Contributor: Andy Aleksich, Senior Designer of F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems
Writer: Sarah Block, Marketing Director of The Moran Group
On November 22, 2006, a malevolent explosion turned the town of Danvers, MA upside down. The explosion started in a chemical manufacturing plant, destroying it. The subsequent fires had far-reaching effects; it destroyed twenty-four homes, six business, and dozens of boats at a nearby marina. At least ten residents were hospitalized as a direct result of the explosion, and over 300 residents in the nearby neighborhood were evacuated. This disaster spurred the residents of Danvers, MA to establish community groups' Safe Area for Everyone (SAFE) and re-established the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) determined that the explosion was fueled by escaped vapor from a 2,000-gallon tank of highly flammable liquid. The ensuing fire blazed for seventeen hours.
It was discovered that although it is required for chemical plants that store flammable liquid to be inspected every year by the local fire department, the Danvers plant had not been inspected for four years. Additionally, the facility was not storing the flammable liquid in compliance with OSHA, Massachusetts fire code, or NFPA requirements. However, because the Massachusetts fire code does not require the application of NFPA 30 retroactively, the plant was not directly non-compliant. The chemical plant had a foam/water fire sprinkler system. This type of system is meant to work in conjunction with a fire alarm box that contacts the fire department. However, the chemical plant did not have a fire alarm box, so the fire department was not notified, allowing the conflagration to continue for seventeen hours. The CSB recommended the city of Danvers adapt the NFPA 30 code. Had they taken the advice, the chemical plant would have been in direct violation. They are not the only ones. Everyday facilities are cited for violating this code. Why are NFPA 30 violations so prevalent?
Insurance Underwriters are Focusing on NFPA 30
Currently, insurance underwriters are paying close attention to NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids. In recent years, many plants have received written recommendations by risk management audits to revise the way flammable liquids and chemicals are being stored. Plants have the difficult task of combining the requirements from the NFPA, local authorities, and insurers into one fire protection solution. In some cases, one authority has precedence over another in one aspect of fire protection, but not all. For example, if a fire protection solution has been designed, developed, and tested by an approved testing facility, but does not meet NFPA requirement, if the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) approves, it becomes compliant with NFPA. The complexity of NFPA 30 often results in unintentional non-compliancy.
NFPA 30 is Complex
To give this code perspective, we will compare it to NFPA 13, The Standard for Installation of Sprinkler Systems. NFPA 13 is a code used for every type of Fire Sprinkler System solution.
In this code, there are 26 chapters. In NFPA 30, which has a much smaller population of users, there are 29 chapters, 14 annexes, 1 chart, and 1 form.
To determine each fire protection need, according to NFPA 30, facilities must answer a series of questions before coming to a conclusion. For example, to find out how high a facility can store flammable liquids in vertical stacks, facilities must research and answer the following questions:
1. Is it a liquid (fluidity, viscosity, water-miscible)?
2. What type of liquid is it (flammable, combustible, flash points, boiling points, etc)?
3. What is the liquid classification (IA, IB, II, III, IIIA, IIIB)?
4. What type of occupancy is the liquid stored in (healthcare facility, industrial, processing plant, liquid storage warehouse, etc)?
5. What type of container is the liquid stored in (drums, portable tanks, relieving, non-relieving, immediate bulk containers, etc)?
6. Is there an automatic sprinkler system protecting the space (design flow rate, density, foam/water, etc)?
7. What is the container arrangement (palletized, rack, maximum allowable quantity, etc)?
For each different liquid storage fire protection solution - sprinklers, detection, and a wide-array of physical storage requirements - several questions must be researched and answered. This can be extremely burdensome for facility staff with a variety of responsibilities.
With a combination of fire protection professionals and NFPA 30 provided charts and forms, it is possible to apply this extremely complicated code. If a facility chooses to take on this task independently, it is recommended to utilize figures 16.4.1(a), 16.4.1(b), and 16.4.1(c) (see below) from NFPA 30 to determine the correct section of chapter 16 to apply to the facility's fire protection solution.
However, even with the use of charts, many sections of the code have numerous exceptions and refer to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) as the point of reference.
It is advised that facilities do not attempt to apply the complicated NFPA 30 code on their own. Hire a fire protection solution provider that has a relationship with the AHJ and underwriters who can provide their expertise to ensure code compliancy. With the help of one simple seven question form (see below) and a fire protection solution provider, facilities can feel certain their buildings are code compliant.