The use of spray paints and finishes for commercial applications poses serious fire and explosion hazards. Auto body shops, woodworkers, and manufacturers should make sure their spray booths or rooms are safe and well maintained at all times. Although it is possible to build a spray booth or room yourself that meets safety requirements, we recommend that a pre-engineered booth and suppression system, which meets NFPA and OSHA requirements, be purchased and installed by professionals.
When looking at a spray booth or room, here are some things to check to make sure that it meets safety standards and is properly maintained:
- An automatic suppression system (water, wet chemical, or dry chemical depending on the products being sprayed) covers the entire area of the booth or room including all plenums and ducts.
- Suppression systems are serviced at least semi-annually and after any activation.
- All sprinkler heads are covered with cellophane or thin paper bags (.076 mm or less) to prevent overspray buildup.
- Explosion-proof lighting is installed.
- A Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), such as UL, FM or ETL listed, explosion-proof wiring is used inside the booth or room and within three feet of the doors.
- Paint or finishes are only stored in spray booths or rooms while in use.
- Nothing should be stored inside the booth or room when not in use.
- There is no storage of combustible materials against or within three feet of the exterior of the booth.
- Mechanical ventilation is provided and interlocked with spray guns and fans to shut them off if the ventilation is cut off.
- Doors must be closed while booth is in use, and ideally, should be interlocked with spray guns to prevent spraying while the doors are open.
- Any overspray should be cleaned using non-spark-producing tools and/or solvents with a flash point of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use NRTL Listed waste cans with self-closing lids to dispose of rags and oversprayed combustible materials.
- Post “no smoking” signs throughout the area and make sure it’s strictly enforced.
- Portable heaters are not used inside spray booths or rooms.
Article by: April LaRita Green, Social Media Marketing & Project Specialist
No, not their restored 1971 Ford Pinto sedan or their new liquefied petroleum gas-fired combination grill, roaster and deep-fat fryer.
I’m old enough to remember when Ford introduced the Pinto and gasoline was 26 cents a gallon. During the “first” energy crisis in the 1970’s (when gas reached an astounding $1.50 a gallon, gasp!) many self-proclaimed inventors tried to find inexpensive alternative fuels. Some of their efforts ended tragically when the inventors’ plans went wrong while experimenting with volatile fuels.
When traditional fuels become expensive, inventors go to work trying to discover the “next big thing” that will make them famous . . . and rich. There often are risks that go along with the creativity, however.
Like many alternative energy sources, biodiesel is becoming more and more of a challenge for first responders. Whether it’s created from algae, waste cooking oils or some other biomass, the production of biodiesel has inherent risks. The problem lays not with the “legitimate” manufacturers, but the backyard tinkerers who may think they have the solution to the world’s energy shortages. We’ve seen similar hazards with ethanol, wood stoves and, to some extent, compressed gases.
Much of the small scale production occurs in private garages, barns and outbuildings outside the scope or awareness of local code officials. There have been many reports of fires and explosions resulting from unregulated experiments and processing.
Finished biodiesel generally is a Class IIIB liquid (flash point > 200°F), so it is a fairly stable product (Fuel Oil No. 2, the petroleum version that we put in our cars, is blended to have a flash point between 101°F and 140°F, depending upon consumer needs and market conditions.)
The hazards to first responders occur in the production phase. Manufacturing operations have significant hazardous material issues. An alcohol and a base are required to create biodiesel. Generally, methanol or ethanol is mixed into a solution of sodium hydroxide (the base) while being heated. This can be a significant event because of the heat of reaction, so it has to be performed at very controlled flow rates. If it is not properly mixed, an incompatible chemical reaction can cause a small deflagration. The mixing is performed to create an intermediate chemical called sodium methoxide.
Sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive. It can cause burning to unprotected skin and is particularly damaging to the eyes. Stirring the liquid often can produce a fine mist of liquid droplets. Severe irritation of the respiratory tract and breathlessness can occur if this mist is inhaled. Accidental swallowing can cause major damage to the throat lining and digestive system.
Methanol is a toxic and flammable chemical. It can enter the body through breathing in the vapor, direct skin contact or by accidental swallowing. It can cause nausea, dizziness and visual disturbances that can result in blindness. Swallowing small quantities could pose a significant health threat to the central nervous system and could also affect other vital organs. It is a cumulative poison and repeated exposure to relatively low concentrations could cause harm in the longer term.
Methanol has a flash point of 52°F, and when ignited burns with a clean clear flame that is almost invisible in daylight. Concentrations of greater than 25% methanol in water can be ignited. To control burning methanol, you should use a fine water spray or alcohol-resistant foam. Always wear full protective clothing that includes breathing apparatus.
When the sodium methoxide is added to the animal or vegetable oil, the biodiesel separates into the chemical family called an ester. The ester is formed by the sodium methoxide. This ester is the biodiesel. Generally the process also will produce a fair amount of glycerine, also a Class IIIB liquid.
Accidents in the biodiesel industry have included: methanol spillage igniting and fire spreading to storage tanks, people being burned by sulphuric acid due to poor training/supervision/suitability, small processors exploding due to accidentally switching on electric immersion heaters, pipework bursting due to using incompatible materials, adding methanol to hot oil and small fires escalating to large fires due to using plastic reactor vessels.
Have you seen biodiesel production operations in your first-due district? Have you noticed anyone with a surplus of metal or plastic cans and containers laying about their yard? Have you noticed the smell of fermenting grasses or vegetation? Any one of these could be signs of biodiesel experimentation or production. If you respond to one of these operations, conduct a good size up and fully assess the risks before attacking a fire.
For sources and additional information, go to:
Check out this video explanation of the biodiesel production process and associated risks.
For a comprehensive primer on biodiesel check out the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Article by: Robert Neale
Rob is the Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at the National Fire Academy, a division of the US Fire Administration. In this role he manages the development and delivery of National Fire Academy curriculum including the Coffee Break Training Fire Protection Series on usfa.fema.gov.
The decision to rate a lower level as a basement instead of a first floor can mean the difference between treating a building as class rated or specifically rated. For an insured, this can have an effect on how their premium is calculated. However, the distinction isn’t always obvious, especially in the hilly Northwest.
So here is a quick guide to how we treat lower levels in our loss cost reports:
- If the area of the lower level is less than 5% of the area of the first floor, it is not calculated in the total area of the building or considered a basement. It is just considered a utility room which has no bearing on the loss cost.
- A lower level should be rated as a basement if it is 50% or more below grade and not accessible through a doorway at grade level. By “accessible at grade level,” we mean that the ground and the floor of the lower level are at the same elevation and you can enter the lower level without walking down stairs or a ramp or changing elevation.
- If the surface area of the walls is more than 50% above ground, the level is treated as a first floor.
In this case, since you have to go down a ramp to the lower level, rate this as basement.
If in doubt, feel free to contact us. If you’re a WSRB Subscriber, log in to our website to order an inspection. The cost of Commercial Property Inspections is included in your Subscription; order as many as you want for no additional fees.
I was looking at newly built homes a few weeks ago, and during the tour the Realtor was telling me about all of the upgrades the builder offered. I asked if fire sprinkler systems were an option and she gave me a confused look and said, “No, why would they be?” I told her I feel more comfortable living in a home with fire sprinklers, and she said, “In my 25 years as a Realtor nobody has ever asked me about a fire sprinkler and, frankly, they’re expensive and don’t do anything.” She then changed the subject to the granite countertops and hardwood floors in the kitchen, saying they were an added expense but quite a luxury.
Talk about an added expense that doesn’t do anything!
The NFPA reports that over 2,300 civilian deaths happened in 2012 due to home fires, and according firesprinklerinitiative.org, the cost of home fire sprinkler systems has dropped to $1.35 a square foot. Fire Sprinklers lower insurance costs and can significantly reduce property damage in the event of a fire (sprinklers reduce the average property loss by as much as 70% in the event of a fire). In about 85% of home fires, only one sprinkler head is activated.
Some make the argument that newer homes are safer, so they don’t need sprinklers. If you factor in to the mix the lightweight construction new homes are built with (used in 50-66% of all new homes), which firefighters are much less likely to enter in the event of a fire due to their structural instability in high temperatures, sprinkler systems can help offset the risk of a total loss in your new home. Some studies have shown that lightweight construction can be prone to catastrophic collapse as early as six minutes from the start of the fire.
Why isn’t a smoke alarm enough? A smoke alarm will alert a resident to a fire but won’t do anything to extinguish the fire. While all homes should have operating smoke alarms (see our blog about how they work!) they’re simply a warning system to evacuate the house. It won’t stop the fire from hurting or damaging you, your children, pets, or valuables. One thing I’ve learned after being in the insurance and fire safety industry for a few years is how few people realize the advantages of a fire sprinkler system. If you do one thing today, I beg you to watch this Marble Mountain Fire Burn video done from a fire department in California. There are two links near the bottom: the first is a home without a fire sprinkler system, and the second is a home with one installed. Notice the temperatures the fires reach, and in such short periods of time!
When the realtor was finished parading the wonders of stainless steel appliances and three-car garages, I asked if those would save my children were a fire to start in the kitchen during the night. While perhaps I was being rude, I did notice that she didn’t have a response.
To learn more about home fire sprinklers, visit www.firesprinklerinitiative.org!
Many times I write blog articles focused on fire safety for those living or working in single-family homes or small businesses. But as I look at the construction going on in the cities of Seattle, Bellevue, and beyond, the truth is that there’s a good number of people who spend a part, or majority, of their day in high-rise buildings. So how does this affect fire safety?
First and foremost, you should always have an evacuation plan. Ask yourself, as you read this blog article, if a fire happened what would you do? Can you easily locate two ways to get out of your building? Each high-rise building in Seattle is required to have an emergency plan that is approved by the Fire Department. Do you know what your building’s plan is? Ask your building manager or floor warden to find out. All non-residential high-rise buildings in Seattle have a volunteer designated to train and know your building’s emergency plans.
- Don’t take the elevators. They are recalled to the lobby of the building in an emergency to keep them from being used by the building occupants.
- Don’t panic. Though you might be feeling frantic and afraid, a calm, orderly exit process down the stairwells is best for everyone’s safety.
- Most high-rise buildings are equipped with sprinklers. These should activate to help stop the spread of the fire and give you and your family or coworkers time to exit the building.
- If the fire is on a floor below you and you cannot evacuate, find a room with a window and a telephone, close the door and let people know you’re there.
- It is not generally advisable, according to the City of Seattle Fire Department, to break or open windows. Often outside smoke will enter the room and put you at risk as well as make it harder to rescue you.
- Block the gap under the door as best as possible. Shirts, towels, or anything you can fit in this gap will help prevent smoke from coming into the room.
- Place a warning signal in the window. The most effective signal is one that will call attention to the fact you’re in there.
- Review this plan periodically with your family or staff. Preparedness is the best way to remain safe in a fire emergency!
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, once you begin an evacuation continue it. During a real emergency many people are panicking, misinformation floats around, and general chaos and confusion can become very real. If you start down the evacuation stairs, continue. Go outside the building, meet in your designated meeting area, and confirm that you are, in fact, safe to go back inside. It is better to be overly safe than sorry.
I saw the movie Silent Hill a few years ago, at the urging of some friends. I’m not a big movie person and to be honest, I thought it was really awful. Afterwards, my friends and I went out for coffee and someone mentioned that they’d used Centralia, Pennsylvania, as the inspiration for the movie location and that most of the town really was still on fire. I started thinking back to scenes in the movie and wondering if what my friend said was true…awful movie or not, it was fascinating to me to think that there was a place on fire and that it couldn’t be put out! Being a child of the internet generation, I immediately went home and started googling. It turns out that Centralia, PA, isn’t the only town in America battling this problem of a fire they can’t extinguish.
A little background: Centralia, PA, is an old coal mining town in Eastern Pennsylvania. Its roots in American history go as far back as the 1740s, and mining operations in the area started as early as 1856. There is no real agreement about how it happened, but it’s agreed upon that in 1962 a fire somehow started in the coal mines below the city, which eventually led to the US Congress relocating all of its citizens and, in 1992, the Pennsylvania governor condemning the area.
What happened in Centralia, as it turns out, has happened in other areas across the United States and around the World: a coal seam fire. Also known as a mine fire, this is a fire that starts in an underground coal deposit, many times in a coal mine, that has a vast supply of fuel and is extremely difficult to gain access to, making it almost impossible to put out. It is estimated that thousands of coal seam fires are burning at any given time across the globe.
There are two types of mine fires: near-surface fires and those in underground mines. In a near-surface fire the coal seam extends up to the ground surface, giving it plenty of access to oxygen (all fires require three things: an ignition source, a fuel source, and oxygen). Underground mine fires generally start in just that, underground mines. The coal gives them a seemingly endless supply of fuel, they’ve had something to get them started, and they get oxygen from the ventilation system that extends up to the surface. Coal seam fires can get started in a variety of natural and man-made ways. Some can self-ignite given the right conditions; others start because of forest fires or lightning. Many believe the Centralia, PA, fire was started because of someone burning garbage at the town landfill. The landfill was too close to the abandoned mines and the fire spread. Sometimes these fires are started because someone running an illegal mining operation has tried to blow a mine up.
While Centralia, PA, may be one of the better known coal seam fires, there are others that have been burning far longer. In fact, there are coal seam fires burning on every continent except Antarctica!
My research also clued me into something dubbed “The Gate to Hell” in Turkmenistan. In the early 1970s, scientists looking for natural gas accidentally caused a ground collapse under their drilling equipment. In an effort to burn off the natural gas, scientists lit the area on fire expecting it to burn off in a few days. Forty years later, the hole is still on fire and the photos are pretty impressive. You can check them out here. While not a coal seam fire, it’s still fascinating to learn about the types of fires burning all over the planet and how long they’ve been around!
For some good reading on the possible environmental impacts of coal seam fires, check out this article by Time Magazine.
For other information on coal seam fires, check out these great reads: