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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Auto Business Burns in Commercial Structure Fire

13 Sep

Tuesday night while I was intensely watching “The Voice” on NBC, there was a sudden announcement take over from FOX 17 News stating there had been countless explosions coming from a local area between Madison Ave. and College Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. News reporters warned everyone that planned to drive through that area to stay home if they didn’t necessarily need to go that direction. Besides the backed up traffic, emergency response members were not sure what exactly caused the fire and whether or not it could be harmful to the environment and the surrounding community. The business that burned down was Lee Auto Export’s body shop.

According to the local FOX17 News article “Cleanup Continues at Burned Out Auto Business”, written by Jennifer Dowling, “Employees tried to salvage what they could as cleanup continued at Lee Auto Export’s body shop between Madison Ave. and College Ave. SE in Grand Rapids Wednesday. Workers also constructed a wooden wall where debris had fallen through a cement wall to protect the public from possible safety hazards. Flames reached up to the sky Tuesday evening from the body shop, located at 1515 College Ave. SE. Smoke could be spotted and smelled for miles. To add to the dramatic scene, some responding fire trucks were reportedly held up by a passing train for a few seconds.

Grand Rapids Fire Prevention Inspector Ric Dokter says someone waiting for that very train spotted and reported the fire. ‘A friend of one of the people who worked here called, waiting for the train saw the fire,’ says Dokter. Dokter says the chemicals inside used for body work made the fire even more challenging. “With the kind of operation they had here and with the flammable liquids, that was definitely a factor in making it difficult. Also the collapse buries a lot of the combustibles. So, when we pour water on it, we’re just pouring water on the outside, and not getting it inside. That also made our operations longer than they might be,” says Dokter.

“I got a call from Lee at around eight something when I was cooking dinner and that’s when it happened,” says Mo Pham, Lee Auto Export Sales Manager. “I went down there, I was shocked.” This wasn’t the first time a building has burned at the address. Pham says they’ve had another building destroyed like this by fire. “I had a building next to that building, a few years ago, and it got burned down too and it was bad. The other building we didn’t have no insurance,” says Pham.

“There was a building here, two to three years ago, but that was determined to be accidental due to cutting,” says Dokter. Pham says they learned from that fire and had insurance on the building itself, but not what was inside. “This one, I don’t have no insurance for the content either, we had like 15 cars burned, so there was a lot of loss there,” says Pham.

Some employees who came to survey the scene were emotional or concerned about perhaps losing their jobs. “This mostly just all total shock,” says Carl Jorgensen, inventory specialist for Lee Auto Export, “Really shocked that place went up in flames, worried about what building it was.”

Jorgenson says he saw his place of employment burning to the ground on Fox 17 News and decided to drive in and see for himself what had become of his workspace. “A sense of sadness on it, you know, that it happened,” says Jorgenson. Pham says there is security video that may help in the investigation. “We had like a camera recording, it looked like the fire started from the outside,” says Pham.

“It can point us in the right direction, look it’s a big building, and if we have a place to start it makes our job that much easier,” Ric Dokter, Fire Prevention Inspector. Pham says they will rebuild at some point or find another building to work out of, but she says some employees may be out of a job for now until they can figure out what to do. Jorgensen is hopeful he will be able to work out of the other buildings. “It’s just ungodly what happens because you know the people who worked in there, they have their tools in there, that’s their livelihood, lost all that, it can be replaced, but thank God there was no life lost,” says Jorgensen.

In 2011, there were 484,500 structure fires in the U.S. which is about 1 every 65 seconds…Of that amount there were 2,640 civilian fire deaths and 15,635 civilian fire injuries. These are very large numbers which are extremely costly, averaging about $9.7 billion in property damage. Fire prevention is an EXTREMELY important aspect of any business’ safety program. Please take your fire prevention programs seriously. And if you need help with your programs please check out Summit’s fire prevention programs. We have some really great materials! Check them out here!

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Twitter: Sara Wesche @SafetyTraining1, Stephanie Zizzo @SafetySteph


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Dowling, Jennifer. “Cleanup Continues at Burned Out Auto Business”. Fox 17 News. 12 September 2012.,0,4497355.story?track=rss

Karter, Michael. “Fire Loss in The United States During 2011”. National Fire Protection Association. September 2012.

101st Anniversary for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

28 Mar

Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Image provided by DOL

This week marks the 101st anniversary for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The US Labor Department helps to commemorate the fire by inspiring the public to visit a unique website that includes an audio tour and background on the significant event. The audio is narrated by Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis and various other Labor Department officials. It focuses on 21 different locations that played key roles in the March 25, 1911 fire. It also allows users to read and hear about events that led up to the fire, the victims that were involved, and what happened after it was all over.

While I was in school, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was one of the very first topics we discussed in our Occupational Safety and Health classes. After all, it was one of the first events that led to an increased awareness on basic health and safety precautions in the workplace. “In less than 20 minutes, 146 people were dead – some burned to death; others leaped to their deaths from 100 feet up – victims of one of the worst factory fires in America’s history. New York City and the state of New York, over the next few years, adopted the country’s strongest worker safety protection laws. Initially addressing fire safety, these laws eventually became model legislation for the rest of the country and state after state enacted much more strict worker safety laws.

Here is an excerpt for the US Department of Labor’s Shirtwaist Factory fire website:

About The Fire

“At 4:45 in the afternoon of the four-month anniversary of a fire in a Newark, N.J., which killed 25 people, fire broke out in a cutting area on the eighth floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in Greenwich Village, in New York city. Within minutes, the top three floors of the Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Street were engulfed in flames. Many of the staff, mostly recently immigrated Jewish and Italian women, some as young as 14, were trapped in a building that claimed to be fireproof. Some began to fall and jump from the windows. Police and firefighters from nearby stations were impeded by the bodies on the sidewalk.

The harrowing accounts ring as unnerving and as unsettling today as they were 100 years ago – groups of young women leaping to their deaths, a man dropping women out the windows, falling bodies ripping through the fire departments’ nets and gruesome accounts of bodies piling up on the sidewalk and blocking the fire engines, and inside, skeletal remains slouched over sewing machines and charred bodies piled up by locked and blocked doorways. A combination of callous management, overcrowding and hazardous work conditions, and ill-conceived architecture conspired to cut short so many lives.

The architect was given special permission to make only two staircases, instead of three. A flimsy iron fire escape that stopped at the second floor was passed off as a third staircase. Exit doors opened inward to the space, making it nearly impossible to open the doors amid the crush of panic-stricken workers. Managers often locked the exits to prevent workers from sneaking out for a break and to prevent theft. Those locked doors prevented workers from escaping the flames. Other exits were blocked with boxes of scrap fabric which had been accumulating for nearly six months.

A steady stream of workers filed out onto the fire escape which before long, collapsed under the weight of the people and the heat of the fire sending several people to their deaths from a six-story fall. Elevator operators worked feverishly to bring groups of workers to safety, 10 at a time. Still, some workers flung themselves down the elevator shaft to escape the flames, their bodies crashing onto the car filled with terrified escapees. Estimates peg the number of workers on those top three floors at 500 or more.

The fire fighters from local Ladder Company 20 arrived minutes after the flames erupted. Because the hoses were too weak and the ladders too short to reach above the sixth floor, the men simply sprayed the building in the hopes the mist from the water would cool the victims trapped above.

At a local police station, a makeshift morgue was quickly overwhelmed. Bodies of the fall victims lay where they fell, some covered with tarps, others exposed to the elements. Within 25 minutes, burned and broken bodies alike lined Green Street awaiting a friend or family member to recognize and claim them. Some would never be identified. Others were found by a mark on their stockings or a ring.

The Bellevue morgue became overrun and a nearby pier was employed as a makeshift morgue. Family and friends filed by the bodies in an effort to find and claim a loved one. It took nearly 100 years for all of the victims of the fire to be positively identified, with the final six identifications completed just recently”.

For more information check out the DOL website:

Prison Fire in Honduras Kills Hundreds!

15 Feb


The following article is from Time World’s AP Freddy Cuevas:

(TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras) — Trapped inmates screamed from their cells as a fire swept through a Honduran prison, killing at least 300 inmates, authorities said Wednesday.

Some 475 people escaped from the prison in the town of Comayagua and 356 are missing and presumed dead, said Hector Ivan Mejia, a spokesman for the Honduras Security Ministry. He said 21 people had been injured.

Dozens were trapped behind bars as prison authorities tried to find the keys, officials said.

Outraged relatives of dead inmates tried to storm the gates of the prison Wednesday morning to recover the remains of their loves ones, witnesses told The Associated Press. The crowds were driven back by police officers firing tear gas.

Channel 5 television showed dozens of inmates’ relatives hurling rocks at officers. “We want to see the body,” said Juan Martinez, whose son was reported dead. “We’ll be here until we get to do that.”

Comayagua fire department spokesman Josue Garcia said he saw “horrific” scenes while trying to put out the fire, saying inmates rioted in attempts to escape. He said “some 100 prisoners were burned to death or suffocated in their cells.”

“We couldn’t get them out because we didn’t have the keys and couldn’t find the guards who had them,” Garcia said.

Officials are investigating whether the fire was triggered by rioting prisoners or by an electrical short-circuit, said Danilo Orellana, head of the national prison system.

A prisoner identified as Silverio Aguilar told HRN Radio that someone started screaming, “Fire! fire!” and the prisoners called for help.

“For a while, nobody listened. But after a few minutes, which seemed like an eternity, a guard appeared with keys and let us out,” he said.

Hundreds of relatives rushed to Santa Teresa Hospital in Comayagua state to learn the fate of their loved ones, said Leonel Silva, fire chief in Comayagua, a town 90 miles (140 kilometers) north of the Central American country’s capital, Tegucigalpa.

Lucy Marder, chief of forensic medicine for the prosecutor’s office, said 12 victims were treated there and nine more in the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, bringing the total of injured to 21. “That’s why we think the death toll will rise,” she said.

Marder said it would take at least three months to identify victims, some burned beyond recognition, because DNA tests will be required.

President Porfirio Lobo declared an emergency in July 2010 in nine of the 24 prisons in Honduras. His security minister at the time called the prisons “universities of crime” that had been overwhelmed by overcrowding.

Keep Your Christmas Tree Safe This Year

20 Dec

It’s that time again, millions of people rushing around from store to store buying gifts for family and friends. While driving, it is very common to see tons of cars with Christmas trees on top. Christmas trees bring the spirit of Christmas right into our own living rooms. The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia in 1510. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas tree with candles to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night. By the 1890′s, Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany, and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling. The bigger the better here in the United States!

Putting up the Christmas tree really makes Christmas feel official. It sets the mood for the holidays and gets everyone in the holiday spirit. While finding, chopping, and decorating the tree may be among your most favorite things to do, it is also extremely important to understand the safety precautions needed when setting a tree up inside your home.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, natural and artificial Christmas trees start an average of 250 home structure fires each year.  These fires cause approximately 14 deaths, 26 injuries, and $13.8 million in property damage yearly. It’s hard to imagine a beautiful tree causing any harm, but it does happen. Here are some ways to stay Christmas-Tree-Fire-Free this holiday season.

The Stats:

  1. More than four of every ten home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems or malfunctions (44%).
  2. One in four (24%) home Christmas tree fires resulted from a heat source placed too close to the tree.
  3. 6% were started by children playing with fire.
  4. Holiday lights were involved in 16% of the home Christmas tree structure fires.
  5. Fixed or portable space heaters were involved in 6% of these incidents.
  6. Candles were the heat source in 12% of the home Christmas tree fires.
  7. Two-thirds of the home Christmas tree fires were reported in December, 20% were reported in January.

Safety Tips:

  1. Buy a fresh, green tree. Don’t buy one that looks like it is losing its needles; the drier they are the more easily they will ignite.
  2. Be sure to place your tree a good distance away from any heat source: fireplaces, heaters, ovens… etc.
  3. Make sure your tree has a constant supply of water so that it doesn’t dry out, and keep your pets away from the tree and its water supply.
  4. If you use an artificial tree, be sure its flame-retardant.
  5. When decorating your tree, always use safe tree lights. (Some lights are designed only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.) Connect no more than three strands of push-in bulbs and maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
  6. Throw away sets of lights that have cracked or frayed cords and loose or damaged sockets.
  7. Don’t overload electrical outlets or run extension cords, under carpets, across doorways, or near heaters.
  8. Unplug all decorative lights before leaving your home or going to bed.
  9. Keep a watchful eye on your children and pets when around the tree, and do not let them play with the wiring or lights.
  10. Never use lit candles to decorate a tree, and place them well away from the tree branches.

For more information check out USFA website.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

Have a Safe Thanksgiving This Holiday Season

21 Nov

Thanksgiving became an official holiday in the United States on October 3, 1863 via the proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln. It has got to be one of the best holidays celebrated in the U.S. There is tons of food, family get-togethers, complete relaxation, and great football. Families all over the United States spend hours, and even days, preparing for their Thanksgiving Day Feast. This year, before the cooking frenzy begins, take some time to familiarize yourself with a couple of tips on Thanksgiving Day Safety.

Fire Prevention: According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 4,000 fires occur on Thanksgiving Day. This is largely due to the fact that the amount of cooking nearly doubles during the holiday season. To prevent home fires, remember these safe practices:

  • Make sure all stoves, ovens, and ranges have been completely turned off when you leave the kitchen
  • Turn the handles of pots and pans inward to avoid children grabbing them and accidently knocking them over
  • If you decide to deep fry your turkey, keep it outside away from any walls or structures to avoid a very dangerous grease fire
  • Make sure to use a timer, and check your food frequently to avoid burning and smoke

Undercooked Turkey: Eating under-cooked turkey is another Thanksgiving Day hazard that should be taken seriously. Follow these safety precautions:

  • Take note that a turkey being thawed at a temperature above 40 degrees F has the capability to grow salmonella or other bacteria that can cause food poisoning
  • You should defrost your turkey to avoid bacteria; this can be done in water or in the refrigerator
  • Use a meat thermometer when cooking your turkey to ensure that it is reaching the appropriate temperature of 165 degrees F

Choking Hazard: The golden rule here is to not talk with a mouthful of food. It’s the holidays, and there is family around and stories to share, so talking and eating is not uncommon.

  • Do not talk and eat at the same time
  • Chew your food completely
  • If someone is choking, immediately call 911 and give 5 abdominal thrusts using your hands

Saving Leftovers: Thanksgiving Day leftovers are a must! Of course, with all that food, there is bound to be a big supply of leftovers. Make sure you take care of them correctly:

  • If stored incorrectly, leftovers can cause food poisoning
  • Food should be stored and put away within 2 hours after eating, this also includes your desserts.
  • If you plan on eating them within 3 days they go in the refrigerator, if you plan on waiting longer then throw them in the freezer.

Remember these simple safety tips for your Thanksgiving feast. Have a happy holiday and remember to relax and have fun! Check out this video on Youtube!

Source: eHow:

New NFPA 70E and NESC PPE Requirements Coming in 2012

18 Oct
The revolving door of regulations and requirements never stops turning in the world of safety. In 2012, the NESC and NFPA 70E will provide new PPE requirements for utilities and industrial electric workers. While reading the article “5 PPE Safety Challenges” by Hugh Hoagland, I discovered some new, interesting changes.NESC (National Electric Safety Code) Changes:

“The new NESC will require calculations or the use of new tables even for LV (low-voltage) work. The tables in NESC are arc flash calculation tables that give a range of energy levels for certain types of equipment and within a voltage range,” (Hoagland 9). Meaning that the NESC 2007 basic coverage will be changed. The NESC will make some strides in helping those with the calculations and tables, but they are lacking when it comes to guidance with the PPE.

Now let’s take a look at how NFPA 70E is going to help with the PPE challenge.

NFPA 70E (National Fire Protection Agency) Changes:

Because the new 2012 version of the NESC still won’t require face protection, NFPA 70E has taken it under its wing. “The NFPA 70E standard refined the arc flash hood to allow for balaclava/goggle assemblies” (Hoagland 10).  As I read in Hoagland’s articles, this is only going so far because the the HRC 3 (hazard risk category) and HRC 4 still require the bee-keeper style hoods with face-pieces. “The HRC 2 will include a balaclava under the face shield , eliminating the need for the HRC 2 as they are now the same,” (Hoagland 10). Also as an FYI a balaclava is defined now as a arc-rated hood that protects the neck and head except for facial area of the eyes and nose.

One of the greatest things about the safety culture is that we have the capability to fit the job to the worker and make necessary changes for the safety of the people. Keep a look out for these new changes in 2012.

Hoagland, Hugh. “5 PPE Safety Challenges”. iP Incident Prevention. Vol. 8. Issue. 5. October 2011.

Think Twice About Burning Yard Waste this Fall

21 Sep
Driving in the car this fall, you might smell something familiar… A rich, deep, smoky aroma that hits you as quick as it goes, the smell of plush overgrowing timber fills your head and then you suddenly realize what it is… burning leaves!! Man, do I LoOoOoVe that smell. I would wear it as a perfume if I could (Fun Fact: you actually can Ha! check here). Fall is here people, and while apple orchards and pumpkin picking maybe be on your list of things to do these next couple months, I’m sure that sending the kids out to rake up the leaves is probably at the top of your things-to-do list as well.

I have obviously just admitted my secret love for burning leaves, but unfortunately, burning leaves is actually quite harsh on the environment. With many landfills refusing yard waste these days, it makes sense why people may resort to making a leaf bonfire in the back yard. Let me share with you some of the concerns I found from the EPA that are associated with leaf burning, so that you can make a more educated decision before you light up your back yard…

  • The open burning of leaves produces particulate matter and hydrocarbons, which contain a number of toxic, irritant, and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds.
  • A substantial portion of the hydrocarbons in leaf smoke consists of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which are known carcinogens.
  • Leaf smoke also contains carbon monoxide.
  • The visible smoke from leaf burning is composed of tiny particles that contain a number of pollutants. If inhaled, these microscopic particles can reach the deepest regions of the lung and remain there for months or even years.
  • Breathing particulate matter can increase the chances of respiratory infection, reduce the volume of air inhaled and impair the lungs’ ability to use that air.
  • Particulate matter can also trigger asthma attacks in some people.

Well, if you can’t bag it and you can’t burn it, then what are you supposed to do? Bury it! Yes, that’s right; composting is a completely safe and environmentally friendly way of reducing waste. It is actually great for your yard and plants too!

For more information on composting and burning leaves check it out here!


NFPA Takes a Second Look at the Safety of Americans After 9/11

14 Sep
In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, NFPA began a widespread effort to strengthen codes and standards for first responder safety, the building environment, emergency preparedness, and more.  Ten years later, these efforts are still continuing… and they’re making America safer.There are three focal areas in which the National Fire Protection Association brought about large gains in safety and readiness as a direct result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. An articlein the September/October 2011 issue of the NFPA Journal cites the three as:

  1. Communications and interoperability for emergency responders,
  2. High-rise building safety, and
  3. Emergency preparedness

NFPA President James Shannon says, “9/11 will always be considered one of the worst days in American history, and it will also certainly be one of the most important days in the history of NFPA because of our long, forceful advocacy of preparedness, further safeguards to the built environment, and support for emergency responders that followed the attacks, NFPA has been a very important part of the country’s effort to do everything we can to prepare, in case anything like 9/11 ever happens again” (Durso).

Some of the specific improvements made by NFPA include:

  1. A new NFPA committee that will show special interest in building codes and lift safety in high rise buildings
  2. Firefighter personal protective equipment has been reevaluated to make sure all breathing apparatuses protect against any chemical or radiological hazards
  3. The NFPA 1600, Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Program, has been revamped and put into service to help public safety be prepared
  4. NFPA 1981, Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, now requires all SCBA gear to adhere to certifications that provide respiratory protection against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks.

For more information check out NFPA 1600!

What makes NFPA’s work since 9/11 so important is the modern urban imperative for building vertically… to make things bigger and better.  This is also why issues around high-rise buildings — design, construction, protection, evacuation, and more — will continue to be an important focus for the organization for years to come.  The efforts at NFPA and elsewhere will be ongoing and are designed to improve the safety of high-rise structures, as well as the safety of those who occupy them and of the emergency responders who arrive when something goes wrong.

Durso, Fred. “A Decade of Difference”. NFPA Journal. September/ October 2011.


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