Fire Safety on new projects is especially important when wood construction is used for very high and large-footprint buildings. Fire safety requirements in NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations apply to new construction.
If you live in one of the 42 states where the International Fire Code has been adopted, there are now fire safety requirements imposed for all new construction. The requirements in the relatively new standard, NFPA 241, are not optional—they must be followed, regardless of job size.
As more authorities having jurisdiction become familiar with this standard, it will be enforced more consistently, though often at the last minute. While many of the requirements fall on the owner, the fire alarm portion of NFPA 241 is right up the alley of fire safety professionals. Electricians and electrical safety directors who become experts on NFPA 241 requirements will increase their contract value.
Some significant requirements of the standard include:
- Fire Safety Program (i.e., NFPA 241 Plan, Construction Fire Safety Plan), a document that outlines all aspects of the project’s fire safety approach.
- Establish a Fire Prevention Program Manager (FPPM), which could be your job-site safety manager. This manager is required to be a boots on the ground person.
- The FPPM must have the authority (and budget) to fully implement NFPA 241 through the Fire Prevention Plan.
- The FPPM’s responsibility is to ensure the project is completed safely in accordance to all requirements and keep all personnel associated safe.
Why the new standard?
What prompted the development of this standard? Construction projects are largely unprotected and unsecured, with common ignition sources that can develop into conflagrations endangering every worker. Additionally, each project is dealing with a transient workforce who may not be aware of fire safety.
One newsmaking example of a large fire in a building under construction was the July 23, 2017, $110 million apartment fire in Waltham, Mass.,—5 buildings, 246 units, wood construction. This 10-alarm fire destroyed all the buildings, left workers unemployed and caused the project to be put on hold until the owner could secure financing.
Other fires occurred in all-wood-constructed apartment buildings in Massachusetts that year, too. One was a four-alarm fire in a four-story, 50-unit building in Weymouth. The cause was unknown. In Dorchester, a six-alarm fire in a six-story, 83-unit building was sparked by a generator.
Buildings under construction pose an increased risk. Any fire protection systems are either impaired or incomplete. Other factors include:
- High fire load with material storage in or near the building under construction
- Waste storage (dumpsters and trash chutes)
- Fire-resistant-rated walls incomplete or not yet not constructed
- Fire spread with a high incidence of potential exposed combustible construction
- Wood frame construction
Additionally, older mill buildings can be just as dangerous as new construction buildings.
Often in new projects, there are high-risk construction activities such as welding, cutting and pipe soldering. Additionally, there may not be strong security on these sites. It is easy to trespass undetected, so such sites can be easy targets for intentional fires. Unmaintained construction roads and obstructions such as trucks, dumpsters, storage and holes can impede site access for firefighters.
There are often building access issues such as elevator and stair unavailability because floor layouts change during construction.
The requirement for a fire alarm system during construction is one of the most important parts of the standard. It is crucial to include fire safety criteria when reviewing physical safety. Wireless products are available to enable electrical contractors to meet the temporary fire alarm system and fire extinguisher requirements, including connection off-site to a central or remote supervising station.