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The following presentation was made at the 69th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs on August 24, 1977 at the Hilton Hotel, Quebec City, Canada.
BLACK FIRE The United States leads the entire world in per capita fire deaths. Canada, our northern neighbor runs a close second. For many, many years, following each major fire, new fire regulations and codes have been prepared. The National Fire Protection Association, which is an organization that has near monopoly control of the fire regulations for our two countries, has been the producer of the codes and regulations. This process of producing new fire regulations following each major fire has progressed to the point where America now leads the entire world in fire regulations. Today, when constructing a building the hidden costs of these fire regulations may sometimes actually double the construction costs. So, America leads the entire world in two fire related categories — in the extent of the fire regulations — and in the number of fire deaths. This appears to be a contradictory situation because one would naturally assume that as the fire regulations proliferated — and as the fire safety costs in new buildings rose — that the fire losses would diminish. But it hasn't happened. Why not? At this point in time I am proposing a very frightening — an extremely devastating theory about fire. am suggesting that many of our fire regulations have been developed — not to reduce fire — not to save human life — but rather to maximize the profits of
those organizations that market fire safety products and services. I am suggesting that some fire codes and regulations actually are cleverly oriented to promote fire — to insure high profits for fire protection products by guaranteeing a continued high burn rate in America. I think the time has arrived when you gentlemen of the fire services must carefully examine this idea — and look very deeply into what I consider to be corruptions in the fire code making process. In short, gentlemen, I believe we can no longer divide fire into two categories, the friendly and the hostile fire — but we must consider the possible existence of the black fire. A black fire is a fire that grows large and kills primarily because the fire code makers have planned it that way. Now I realize that the idea I am proposing is one of a very revolutionary nature. The very idea that a high fire burn rate could actually be planned in the councils of our code writers is a most alarming concept. But in our society we have come to believe that wars are sometimes motivated by human greed and cunning and if man can create and wage a war — with wholesale slaughter of lives on both sides — is it inconceivable that those who write our fire codes may be more concerned with promoting their own products, and enlarging the markets for these products, than they are in humantarian endeavors?
HOW IT WAS DONE
I realize that even if you grant me the possibility that the people who write the codes could be profit makers first — humanitarians last — you may immediately ask, how could it be done? How can one write a code to promote fire — it appears to be an impossible task. But I believe it is possible to do this. As an example of how this could be done, I give you the Harmer House Nursing House fire in Marietta, Ohio that occurred on the night of January 9, 1970, when the lives of 33 elderly people were snuffed out. This fire occurred in a one story structure that was a near perfect copy of the NFPA Life Safety Code provisions. But a fire initiated within one room and even though it was detected early it quickly progressed to flashover. Then, the post flashover fire wiped out 33 lives in the time interval from flashover to fire department arrival and control. The NFPA investigated this fire. The investigators had a full opportunity to issue a completely honest and candid report concerning this flashover fire — they could have alerted the world to the phenomenon by which a contents type fire can wipe out lives within a so-called fireproof building. But, a completely candid report would have automatically led to the conclusion that the NFPA Life Safety Code was not a viable solution to the fire problem. The NFPA Life Safety Code was a fantastically costly "solution" — but it was not a good solution. The NFPA investigators therefore did not even mention the word "flashover" in their report. They did not explain that prior to flashover, a fire may seem to be not particularly serious — because it will be relatively small and confined to one room — but that once flashover occurred the fire could kill over a wide area almost explosively. They did not discuss flashover because the NFPA Life Safety Code does not effectively deal with this phenomenon. Instead they implied the fire was caused by the carpeting on the floor. When the carpet arrived at the testing laboratory it was discovered that it would not burn of its own volition on the floor. Therefore, they reversed its position, putting it on the ceiling of the test tunnel — upside down on the ceiling — and in this manner proved it could burn. Some doors to some patient rooms off the corridor were open during the fire. These rooms were blackened from about the 5 foot level up to and including the ceilings. But the carpet on the floors in these rooms was completely clean, totally unscorched. Now I ask, why did the carpet fire in the hallway burn up to the door of the open room, but not turn the corner and burn into the room, even though it was the exact same carpet? The answer is simple. The carpet burned only in the area where flashover had
already occurred. In other words, the carpet on the floor was the last item to enter the flashed over fire condition. Now let's look at how the distorted picture of this fire as painted by the NFPA, and the misdirected regulations following this fire, served the needs of the profiteers — while at the same time preserving the reputation of unsafe fire codes. By shifting the blame away from the flashover fire involving the normal contents of the room — and by indirectly labelling the carpet as the villain, the NFPA accomplished two things. First, the entire carpet industry was dragged into the category of materials that must be tested and certified for fire safety. Thus, those who control the fire regulations achieved a major coup by gaining control of yet another major segment of our commerce. A new regulatory empire was constructed on the ashes of this fire. The second result of the misdirected investigation was that the unsafe, but profit oriented NFPA Life Safety Code was exonerated in the process. Because of this the very regulations that were the root cause of this one fire — where 33 died — were maintained in force — with the probability that they would lead to new fires — and new opportunities for new fire regulations. NFPA sells fire regulations. Sure enough, since that time new fires caused by the same old conditions have occurred.
PROMOTING THE INFERIOR — SUPPRESSING THE SUPERIOR
It is my theory that our fire codes have been oriented toward preserving fire as a marketing tool through the process of promoting inferior solutions to fire while simultaneously suppressing the best solutions to fire. The best solutions are the least liked by the profit-making fire monopoly. The profit-makers who make profits from fire are, as a class, wary of low cost and extremely reliable solutions to fire. Such better solutions are a threat to their own markets. But these same men will give the green light to inferior systems having high price tags. The most powerful organizations in the code-making councils are those who make the profits from fire. You are of course familiar with the fact that loss of life in buildings protected with a fire sprinkler system is near zero. Statistics developed over a period of 90 years in Australia indicates that the number of sprinklers that will open in a light hazard occupancy, such as a hospital, is 1.34. This means the water needed to control fire would normally be less than 30 GPM. But the NFPA sprinkler system codes were written to demand huge water supplies, often in the 500-1000 GPM range, thus making such protection extremely costly. Thus did they discourage low cost and better systems.
CONTAINMENT, NOT SUPPRESSION I believe the most insidious major concept promoted by the fire monopoly is the "theory of containment" as related to the so-called fireproof building. The NFPA fire safety theory implies that fire can be safely contained within the room where it originates while the occupants of the building may flee to the outdoors safely travelling along corridors that are fire wall isolated from the contained fire. Under this concept the fire theoretically burns confined and harmless. But a live fire which is allowed to burn freely behind a closed door is a disaster in the making. It is like putting a vicious tiger in a room, and leaving it there to grow hungry while assuming no one will open the door! The confined fire will proceed to flashover — and then, when that door is opened — goodbye Charlie. This "containment theory" of fire safety which the NFPA has glorified in their Life Safety Code is in reality an absolute guarantee that deadly fires will continue. Yet it is promoted by the NFPA in such a manner as to obstruct and discourage the real solution to fire. For example, NFPA 101 mandates fireproofing of the steel and a multitude of fire partitions and smoke stop doors. These are all very costly. Then it declares sprinklers to be not needed for buildings so designed. Accordingly, sprinklers are then omitted in new construction. The net result is a building subdivided into many small compartments with each compartment loaded with combustibles. Small compartments actually speed up the flashover process. Therefore, any fire that occurs is quite likely to proceed to the flashover condition. Once that happens, all that is needed is for one door to be open, or opened, then, like lightening the combustible gases will flow rapidly down the corridor flashing as it progresses. Those who cannot immediately take to their heels and run are likely to be overtaken and killed. This is the story of the Harmer House fire. The NFPA Life Safety Code and its underlying theory of containment is not a solution to fire — it is a guarantor of the continuity of deadly fires ... it i mposes a non solution while simultaneously discouraging a true solution. OTHER COSTLY "NON SOLUTIONS" There are many other instances of codes and concepts that are promoted, are profitable, and are unrealistic from a true fire control viewpoint. For example, when it comes to fighting an incipient fire the fire protection community has given the amateur fire fighter the choice of two fire control tools: A portable extinguisher which is a very costly way to buy water ( and which emits a pencil lead thin straight stream of water which is most ineffective); or, a VA" fire hose line which has a stiffness and
nozzle reaction that makes it virtually impossible for an amateur fire fighter to use effectively. Why isn't the amateur fire fighter given a garden type hose that is flexible — one which he can handle? A small hose of this type is effective even for a flashover fire. The answer is obvious. The fire profiteers could not successfully market "labeled" fire hose at a Price of $200 to $400 per installed hose, or a "labeled" 21/2 gallon container of water at perhaps $30 if a far superior tool (namely the garden-type hose) was recognized for fire safety and purchaseable at a cost of $5 to $10 at the local hardware store. The restaurant owner is sold a fire extinguishing system for the kitchen range that protects against about 18% of the fires he will have — and then the system that will protect against 100% of the fires is priced so as to discourage its use. In a similar vein, as we work our way through the vast array of fire codes, time and time again, we find products of fire safety that are costly yet unreliable. The fire codes have allowed the fire profiteer to have his cake and eat it too. Billions of dollars worth of fire safety products are being sold; and at the same ti me fire has continued unabated and has served as a market stimulant. A TRULY FIRE SAFE AMERICA But I have now given you enough of the negative aspects of fire safety. We must not dwell forever on the past manuverings and manipulations within the code-making process. We must recognize that these things have happened, and then go on to new solutions, new and better ways to protect ourselves from fire. In this regard, I must say that the future looks very bright indeed. Under a National Science Foundation grant, the Battelle Columbus Labs and my firm, Patton, Inc., have been working with The National Fire Prevention and Control Administration in Washington, D.C. to develop truly low cost and truly reliable fire suppression systems. We are in the process of proving out and preparing a standard for installing a low cost suppression system in the one family dwelling and mobile home. This system will be based on a 10 GPM water supply. Yes, I said a 10 GPM water supply, which is most revolutionary in fire science. It has long been our contention that virtually every building in America already has enough water to automatically control fire while fire is in a small incipient stage. We are finding that we can use small tube and very small orifice sprinklers to control fire and maintain tolerable conditions within the dwelling, or other building, to allow escape, rescue, or ti me to complete the fire suppression with a small hose if necessary.
Our projections are that we can definitely protect a one-family dwelling at a cost of less than 2% of the construction price, possibly less than 1%. In a larger building we can protect against fire probably at a cost of 50 cents per square foot. Further, when 50 cents per square foot sprinklers are installed — often we can then safely remove as much as $5.00 per square foot in useless fire safety costs. In other words, we can make large buildings virtually i mmune to fire and at the same time dramatically reduce the cost of constructing these buildings. Such solutions are not only technically feasible but to a very significant degree have already proven themselves. I believe that we are slowly entering a new era ot fire safety and that someday in the not too distant future we will see all buildings virtually immune to fire. I believe that by the year 2000 almost every building in Canada and the U. S. will be equipped with a low cost fire detection and suppression system that will reduce human loss of life from fire to near zero.
The role of the fire department will change when this comes about. As I see it, almost all buildings will have built in fire protection systems that will be directly wired to the fire station. The firemen will respond to the automatic signals rapidly in small vehicles. When they arrive they will only have to complete the knock down to the already controlled fire. As of right now, the job of the fireman is the most dangerous job in the world. Every year the death toll of firemen is high and the injuries almost beyond counting. But when we build protective systems into all buildings, the fireman will be responding to far less dangerous situations. By and large, they will be completing the extinguishment of fires that are already controlled. • The fireman of the future will require greater training in fire protection fundamentals, and in protection system design and maintenance. The need for technical competence in fire services will gradually increase and I believe this will open up many new opportunities for the fire services. The firemen will always be needed.
PATTON, INC. 6075 Cleveland Avenue Columbus, Ohio 43229
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