smoke alarms in the fire station and why it is important to crawl low under the smoke. Kids certainly need to know fire safety behaviors, so make sure you mention them. If time and space allow, have them practice safety behaviors to help them remember them.

Life Safety Initiative #14 saves not only firefighters’ lives but also those of the citizens we protect. Budget cuts will force us to come up with innovative ways to reach our citizens with messages of fire and life safety. It won’t happen by accident. Get some dedicated firefighters together at the kitchen table and get started.

TOM KIURSKI is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and the training coordinator for Livonia (MI) Fire and Rescue. He has authored more than 200 fire safety magazine articles. He has an associate’s degree in fire science, a bachelor’s degree in fire and safety engineering technology, and a master’s degree in public administration. He is also a Michigan state-certified fire instructor. 

Fighting Vegetable Oil Fires


Wet chemical extin-guishing agent was developed for the suppression of commercial kitchen and food-processing fires involving cooking oils, fats, lards, and greases (Class K combustibles). It is a specially formulated, premixed aqueous (40- to 60-percent water by weight, depending on the manufacturer) solution of inorganic salts (potassium acetate, carbonate, or citrate). The agent provides rapid flame extinguishment by cooling combustibles below their ignition temperature, displacing oxygen and suppressing vapor by forming a soapy foam blanket (saponification) over the burning material. This blanket forms a crust over the hazard, inhibiting oxygen from reacting with the flaming materials. Fire damage is contained within the general area of origin. The agent also cools the hot metal surfaces of cooking equipment to help prevent reignition of lingering combustible vapors. Postfire cleanup is readily accomplished by flushing the area with water or steam. This extinguishing agent produces no toxic by-products, but it is an irritant. If it contacts your eyes or skin, flush with water for at least 15 minutes.


Vegetable oils with lower fat and cholesterol content have replaced animal fats in the frying and processing of foods. Animal fats contain high amounts of fatty acids compared with vegetable oils. Dry chemical agent is alkaline in makeup. When it is discharged over fatty acids, it forms a smothering blanket similar to that of a wet chemical agent. With vegetable oils, however, the significantly lower levels of fatty acids limit saponification. This greatly reduces the effectiveness of the dry chemical extinguishing agent. Vegetable oils also have a higher autoignition temperature (685°F and above) than most animal fats, which have autoignition temperatures of 550°F to 600°F. They must be heated to higher temperatures in cooking applications. Fires involving these oils burn hotter and are more difficult to extinguish. These higher temperatures will also break down any soap blanket that does get established quickly. Energy-efficient cooking appliances are highly insulated to reduce fuel consumption and maintain vegetable oils at high temperatures. This equipment stays hotter for longer periods of time, making it more difficult to secure against reflash.

(1) This commercial kitchen is protected by a preengineered wet chemical extinguishing agent system. (Photos by author.)
(2) The vital components of a preengineered wet chemical extinguishing system include a control box (containing an inert gas canister) and ample wet chemical extinguishing agent inside cylinders.


National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors (NAFED)

The NAFED was established in 1963 with the mission of improving technical competence in the fire protection industry. Tests conducted by this Chicago-based organization in 1978, and again in 1988, to evaluate preengineered, commercial-cooking fire extinguishing equipment using dry chemical agent revealed a steady decline in efficiency over the 10-year period. This downturn was partly attributed to the change in the methods of preparing food and the replacement of traditional commercial cooking equipment (deep-fat fryers, grilles, griddles, and broilers) with new-age, energy-efficient equipment.

(3) A mechanical pull station should be installed along an egress route from the cooking area.

Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL)

Preengineered dry chemical suppression systems for the protection of commercial cooking equipment, plenums, and ducts were developed in the 1960s. During this time, UL developed a series of fire tests for these systems designed to duplicate the potential fire hazard. The tests established a standard for types of extinguishing agent, fire detection system, piping, nozzle coverage, manual activation, and so on. Tests conducted during this time merely simulated fires in commercial cooking appliances. Actual cooking equipment was not used. As commercial cooking operations, appliances, and supplies changed over the years, UL recognized the need for a new set of standards for preengineered systems. Preengineered wet chemical suppression systems for the protection of commercial kitchens have been UL-listed since 1968. These new systems provided solutions for effectively extinguishing commercial kitchen fires (Figure 1).

Figure 1

The major components of a preengineered commercial kitchen wet chemical extinguishing system. (Drawing by Firefighter William Magnus.)

On November 21, 1994, UL adopted a new standard, Fire Testing of Fire Extinguishing Systems for Protection of Restaurant Cooking Areas (known as UL 300). Manufacturers of kitchen fire suppression systems wishing to sell UL-listed fire protection equipment after this date had to resubmit their systems to UL for testing. The UL 300 standard takes into consideration appliance design, cooking agent ignition characteristics, and “worst-case scenario” fire simulations. The tests are more sophisticated; genuine cooking appliances are used. The test procedures create a higher rate of heat release fire involving fryers, griddles, ranges, char-broilers (gas radiant, electric, lava rock), and woks that is more difficult to extinguish and secure against reflash than previous tests. Only wet chemical systems have been able to meet the UL 300 standard. No dry chemical extinguishing systems have passed the rigorous requirements.

(4) Application nozzles of this preengineered wet chemical extinguishing system protect modern kitchen appliances.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

In 1984, the NFPA published the first edition of 17A, Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems. Consistent with current use, the scope of NFPA 17A (2009 edition) covers the installation, operation, inspection, and maintenance of preengineered wet chemical extinguishing systems intended for the fire protection of commercial cooking areas. Since 1998, NFPA 96, Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, requires that such fire extinguishing systems comply with UL 300. Although no dry chemical system has been UL-listed under UL 300, existing dry chemical systems that are separate from the system protecting cooking appliances may still be used for plenum and duct protection. NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers (2007), requires that a Class K portable fire extinguisher be provided within a 30-foot travel distance of commercial kitchen equipment and cooking equipment involving vegetable or animal oils and fats.

(5) A close-up of the tapered, wet chemical nozzle applicator design.


Wet chemical preengineered extinguishing systems are highly effective on fires in commercial cooking appliances. They are also used to protect restaurant ventilating equipment (hoods and ductwork). Preengineered systems are automatically activated by a fusible link detection system located within the ductwork or cooking appliance hood. Detectors trigger a spring-loaded, mechanical/pneumatic type releasing mechanism which pressurizes (using inert gas) the wet chemical agent stainless-steel storage tanks. The tanks have a working pressure of 100 pounds per square inch. The detectors also automatically shut off the appliance energy sources. Systems can also be remotely activated manually by a mechanical pull station. This pull station is designed to be installed along an egress route from the cooking area, a minimum of 10 feet and a maximum of 20 feet from the kitchen exhaust system. Suppression agent flows through system piping (black, chrome plated, stainless steel), where it is discharged into the plenum and duct areas and onto cooking appliances. Discharge nozzles, constructed of brass, stainless steel, or a combination of both, are narrow (3⁄4-inch to one-inch in diameter) and must have metal or rubber blow-off caps to keep their tips free of grease buildup. They spray wet chemical agent in atomized droplets at a low velocity to avoid splattering burning oil/grease.

(6) A Class K portable fire extinguisher. The wand at the end of the discharge hose creates a fine mist, which helps prevent grease splash and fire reflash.


Wet chemical portable fire extinguishers are also known as Class K extinguishers. They are designed for use in conjunction with wet chemical, UL 300-compliant, kitchen hood fire suppression systems. Wet chemical agent used in portable fire extinguishers has been tested by UL standard 711 (2004) on electrically energized equipment using up to 100,000 volts to ensure operator safety. In a fire, activate the primary suppression system first through the manual pull station.

(7) This pictogram of a frying pan and flames denotes that the agent in the portable fire extinguisher is compatible with Class K (vegetable oil) fires.

When using the portable fire extinguisher, the application wand at the end of the discharge hose creates a fine mist that helps prevent grease splash and fire reflash while cooling the cooking appliance. It also allows the user to apply the agent exactly where it is aimed from a safe distance (10 to 12 feet). Class K fire extinguishers are excellent for use on all cooking appliances, including solid-fuel char broilers. Standard size extinguishers (1.5 to 2.5 gallon) have a UL 2A:K rating, meaning they can also be used on Class A materials (wood, paper, plastics, rubber) with the equivalent effectiveness of 2.5 gallons of water (1A ≈ 1.25 gallons of water). Discharge time (corresponding to the amount of agent) ranges approximately one to two minutes. The standard type Class K portable fire extinguisher has a stainless-steel canister. Temperature range is from +40°F to +120°F. A black hexagon is used to denote a wet chemical portable fire extinguisher, and a burning pan pictogram denotes the type of fire the extinguisher is approved to fight. These signs are on the container’s shell.


All new commercial fire protection systems manufactured on or after November 21, 1994, must conform to the UL 300 standard to be eligible to receive the UL-listing. Used or new systems manufactured prior to November 21, 1994, that do not comply with UL 300 should not be installed. UL-listed existing installations prior to the implementation of UL 300 continue to qualify as long as the systems are installed in their same locations, remain in compliance with the requirements in place at the time of being UL-listed, and continue to offer fire protection for the original equipment without any changes. Existing installations must be reinstalled or upgraded to conform to the UL 300 standard if the system is no longer protecting the type of hazard it was initially installed to protect. The authority having jurisdiction or, in some cases, the insurance company for the establishment can make this determination.


“Commercial Cooking Facilities,” Fire Safety, Inc., 2003; http://www.firesafetyinc.com/ccf.html/.

“Meeting the New Standard for Commercial Cooking Fire Suppression,” Fire Fighter Products, Inc., 2006; http://www.ffpsafety.com/ffp/ul_300_new_standard_.htm/.

“Restaurant Kitchen Protection Systems Update,” Fireline Corporation, 2006; http://www.fireline.com/fc_newsk.html/.

“September 2005: Things You Should Know About Your Cafeteria Extinguishing Systems,” Risk Logic, Inc., 2005; http://www.risklogic.com/Sep2005.html/.

UL 300 Standard, Harleysville Mutual Insurance Company, 2008; http://www.harleysvillegroup.com/losc/PDFs/LCT1021.pdf

“UL-300 Standard Update,” National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors, 2007; http://www.nafed.org/resources/library/UL300.cfm/.

“Wet Chemical Systems-Restaurant Protection,” Tyco International, 2007; http://tycoemea.com/English/Products/Extinguishing/wetchem.asp/.

RONALD R. SPADAFORA is a 32-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York and serves as assistant chief. He is an adjunct professor of fire science in the Department of Fire Protection Management at John Jay College in New York City and a senior instructor for Fire Technology Incorporated. He is an editor of and frequent contributor to WNYF.

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