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Additions to Protection Class 9 Criteria Coming Soon

September 30, 2014

The Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau (WSRB) is revising some Protection Classes in Washington State to more accurately classify fire protection capabilities that reduce fire loss.

Through ongoing research in loss experience and fire department capabilities, we have identified the need for a change to WSRB’s Public Protection Classification Manual. This change affects dwelling properties only.

What is the change?

Currently a Protection Class (PC) 9 rating applies to dwelling properties within 5 road miles of only a recognized Class B fire station (see Figure 1). Class B fire stations meet minimum requirements for staffing, apparatus, and equipment.

Figure 1: current PC 9 rating situation

PC 9 classification will continue to apply to the above current situations, and it will also apply to dwellings over 5 road miles but within 7 road miles of a Class A fire station as long as there is a standard fire hydrant within 1,000 feet or the community receives WSRB Tender Credit (see Figure 2). Class A fire stations are staffed and equipped at a higher level than Class B fire stations.

7 mile rules

Figure 2: additional PC 9 rating situation, effective Nov 1, 2014

What is the effect?

These changes give PC 9 credit to dwellings over 5 road miles but within 7 road miles of a recognized responding Class A fire station and within 1000 feet of a creditable water supply. This class is property specific; not all properties in the 5 to 7 road-mile area will qualify. Dwellings not qualifying under these new rules will continue to be rated PC 9A.

PC 10 applies to dwelling property outside the boundaries of any recognized fire district or city.

When will these changes be effective?

These changes have been filed and approved by the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner and will be effective on November 1, 2014. WSRB’s website will reflect these changes to Protection Classes on this date.

Any questions? Please contact WSRB customer service at 206-217-0101 or customerservice@wsrb.com.

Northwest Residential Fire Sprinkler Summit

September 2, 2014

WSRB would like to encourage you to attend the Northwest Residential Fire Sprinkler Summit on Thursday, Sept. 18th, at the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, WA. This event is an excellent opportunity to get connected to the issues, the experts, the advocates, and the resources. CEUs are available.

See the flyer below for details. More information is available here.

Immediately following the event is a “Vendor Connections” exhibit showcasing the latest technology and resources. Stay until traffic subsides while enjoying the information, networking, appetizers, and door prizes.

On Friday, Sept. 19th, NFSA’s John Corso will be instructing a one-day class entitled “Residential Fire Sprinklers: Homes to High-Rise.” It’s a great opportunity to learn more detailed information about fire sprinklers and earn additional CEUs. Registration for this class is available at www.nfsa.org.

E-cigarettes and the Risk of Fire

August 19, 2014

How-Does-An-E-cigarette-Work

The first time you saw someone walking down the street smoking a glass tube with an electric blue or red light on it, you were probably taken aback. Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigs) are surrounded by controversy, but whatever your opinions on cigarettes and smoking, they have revolutionized an industry. Initially, it seemed, from a fire safety standpoint, if people don’t have burning objects in their hands, much of the fire loss associated with smoking can’t happen. (An estimated 90% of forest fires are man-made, with discarded cigarettes being one of the major causes, and over 1,000 home fire deaths every year are attributed to cigarettes.) Are e-cigs any more fire-safe than the traditional cigarette, and what exactly are they?

E-cigs are battery operated devices that allow the user to inhale nicotine via a vaporized nicotine substance (sometimes called “juice”). Not all e-cigs have nicotine in their juice and it’s up to an individual user if they want the juice to contain the nicotine.  A sensor placed inside of the e-cigarette senses when the user is inhaling and a microprocessor heats and vaporizes the juice thus allowing the smoker to inhale the vapor.  Because they’re battery-powered they need to be charged and can break. Rather than exhaling smoke, e-cig smokers exhale a vapor which provides the taste and sensation of smoking.

E-cigs are relatively new, so obtaining fire hazard numbers is difficult at this point. A quick google search leads to an article about one exploding in the UK, and another sparking a home fire in Oklahoma. But it appears the e-cigs themselves are not so much the issue as the lithium batteries contained within and the way in which they’re charged.

Thus far it would appear the numbers of injuries or deaths from the fire aspect of e-cigs is significantly less than those of traditional smokes. But if you’re an e-cig smoker, or contemplating switching to them, what safety precautions should you take?

  • Read the instructions! Know how your e-cig works, and don’t press the button to activate the cigarette for any longer than you need to. This can cause the atomizer (that makes the vapor) overheat.
  • Many electronic cigarettes are made to plug into walls and not vehicles.
  • Charge on a clutter-free, non-combustible surface.
  • Unplug the electronic cigarette once it’s fully charged. Because voltage can fluctuate, an over-charged device can actually result in parts of the e-cig blowing up.
  • Don’t leave your device unattended while it’s charging.
  • Look into getting a fireproof safety bag to use when you’re charging your e-cig battery.
  • Beware of the juice around small children and pets. If a small child or pet eats a traditional cigarette they’ll probably have a stomach ache, but recuperate quickly. E-cigs use a concentrated nicotine juice which can be fatal to pets and make children extremely ill. In fact, the number of animals dying from nicotine overdose has exploded since e-cigs have become more popular.

While e-cigarettes are not actively burning like traditional cigarettes they do pose their own inherent risks. Take care and be fire safe!

The intent of this article is to discuss the possible fire safety of electronic cigarettes. WSRB makes no comment on the health, use, or hazards of these devices nor does WSRB make any comparison to the health of traditional cigarettes or smoking.

Tracy’s Thoughts: Agents of Change

July 24, 2014

tracyI’ve always disliked that title. Or worse, “change agents.”  But you have to admit, they have a real ring to them: cutting edge, driver of newness, destroyer of… okay, getting carried away.

I first heard the term in the 1980s or 1990s at a seminar the company put on to teach all to be change agents. Drive the company to new heights and purge the non-believers. Maybe a bit much, but the name has this dynamic to it. Venturing into the bright new future and carrying the torch of progress!

I could never really figure out what they were wanting from us (I might have been a poor candidate).  All of the classes, hiding cheese books, and such were more and more of the same: things all around us were changing and we must keep up! The old phrase, “A keen perception of the obvious,” comes to mind. I recently saw another seminar (thankfully not from my company) that was touting the benefits of accepting change. There must be buckets of money in selling this stuff.

My father was a printer as far back as I can remember. He and his father printed some of the first Seafair programs, so I am told. Sometime in the late 1950s he traveled back east to see a new printing method that involved photography rather than type setting. Changed everything.

My first company job in insurance was in an underwriting department with World War II era double-pedestal wooden desks. Marvelous things. A few years after that we got cubicles and phones that did not have 5 buttons. Our claims sheets became printouts from this huge air-conditioned room in the basement with row after row of tape machines processing and storing information. Sometime in the late 1970s a monitor was slapped on my desk one morning and much of our stuff was showing up there and not on paper. It was called a “dumb monitor,” the only computer term I ever really liked. I invested in a company that made monitors at that time, my first venture into the stock market. The company stock went up like a rocket and blew up the same way. A bit later a new high tech company was coming along named Microsoft, but I was not going to be stupid twice…

A PC was mailed to me in 1989, I think. IBM XT. We unpacked it, stared at it, and tried to sort out what to do with it. That was resolved pretty quickly when my annual budget was mailed to me on a big old floppy disk on Lotus 123. Had to learn both to work on the budget; home office was not much help. About a year after that, we all had PCs and were linked to Home Office in one form or another. Everything was done on them. I now have a laptop computer that probably has the computing power to operate a moderate-sized country’s accounting system. I have also been issued something called a tablet that is like a computer but smaller and more annoying.

Continuing on this downhill trend, I made a mistake and bought a cell phone. My life is tied to the thing. The flip phone gave way to a Blackberry then an Android (there is probably some fellow making millions thinking up nonsense names that become commonly accepted) and now an iPhone. Bought it this year and find it has been replaced already by a newer, sleeker model.  You can’t even play golf and be away from the office. It gets emails so I have to deal with those everywhere I am. People don’t call, they email or now text. That is confusing, by the way: text is words, so everything is text, isn’t it?

I am not going to talk about the difference between my first car and the one I have now.

So what changes are they talking about that I am having trouble adapting to?

Our new series, Tracy’s Thoughts, is a once or twice-monthly smorgasbord of thoughts from our Subscriber Services Manager, Tracy Skinner. Topics will range from vending at conventions to the importance of insurance, and beyond! We hope you enjoy Tracy’s thoughts and stop by for more!

Unreinforced Masonry Buildings: A Hidden Danger

July 23, 2014

Did you know that almost 1,000 buildings in Seattle are constructed of unreinforced masonry (URM)? At first glance this sounds like a large number of buildings and a random fact, but once we understand the seismic dangers of unreinforced masonry this statistic suddenly becomes pretty frightening.

About 929 buildings in the Pioneer Square neighborhood and all around Seattle are unreinforced, and only about 15% of those buildings have had the necessary seismic upgrades to make them earthquake safe. So what’s the big deal?

A Little Bit of Background

During the early to mid-19th century, wood was plentiful and cities all over America were booming, especially on the West Coast. URM SeattleGold fever struck and Seattle became a major stopping point for those heading to Alaska, while Californians were discovering gold all up and down their state. Many cities needed a cheap, easy-to-acquire material to accommodate huge amounts of growth as quickly as possible. Forests were cleared and the wood was the obvious choice for building. This produced the results one might expect, and by the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, many large cities in America experienced huge conflagrations, sometimes multiple, that decimated city centers. Even Seattle had its own massive fire, joining Chicago and other cities – including Washington State cities Ellensburg and Spokane – who found they had to rebuild.

Masonry, whether it’s concrete, adobe, brick, stone, or otherwise, is relatively noncombustible, especially in comparison to wood. While the contents and combustible flooring within these buildings are susceptible to fire, the external structures themselves tend not to be. During the early 20th century, after most wooden cities had burned down, a majority of buildings were built of joisted masonry construction.  These buildings are still susceptible to fire due to combustible roofing (and combustible floors in multi-story structures), but they’re designed to fall in on themselves when they collapse and don’t spread fire to other buildings quite so easily. Masonry also helps keep a fire contained within a structure for longer, whereas fire easily spreads between wooden buildings. Many cities, after experiencing devastating losses from fires, decided to rebuild using masonry materials to help prevent future conflagrations. Seattle created ordinances requiring buildings in commercial districts to be built of stone or masonry materials, and this worked wonders in many communities as giant cities burning to the ground became a thing of the past.

Problem solved, right? Not so much.URM2 Many people know California is a hot bed of earthquakes, but Seattle is equally as likely to experience a devastating earthquake at any moment. Unreinforced masonry is notoriously brittle and lacks tensile strength. Tensile strength is a measure of how much stretching or pulling a material can withstand before it falls apart. Earthquakes, on the other hand, move the earth in all different kinds of waves causing structures standing on top of it to oscillate; that is, earthquakes cause structures to move and bend. When you combine a rigid, brittle structure with a moving, fluid foundation, you have a recipe for disaster.

It’s quickly becoming clearer why URM buildings in an earthquake-prone area are a huge problem. If we look back at a long string of earthquakes from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake all the way up to the 1994 Northridge quake, we can find examples of URM buildings suffering from complete collapse. In this picture, from the Long Beach California earthquake in 1933, you can see what happened to the Continental Baking Company building. It has completely collapsed and most likely anyone who may have been inside did not survive.

URM3

Photo Courtesy of Colorado.edu

An estimated 82% of URM brick buildings experienced more than minor damage, and 7% collapsed after the 1886 earthquake in Charleston, South Carolina. But all of these examples were a long time ago and far away from Seattle, right? How about we move a little closer to home: in 2001, after the Nisqually Earthquake (which was centered near Olympia, WA):

…buildings built before 1950 exhibited the poorest behavior. The most common damage included shedding of brick from parapets and chimneys. Other URM buildings exhibited diagonal ‘stair-step’ cracking in walls and piers, damage to walls in the upper stories, vertical cracking in walls, damage to masonry arches, and damage to walls as a result of pounding. In many cases, fallen brick resulted in damage to objects, such as cars and canopies, outside the building.” (Source)

The Nisqually Earthquake was a magnitude 6.8 with an epicenter located near Anderson Island, about an hour and a half south of the city. Imagine the damage had this earthquake been located closer to Seattle! If you look at the buildings after earthquakes in third world countries, including the one a few years ago in Haiti, you can see what utter devastation URM buildings cause.

What can we do? Going back to cities built from wood is not practical, and URM buildings are obviously unsafe. The solution, it ends up, is reinforcing buildings.

The Case for Reinforced Masonry Buildings

The entire west coast of the United States, and some states across the South, require that buildings are built using reinforcing structures (check out this publication by FEMA to learn more). Buildings can be reinforced using pre- or post-stressed concrete (sometimes referred to as pre- and post-tensioned) during the construction process. Existing URM structures can be retrofitted to give them the strength and stability they need.

How is it done? To start, they use steel and concrete. Steel is created when carbon is added to iron, and concrete is made when sand or gravel is added to cement and water. Steel can withstand a large amount of tensile stress, comparatively, meaning it bends and flexes rather easily. URM5Concrete can withstand compressive stress (meaning it can withstand force pushing down on it) and the combination of these two elements make both stronger than they would be alone. By using both in the construction of large buildings, the steel can withstand tensile stresses while the concrete withstands the compressive stress. These structures can also withstand weather and fire because of the concrete, and the concrete helps protect the steel from rust and heat.

What’s the difference between pre- and post-stressed concrete? In short, a pre-stressed concrete beam has tension put on it before it leaves the manufacturing plant. There’s a slight, but noticeable, arch to the beam. A “prestressing strand” made of steel is stretched across a casting bed. Generally about 30,000 pounds of tension is then applied to the cable and then concrete is poured on. After the concrete hardens and dries, the strands are cut. Why do they stretch and tension it beforehand? In an excellent demonstration by PBS, imagine a rubber band loosely held between two fingers.  Stretch the fingers apart and see how taut and pressure resistant the band becomes. The same idea holds true for the steel.  Pre-tensioning is normally done at a factory and then trucked to a jobsite.

Post-tensioned concrete slabs tend to be about 8 inches thick in residential construction and are created by laying out steel cables in a grid pattern inside tubes or ducts. Concrete is then poured around the steel cables and allowed to dry and harden to a certain specified strength. Once appropriately hardened, the steel is then tensioned and anchored to the outer edges of the concrete. The benefit of post-tensioning concrete is that it can be done at the job site, making it ideal for much larger structures.

While these are simplified examples of how it’s done, and no matter what method is used, adding the steel cables to concrete increases the overall strength of both materials in the structure. As we’ve stated this increases its fire resistiveness and ability to withstand earthquakes and helps protect the steel from rust and heat.

By increasing masonry’s tensile strength with steel, and by strengthening steel’s compressive stress abilities, modern reinforced masonry buildings are proving to be safer and more reliable in earthquakes while helping to prevent massive conflagrations in most major US cities.

Retrofitting – A Costly, But Worthwhile, Endeavour

Fortunately these URM buildings all over Washington State, and the country, are not just sitting ducks. Retrofitting, even 100 years after the building was constructed, is possible and it works. Many major US cities are undergoing retrofitting programs or are working with building owners to address these issues.

URM6The process is slow and requires careful consideration because retrofitting a building is, many times, prohibitively expensive. After the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001, the City of Seattle passed a ballot measure to retrofit 32 of the city’s fire stations that were not properly reinforced. Over $197 million in tax dollars were collected to upgrade these structures. Some building owners in Seattle have said that it may cost as much as $1.5 million to update a single building. No retrofit requirements are currently in force in the city, but that could change.

Why spend the money to retrofit? Unreinforced masonry buildings are prone to massive damage or collapse after an earthquake. If buildings are not reinforced prior to a quake, much of it may need to be rebuilt after. More importantly, however, is life safety. Retrofitting a building helps prevent damage or collapse, and keeping the structure sound means the people living or working inside have a much higher chance of surviving the shake. Find out the intention of the architect or engineer prior to starting on a retrofitting project. Life safety and maintaining the structure to help avoid costly rebuilds after an earthquake should be the priority.

What Does This Mean For Your Insurance?

Earthquake coverage is not included on a standard insurance policy in Washington State and must be bought separately. If you live in or own a business in a URM building and an earthquake completely or even partially collapses your business, home, or apartment, your regular policy will not cover you or your belongings for the earthquake damage. That’s pretty scary. Talk with your agent about purchasing earthquake insurance and make sure you understand the ins and outs. For example: fire-following is a common clause in most insurance policies which states that if your home is damaged or destroyed by a non-covered cause of loss, but a fire results directly from the non-covered cause of loss (example: an earthquake severs the gas line running into your home and causes your home to catch on fire) the damage from the fire is generally covered. Another example: relatives of mine bought specific earthquake insurance, and the deductible is 10%. If $500,000 of damage is caused to their home by an earthquake, they will have to pay $50,000 out of pocket before the insurance kicks in, and only the structure of their home is covered, not the contents. Talk to your agent. It’s always best to understand the coverage you’re buying and what it means before disaster strikes.

For more information on URMs please check out the following sites!

Article by: Kristen Skinner

Update on Forest Fires

July 21, 2014

Carlton Complex Fire:

The Carlton Complex Fire in the Methow Valley area of north central Washington State started last Monday after four smaller fires, sparked by lightning, grew into a large blaze. The fire was estimated at around 238,000 acres on Sunday with zero percent containment. Fire crews estimate as many as 150 homes have been destroyed but caution the number could be higher. With cooler weather moving into the area at the start of this week, crews are hopeful Mother Nature could help bring some relief. This relief map image, taken from PropertyEDGE, shows how the fire has expanded (black lines are the previous perimeter, and the orange lines are the current fire boundaries):

Carlton Complex Fire as of 7/21/2014

Carlton Complex Fire as of 7/21/2014

Phone services are down in many areas, including Winthrop, Twisp, and Pateros. Winthrop and Twisp are also under Level 2 evacuation orders, meaning residents should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. For more information on how you can help, please contact the Red Cross (local news station King 5 has partnered up with them: click here to learn more).

Chiwaukum Complex and Mills Canyon Fires:

Other fires are also burning along Highway 2 near Leavenworth and Chelan. Below is the latest information from PropertyEDGE. Information is updated by the US Forest Service.

Leavenworth and Chelan Area Fires as of 7/21/2014

Leavenworth and Chelan Area Fires as of 7/21/2014

Oregon Forest Fires:

The following is an aerial of forest fires burning near Mt Hood in Oregon:

Mt Hood Area Forest Fires as of 7/21/2014

Mt Hood Area Forest Fires as of 7/21/2014

WSRB would like to extend our most sincere and heartfelt thank you to the over 2,000 firefighters working long, hard hours to protect homes and contain these fires, and to the crews coming from surrounding states to help.

It is an exhausting, difficult, dangerous, and at times thankless job. We appreciate your efforts!

For more information on forest and brush fires and how you can help prevent them, check out these articles!

April Marks the Start of Wildfire Season

Tips to Prevent Brush Fires

For more information on the Carlton Complex Fire, click here.

Check out our website for more information on PropertyEDGE and how you can get access to these forest and brush fire maps, updated by the US Forest Service, or contact Tracy Skinner at 206.273.7146.

Article by: Kristen Skinner

Tips to Prevent Brush Fires

July 15, 2014

Brush Fire

We’ve talked a few times about forest fires and how to protect your property from them, but let’s be honest: as residents of Western Washington the idea of a forest fire is pretty remote from our minds, right? It’s something that happens near Chelan or in Spokane County.

And that’s true, isn’t it?

Not so much. Take for instance the brush fire that started along I-5 near Kent a couple of days ago (check out some pictures at KOMO News here). That fire was caused by a broken axle on a vehicle and while it only spread to 1.5 acres, it caused a 7-mile backup along the freeway.  Still nothing like Eastern Washington, but it shows how easily something could start here. In fact in May of 2013 a 60-acre fire burned in the Capitol Forest near Olympia and a 100-acre fire started in Lewis County.

What precautions can we, in Western Washington, take to help prevent a massive blaze? The same precautions folks elsewhere take! With our heat wave as of late and all the dense vegetation in our area it’s just as important that we act fire-safe.

  • Be sure nothing is dragging from your vehicle. Dragging items, like chains or metal rods, can create sparks which easily ignite dry brush.
  • Don’t throw cigarettes out your car window. Did you know that 90% of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans? Both discarded cigarettes and unattended campfires are the main cause. Lava and lightning only cause about 10% of fires.
  • Report brush fires when you see them. Even if it’s only a small burning patch by the side of the freeway it can quickly grow out of control. Call 911 and let them know the location so fire crews can contain it—don’t just assume that someone else has already reported it!
  • Don’t burn trash in your backyard without the proper permits. This can be especially dangerous during the late summer months when grasses and brush are extra dry. Brush fires don’t even have to touch the ground to spread. Just igniting the tips of grass can quickly spread a fire.

Brush fires can occur just about anywhere given the right fuel load and dry conditions. Using a little bit of extra caution can go a long way in helping to prevent fires!

Interested in tracking or locating current or historic wildfire or large brush fire information? Our PropertyEDGE program now incorporates a live and historic fire overlay, updated every time the government updates their maps! To learn more, contact Tracy Skinner at tracy.skinner@wsrb.com or by phone at 206.273.7146!

Article by: Kristen Skinner

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