NIST releases final report on Charleston Sofa Store fire

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) final report on the fire in the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, South Carolina, contains clarifications and supplemental text based on comments by organizations and individuals that responded to NIST’s draft report of the study, released for public comment on Oct. 28, 2010. The fire killed nine firefighters.

The additional comments did not alter the study team’s main finding, according to NIST. The rapid spread of the fire was caused by large open spaces containing high-fuel loads of furniture, the inward rush of air that followed the breaking of windows, and the absence of sprinklers.

Among the 11 recommendations contained in the report for safeguarding building, occupant, and firefighter safety nationwide is that state and local communities adopt and strictly adhere to current national model building and fire safety codes. “If today’s model codes had been in place and rigorously followed in Charleston in 2007,” the study authors said, “the conditions that led to the rapid fire spread in the Sofa Super Store probably would have been prevented.”

NIST specifically says national model building and fire codes should require sprinklers for all new commercial retail furniture stores regardless of size and for existing retail furniture stores with any single display area that is greater than 190 square meters (2,000 square feet).

In addition, the report recommends adopting model codes that cover high fuel load situations (such as a furniture store), ensuring that proper fire inspections and building plan examinations are enforced, and that encourage research for a better understanding of fire situations such as venting of smoke from burning buildings and the spread of fire among furniture.

Regarding the recommendations related to training, one recommends that “all state and local jurisdictions ensure that fire inspectors and building plan examiners are professionally qualified to a national standard” (one of three nationally accepted certification examinations were cited as examples of “how professional qualification may be demonstrated.”)

The training recommendation more directly related to firefighters is the one that urges that state and local jurisdictions “provide education to firefighters on the science of fire behavior in vented and nonvented structures and how the addition of air can impact the burning characteristics of the fuel.”

NIST is working with public and private groups to implement changes in practices, standards, and building and fire codes based on the report’s findings.

The complete final report, Volumes I and II,* may be downloaded as Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files. A detailed summary of the Sofa Super Store study and links to supporting materials are available at “NIST Study on Charleston Furniture Store Fire Calls for National Safety Improvements”; http://www.nist.gov/el/fire_research/charleston_102810.cfm.

(* Volume I: http://www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=908200; Volume II: http://www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=908201.)

Line-of-Duty Deaths

February 18. Firefighter/Paramedic Glenn L. Allen, 61, Los Angeles (CA) Fire Department: injuries sustained on February 16 in a partial ceiling collapse while fighting a residential fire.

February 24. Chief Chris Stock, 49, Westport (KY) Volunteer Fire Department: heart attack.

March 12. Captain James Von Roden, 49, Lee (FL) Community Volunteer Fire Department: collapsed; cause under investigation.

Source: USFA Firefighters Memorial Database

Updated protocols for homes with problem drywall

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have issued an updated remediation protocol for homes with problem drywall. Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico, conducted a study on behalf of the CPSC and said it found “no evidence of a safety hazard to home electrical systems.” Sandia simulated long-term exposure of wiring and other electrical components to hydrogen sulfide gas, associated with problem drywall. Consequently, CPSC and HUD staff are no longer recommending removing all electrical wiring in homes with problem drywall.

Sandia simulated more than 40 years of corrosive conditions that could exist in problem drywall homes, and its staff did not observe any acute or long-term electrical safety events, such as smoking or fire. The corrosion and blackening of the exposed electrical components observed was determined to be consistent with the characteristic corrosion thousands of consumers reported to the CPSC.

With these changes, the remediation guidance for homes with problem drywall calls for the replacement of the following:

  • problem drywall;
  • fire safety alarm devices, including smoke and carbon monoxide alarms;
  • electrical distribution components, including receptacles, switches, and circuit breakers; and
  • gas service piping and fire suppression sprinkler systems.

The CPSC is in the final stages of completing its scientific investigation into problem drywall. For additional findings from the Interagency Drywall Task Force’s investigation, visit www.DrywallResponse.gov.

Pool and spa drain covers may present entrapment risks

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been investigating the adequacy of testing procedures used to determine the flow rating of pool and spa drain covers. It was learned that the testing protocols some laboratories used may have been “improper.” As a result, some covers certified by these laboratories may not comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act). Pool and spa drains that have covers certified with inaccurate flow ratings may fail to prevent the hidden hazard of a drain entrapment.

Subpoenas were issued to three of the laboratories that tested pool and spa drain covers to determine their protocols, the types of covers tested, and the results of their testing. CPSC staff is reviewing the more than 17,000 pages of documents the laboratories provided in response to the subpoenas.

CPSC is working toward identifying covers that have improper ratings and providing safety information about drain covers to the public by Memorial Day weekend.

Gravity drainage systems and large, unblockable drain covers are not part of this investigation. Noncompliant drain covers are most often found in shallow kiddie pools, wading pools, and pools or spas with single main drain systems.

The P&SS Act, which went into effect in December 2008, requires that all public pools and spas install new anti-entrapment drain covers and other secondary devices or systems on single blockable drain systems. Residential pools may have made these changes as recommended by their pool service operator; pools or spas constructed since early 2009 should also have these new covers.

Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition wins CFSI Leadership Award

The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) was the recipient of the 2011 Senator Paul S. Sarbanes Fire Service Safety Leadership Award, presented at the 23rd Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner in April in Washington, DC. The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) made the selection.

The award memorializes Senator (Ret.) Sarbanes of Maryland, who was a strong advocate of U.S. firefighters and rescue personnel during his 36-year career in Congress. State Farm Insurance and VFIS are corporate supporters of the award program.

The HFSC was established in 1996 and is dedicated to educating the public about the benefits of having fire sprinklers installed in new homes. The materials the HFSC developed are used in outreach efforts across the country to consumers, homebuilders, officials, water suppliers, real estate and property insurance professionals, and the media.

CFSI President Bill Jenaway and NFFF Chairman Dennis Compton issued a joint statement recognizing the HFSC for its achievements: “As members of the fire service who recognize the need and benefits of home fire sprinklers, we have appreciated for many years the important work of the HFSC. In local communities throughout the nation, the Coalition is making a difference in educating the public about the life-saving benefits of home fire sprinklers.”

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