The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) presented four awards to recognise outstanding achievements in fire and life safety at NFPA’s Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

Harry C. Bigglestone Award

The Harry C. Bigglestone award is given annually to the paper appearing in Fire Technology that best represents excellence in the communication of fire protection concepts. This award honors the memory of Bigglestone, who served as a trustee of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, and who is a fellow and past president of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. The award is accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize.

The 2018 Harry C. Bigglestone Award goes to Ruben Van Coile (Ghent University, Belgium and University of Edinburgh, UK), Georgios P. Balamenos (Rice University, Texas US, Manesh D. Pandey (Waterloo University, Canada), and Robby Caspeele (Ghent University, Belgium, for their paper entitled ‘An Unbiased Method for Probabilistic Fire Safety Engineers, Requiring a Limited Number of Model Evaluations’. This paper provides a computationally efficient methodology for application to structural fire safety. Results of this work can be applied with existing models and calculation tools and allows for a parallelisation of model evaluations.

Lead author Ruben Van Coile, an assistant professor of structural fire safety at Ghent University (Belgium), will accept the award on behalf of his co-authors.

Fire Protection Research Foundation Medal 

The 2018 Fire Protection Research Foundation Medal is awarded to ‘e-Sanctuary: Open Multi-Physics Framework for Modelling Wildfire Urban Evaluation.’

The Research Foundation Medal recognises the Fire Protection Research Foundation (Foundation) project completed in the previous year that best exemplifies the Foundation’s fire safety mission, technical challenges overcome and collaborative approach to execution that is the hallmark of all Foundation projects. There were 24 eligible projects for the award. An awards committee consisting of representatives from the Research Foundation Board, Research Advisory Committee, and NFPA technical staff reviewed summaries of the projects along with staff assessments of how they meet each of the criteria.

The 2018 Fire Protection Research Foundation Medal is awarded to ‘e-Sanctuary: Open Multi-Physics Framework for Modelling Wildfire Urban Evaluation.’ The project describes a novel framework for modeling wildfire urban evacuations.

Wildfire Urban Interface evacuation

The work argues that an integrated approach requires consideration and integration of all three important components of Wildfire Urban Interface (WUI) evacuation: fire spread, pedestrian movement, and traffic movement. The report includes a systematic review of each model component, and the key features needed for the integration into a comprehensive toolkit.

This project was made possible by funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and was led by Enrico Ronchi (Lund University, Sweden), Guillermo Rein (Imperial College of London), and Steven Gwynne (National Research Council of Canada).

The Foundation Medal will be presented to Steven Gwynne, a senior research officer at the National Research Council of Canada; he will receive the medal on behalf of all those involved in the project.

Industrial Fire Protection Section Fire Prevention Week Award

The winner of the 2017 Industrial Fire Protection Section Fire Prevention is Mark Fessenden

The winner of the 2017 Industrial Fire Protection Section Fire Prevention is Mark Fessenden, director of Industry Relations at Johnson Controls, Inc. Fessenden is active on several NFPA Technical Committees, which include Exposure Fire Protection, Residential Sprinkler Systems and Gaseous Fire Extinguishing Systems. He is certified by the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies in water-based systems layout and special hazard suppression systems. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from New England Institute of Technology and an MBA from Corban University.

The 2017 Fire Prevention Week Award winner’s campaign was co-sponsored by a local Boy Scout Troop in Marinette, Wisconsin, and also supported by the local fire department. Youth had to complete activities such as fire extinguisher training using a simulator, testing and changing out batteries in smoke alarms, creating an evacuation plan, and more.

Standards Medal

The 2018 recipient of the Standards Medal is Bill Koffel, founder and president of Koffel Associates, a fire protection and safety engineering design and consulting firm. Koffel has been a member of NFPA since 1979 and taken part in 27 different technical committees. He chairs three NFPA Technical Committees, and recently chaired the Correlating Committee for NFPA 101, Life Safety Code for nine years. On top of his work in the NFPA Technical Committees, Koffel has also taken on the role as an educator, producing over 60 technical presentations and publications, and taught classes on various NFPA codes including NFPA 101, NFPA 13 and NFPA 25.

This award recognises and honors outstanding contributions to fire safety, and the development of NFPA codes and standards. This award is the most distinguished award given by the NFPA Standards Council.

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Retention Of Volunteer And Career Firefighters: Be More Like Google
Retention Of Volunteer And Career Firefighters: Be More Like Google

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In Search Of Best Practices As Grenfell Tower’s Impact Reverberates
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From a dozen or more perspectives, the tragic fire at London’s Grenfell Tower was a wakeup call. The shear scope of the tragedy – 72 deaths, 70 injuries in the worst United Kingdom residential fire since World War II – is a stark reminder of the importance of fire prevention, and the catastrophic consequences of its failure. There are additional lessons to be learned from the fire service response to the blaze, which burned for 60 hours and involved 250 London Fire Brigade firefighters and 70 fire engines from stations across London. A stark reminder of the importance of fire prevention, and the catastrophic consequences of its failure In short, the Grenfell fire is the kind of colossal event that shakes aside any complacency that stems from a decades-long trend of decreasing deaths from fire. It takes a tragedy of such monumental proportions to get the full attention of government, regulators, fire professionals, and the general public. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the challenge is to focus that attention in ways that can have a real impact on preventing future tragedies.   Building Regulations And Designs  A torrent of questions and second-guessing have emerged from the Grenfell experience. How should building regulations change, including the use of aluminum composite material panels that contributed to the rapid spread of the fire? What about building designs? Grenfell Tower had one central stairwell and one exit. Are more sprinkler systems needed in residential buildings, and what obstacles must be overcome to make it happen? Related to the response to the fire, how did officials who advised residents to “stay put” for two hours as the fire was spreading contribute to the death toll? How should practices change, given that “stay put” is often the advice to residents in a high-rise building fire likely to be easily contained? Every action taken in response to the fire is being scrutinised. Will useful new best practices emerge? Are more sprinkler systems needed in residential buildings, and what obstacles must be overcome to make it happen? Sufficiency of firefighting equipment is another concern. In the Grenfell fire, how was the firefighting effort impacted when a tall ladder did not arrive for more than 30 minutes? What was the role of low water pressure? Were there problems with radio communication?   The Grenfell Tower Inquiry, ordered by Prime Minister Theresa May on the day after the fire, is examining every detail. The inquiry’s chairman has promised that “no stone will be left unturned.” Meanwhile, it behooves all of us to ponder what lessons we can learn from the tragedy, and to ask how we can apply those lessons to prevent future tragedies.

Integrated Life Safety: How Smart Buildings Offer Effective Fire Detection
Integrated Life Safety: How Smart Buildings Offer Effective Fire Detection

The era of “smart buildings” is here, bringing new opportunities for significant gains in efficiency, safety and environmental protection. In an interview, Rodger Reiswig, director of industry relations at Johnson Controls Global Fire Protection Products, offers his insights into the impact of smart buildings on fire detection and what it means for organisations planning new facilities. Q: How do you define smart buildings? The term “smart buildings” means different things to different people. For some, it’s all about the Green Initiative. Is the building able to sustain itself or reduce its carbon footprint? Can they reuse some of their water or generate electricity from onsite solar cells or wind turbines? Another definition of “smart buildings” is based on sensors. Is the building smart enough to know that, if I’m the first person there in the morning and I swipe my card, it should switch the HVAC system into occupied mode? Can it start to turn the lights on? Can it adjust the window shades to allow the sun to come in? Can it call the elevator down for me because it knows that I’m in the lobby and I’m going to the tenth floor? It’s all about how the systems integrate with one another, not just providing information to each other, but also interacting with one another, causing things to happen from one system to another. Q: How close are we to the vision of an integrated intelligent building where all the systems work together? We’ve already been doing some integration for a few years now with things like HVAC and lighting. Now we’re seeing tighter integration where, for example, we can use the position of the sun to get the best impact of sunlight to start to heat the building in the winter. One of the biggest challenges that we see in the smart building environment is protocols or topologies for how one system talks to another. The fire alarm system uses a certain protocol or language. The HVAC system uses another protocol or language, and so on. Creating an environment where systems can talk to one another and not just send, but also receive information – that’s the difficult part. Everybody can send information out. It’s easy for me to tell you what is happening in a system. But for you to tell me what’s happening in your system and then expect me to do something with that information, that’s when it gets a little bit harder. Q: What makes system-to-system communication challenging? Because of the critical role they play in protecting lives and property, life safety systems require a level of reliability and resilience far beyond that of other building systems or networks. Therefore, we have to be extremely careful about how we allow information from other systems to come into the life safety system, in case that information should affect the performance of the system. In addition, the design and specification of life safety systems is guided via three different means: building codes, standards and listings. Each of those means is controlled by different organisations. Any proposed changes to life safety networks have to pass muster with those entities, and that takes time, effort and consensus-building. When we’re talking specifically about system-to-system communication, the listing entities, organisations like UL and FM Global, regulate how much information can come into any life safety system. The listing documents require that there be some type of a barrier or gateway to prevent unauthorised or corrupted information from coming into a fire alarm system, causing harm or causing it to lock up. Life safety systems require a level of reliability and resilience far beyond that of other building systems or networks We will see all building technologies become more integrated over time as we work through the different entities and people begin to realise the benefits of improved safety, lower environmental impact, and reduced costs. Q: How will fire detection systems benefit from other sensor information available in a building? One of the things being explored is occupancy sensors that tell where people are located in a building. Some type of telemetry could be used to understand where people are concentrated in a facility and, based on that, make the fire alarm system more or less sensitive to smoke. If a lot of people are congregating in one area, there might be more activity and more dust being stirred up. You could use that information to set different alarm parameters compared to, for example, an empty building with no significant air movement. We see that type of operation happening. Knowing how many people are in a building and where they are located is also a critically valuable piece of information for first responders. Here’s another example: let’s say we have a big parking garage next to a mall. Cars come in, and perhaps some people leave their cars running, or the cars aren’t operating as efficiently as they should be. You could have carbon monoxide detectors and occupancy sensors in the garage, and when the garage becomes crowded and carbon monoxide levels start to rise a bit, you could tell the fire alarm system not to go into alarm, but instead to turn fans on to get some fresh air moving throughout the building. It’s performing a life safety function, but at a non-emergency level. Q: Are you involved in any cross-industry standard-setting organisations to enable better communication among building systems? On an industry level, Johnson Controls is very active in the development of codes and standards. We have people who sit on committees for things like healthcare occupancy standards. We have engineers that contribute to product listing documents. We have people who participate in committees that determine how products should be installed and maintained.Fire alarm systems could be used to detect and solve non-emergencies before they become threats We’re even involved with groups, like the National Disabilities Rights Network, that advocate for laws that promote equal access and notification of life safety events. The list goes on. It’s a common protocol that allows all types of systems to get on the same communication platform and be able to send and possibly receive information, depending on the product and the type of system it is.Just to give you an example, there’s a standard called BACnet, Building Automation Control Network, which was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. BACnet is based on entities, so within their system, they need to define what each entity is. What is a thermostat? What is a variable air box? What is a lighting controller? What is a fire alarm smoke detector? We work closely with this organisation to create entities that can reside on their infrastructure so that, for example, the lightning system recognises what a smoke detector is when they send that entity out to the network. It’s one of the most important methods we are using to communicate among dissimilar systems. Integrated systems mean elevators could be used to evacuate people in an emergency We’re working on two fronts: internally and industry-wide. We’re developing third-party interfaces that enable an outside entity to sign a non-disclosure form and get the keys to the kingdom, if you will, on our protocols for how our systems operate – the data stream that we can send out and receive back – allowing that third-party developer to create some of these interfaces themselves. That has been one of our challenges, because we have always said that this is a fire alarm system, and if you want that type of an interface, we need to write it and get it listed. We had to step back and say, what if we developed a barrier gateway and allowed somebody else to develop the protocol and, done properly, became able to receive and send information to the fire alarm system? It’s like what Apple does with apps. We are going down that road with this third-party interface gateway. Q: Have these developments changed how you’re planning for the future development of fire detection systems? Yes, they have. We are looking at how we can use these systems strategically to make life safety systems better. And life safety is becoming more nuanced, proactive and comprehensive. Can I communicate and use this information to unlock the door so people have a clear egress? Can I start to use the elevators to evacuate people during an emergency? We’ve been told traditionally to use the stairwell and not the elevator in the event of a fire. But it takes a person about a minute a floor to get out. That’s a problem if you’re in an 80-story building. You have elevators sitting there. Is there something we could do to allow these elevators to be used to evacuate people? The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has been working hard on developing the language and requirements to do that. It’s just one example of how having systems integrated and talking to each other allows us to create smarter solutions that can help make facilities safer. Q: What advice would you give to building owners, architects, designers or contractors to help them start planning today for the future of smart buildings? The most important thing is to build awareness. The average building owner doesn’t know that a lot of this technology even exists. We need to inform them that there are options they can ask about. One of my recommendations would be to ask your design engineer. As you discuss the kind of windows you want, the kind of flooring and lighting and so on, ask how these systems could integrate together and what the benefits of integration would be. The bigger your facility, the greater the benefits of integrating these systems. Another resource that people don’t use often enough is the AHJs, the authorities having jurisdiction. That’s the local fire marshal, the fire chief, the local first responders. 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