National Association of Fire Marshalls Keynote Address - Thursday, July 22, 2010, Chicago, Illinois

julio 22, 2010

Good morning everyone. Chief Shuman, thank you for your kind introduction and for the opportunity to be among the leaders of the fire safety community in the United States.

 

The Chief and I met earlier this year, and I was so impressed with the policy, advocacy and education work being done by your Association on safe energy, sprinklers, and green buildings.

 

As the Chief mentioned, prior to taking the Chairmanship at the Consumer Product Safety Commission much of my life in public service took place in South Carolina - in the state legislature and running the state department of education. I truly valued during those years my relationships with the state fire marshal and with local fire departments. We partnered across the state on education programs aimed at instilling fire safe practices into children early in their lives.

 

As all of you know so well, the bravery shown by the men and women who serve on the frontline in firefighting and fire investigation is beyond compare. They are at the heart of communities small and large, and they have the respect of every employee at CPSC. But even more important than having our respect, they have our word that we will continue to use our regulatory powers to make their work less dangerous.

 

The mission of CPSC is defined as protecting consumers from unreasonable risks of death or injury from consumer products. The safety rules we develop and enforce also have benefits to firefighters and also to state fire marshals. We are working at a record pace.

 

As Chairman of the CPSC, I am committed to being your partner at the national level and strengthening the ties that already exist at the local level. Here are some examples:

 

In Nebraska, we promptly share records on incidents and investigations, and we promote fireworks safety through a joint fireworks stand inspection project.

 

In Pennsylvania, we signed a memorandum of understanding that gives CPSC access to investigation reports online that has been very helpful to us. This has sped up the transfer of vital safety information by four months per case.

 

In New Hampshire, the Office of the State Fire Marshal referred a case to CPSC's field investigator involving Electralog brand fireplaces. This case was part of a recall we did in March involving 700,000 plug-in wall units that can overheat and pose a fire and burn hazard to consumers.

 

These examples demonstrate that across the country our field staff is effectively collaborating. So although we have our differences on a few issues, there is much that we have in common.

 

Author and educator Henry Jackson Vandyke said, "Man is the only creature that dares to light a fire and live with it. The reason? Because he alone has learned to put it out."

 

When we consider the role of the firefighter, we see the truth in that statement; we have learned and perfected the ability to start a fire, however we are not always able to put it out fast enough. In your role as Fire Marshalls, you know about and see fire hazards that others either don't see, or choose to ignore.

 

Preventing fires from even starting and creating layers of fire safety protection that can minimize the impact on life and property is at the heart of your work and ours at CPSC.

 

I would like to share with you my vision of the fire safe home in the twenty-first century.

 

When talking about residential fire safety, we often focus on the dangers that certain consumer products pose to children and parents. This is understandable considering that there were about 400,000 residential fires and 2800 deaths in 2008, according to the United States Fire Administration.

 

Many of these fires were started by products found in millions of American homes - such as cigarettes, cigarette lighters, candles, gasoline and electrical products.

 

CPSC is working closely with standards organizations, testing laboratories, NFPA, manufacturers, and all of you to build a future in which a home in the 21st century puts up a stronger defense against potentially deadly fires.

 

Let's start with homes using gas water heaters. In years past we have seen tragic cases of deaths or life altering burn injuries involving adults and young children who have spilled gasoline or flammable liquids near a gas heater.

 

The result is a flashback fire.

 

Today, consumers can walk into most major home improvement stores and find residential water heaters that incorporate new technologies to prevent the ignition of spilled gasoline. The technology has added a little more to the cost of the water heater, but it provides untold savings in lives protected and burns avoided.

 

Water heaters with the new ignition resistant technology draw flammable vapors into the heater and burn them inside the appliance or it turns off the appliance to prevent ignition. Both approaches are effective in preventing a fireball from being sent back to the source of a spill.

 

In many cases the source of the spill is a child or teenager gaining access to and tipping over a gasoline container. Thanks to the passage of the Children's Gasoline Burn Prevention Act these portable gas containers are getting safer.

 

This federal law requires that all containers have effective child resistant closures and that they all comply with the ASTM F2517 standard.

 

Regardless of whether you have children, I want to encourage all homeowners to purchase the new and improved gas water heaters and gas containers.

 

Let's move now to the bedroom. The mandatory flammability standard for mattresses, which became effective in July 2007, was a victory for consumers, CPSC, and the fire services community.

 

With the potential to save as many as 270 lives per year and more than 1,330 injuries every year, the mattress standard is significant. So significant in fact that it was actually the first major rule ever completed - meaning it had more than a $100 million impact - ever completed by the agency.

 

The standard calls for mattresses to limit the peak heat release rate to 200 kilowatts during a thirty minute test. The total heat release is limited to fifteen mega joules within the first ten minutes of the test.

 

Simply, the mattress needs to have technology built into it that limits the spread and intensity of a fire so that individuals have more egress time and firefighters have more response time.

 

We are working very hard to enforce this standard on mattresses, the industry continues to work hard to comply with it, and we want all families purchasing compliant mattresses to add this layer of protection in all bedrooms.

 

Now a major ignition source, as we all know, is cigarettes. I agree with your Association that we need to remind consumers that "nothing that burns is completely fire safe." But a technology that is making its way into more and more homes is the reduced ignition propensity cigarette.

 

All 50 states have now passed legislation or have legislation that is already effective calling for the manufacture of cigarettes that are designed to self extinguish if left unattended. We will all be looking at the fire data closely over the next few years to investigate how well this innovation reduces fire deaths, injuries, and the destruction of property.

 

Let's expand out from the bedroom to all living spaces, as current building codes call for the installation of an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter on those electrical circuits. An AFCI is technology that can detect a dangerous break in the electrical system that could lead to a fire and shuts the system down.

 

Let me take a minute to recognize all of the state fire marshals, along with the Electrical Safety Foundation International, for joining forces with CPSC years ago to lead the way in supporting this technology.

 

An AFCI is an added layer of fire safety protection behind a home's drywall. Because an electrical wiring fire might not be detected until a home is fully engulfed, the AFCI has the potential to be life saving technology.

 

We encourage those with older homes and homeowners upgrading their panel board to look into installing AFCIs. This installation though should be done by a qualified electrician.

 

CPSC encourages families to work with their electrician to identify other circuits that would benefit from having an AFCI installed.

 

More homeowners these days are familiar with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. We have become so accustomed to seeing these shock-protection devices in the bathroom. What many homeowners do not know is that GFCIs are technology that can add another layer of fire protection above and beyond that of a normal circuit breaker.

 

CPSC encourages homeowners to place GFCIs throughout the house. Again, a qualified electrician should do the installation, but the added technology is added protection for a family.

 

The number one technology that the entire fire safety community advocates for is smoke alarms. CPSC strongly advises that smoke alarms be placed on every floor and in every bedroom. But what we are excited about at CPSC is that smoke alarms are getting smarter and helping save even more lives.

 

According to the National Fire Protection Association, about two-thirds of residential fire deaths and about forty percent of the home fires occurred in the four percent of US homes that had no alarm or no working alarm.

 

There is no debate that smoke alarms save lives. What so many of us are focused on is advancing smoke alarms so they are even more effective.

 

In 2003, CPSC began working with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. to find a way to make battery-operated alarms talk to each other using wireless technology.

 

Why is this important? Because if an alarm goes off in the basement and no one hears it on the third floor, the egress time decreases and the risk of injury increases.

 

Through radio frequencies, the Naval Research Lab and CPSC found an inexpensive way to have one alarm that signals all the other alarms to activate. And this exciting new smart technology has the potential to go a step further, by calling 911 or the homeowner's cell phone if an alarm goes off. Now wouldn't that be wonderful.

 

The goal with this technology is to provide a cost effective way to retrofit a home filled with independent smoke alarms and increase the escape time in case of a fire.

 

Research conducted by CPSC and others demonstrated that children younger than sixteen can easily sleep through the sound of an alarm and the elderly also may have trouble hearing the alarm.

 

As a result, new technologies and innovations have come to the market such as a smoke alarm that uses an audio recording of a parent's voice calling out their child's name to wake up in case of fire. And alarms that use strobe lights and lower frequencies to give the hard of hearing and elderly improved life safety.

 

CPSC, Underwriters Laboratories and others are continuing to research the effectiveness of these new alarms.

 

CPSC is, of course, very aware of the debate over ionization versus photoelectric alarms. Since the science and data supports both types of alarms, CPSC has guidance for consumers that keeps the focus on the need for working alarms in every home.

 

CPSC electrical engineer Arthur Lee, who is highly respected with the standards community, came up with a Good - Better - Best approach.

 

Good is: if you don't have a smoke alarm installed anywhere in your home, get one, and install it immediately.

 

Even better is: to install more than one smoke alarm, install interconnected alarms, and use ten year batteries.

 

And the best approach is: to install a working alarm on every level of the home, outside of sleeping areas and inside bedrooms. The best approach also includes installing both ionization and photoelectric alarms that are interconnected using house wiring, with battery back up.

 

We know that not everyone can afford the best approach and not every jurisdiction has a code that calls for the best approach. Yet, we came up with Good - Better - Best so that consumers, the media and local officials would not lose sight of the lifesaving potential that all alarms provide.

 

I also want to share with all of you that we have teamed up with the United States Fire Administration to fund a special research project that is aimed at developing a third generation smoke alarm that is highly advanced yet affordable.

 

We are very excited about what the future holds for making homes safer when it comes to mitigating the risk of fire. But CPSC still believes in the value of a trusted family escape plan. Parents and caregivers should take the time to hold late night practice drills on what to do and how to react in the case of a fire.

 

We advise parents to monitor closely how young children and older family members react to the sound of the smoke alarm. If they do not wake up and move promptly - either because they sleep through or do not hear the alarm - then an appropriate plan of action needs to be developed.

 

What that means is that an adult or older sibling needs to have a hands-on role in helping a young child or a grandparent move to safety, quickly.

 

Now I would be remiss if I did not mention the one technology that is referred to as, "having a firefighter in every room." Of course, I'm talking about sprinklers.

 

I would like to congratulate your Association, the NFPA, the Home Safety Council and others on a significant victory in the 2009 IRC. We are sure to see sprinklers in more and more single and multifamily homes, as jurisdictions adopt the latest building codes.

 

I am happy to announce that CPSC is actually headquartered in a county in Maryland that has been ahead of the curve for years and requires sprinklers in newly constructed townhomes and single family homes.

 

And I am proud to say that my home state of South Carolina is one of just seven states that have adopted the new sprinkler requirements for one and two family dwellings.

 

So to recap: gas water heaters, gas containers, mattresses, AFCIs, GFCIs, interconnected and smart technology smoke alarms, and sprinklers.

 

These are all products with 21st century technologies. Technologies that families should use in their home to build additional layers of fire safety protection.

 

Layers of protection that can form a winning combination in the fight to reduce fire deaths in America.

 

Now to help spread the word to families about the ways they can build a more fire safety home, I would like to recommend a few resources to all of you.

 

First is FireSafety.gov. This website was created through collaboration among CPSC, the United States Fire Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was built specifically for three audiences: families, the media, and the fire service community.

 

I ask that all of you link to it from your state websites. It is also a great resource for public information officers to help them focus on prevention when talking to the media about residential fire dangers.

 

Next, I would like to highlight a program that we run at CPSC called the Neighborhood Safety Network. NSN is an initiative that aims to take our lifesaving information and deliver it at the grassroots levels to underserved consumers.

 

We are realistic at CPSC that certain families either do not have access to traditional media or chose not to seek out information from the federal government. Yet, they still need to be informed and still deserve to be protected.

 

In turn, we came up with the NSN, which finds respected leaders in communities across the country and to receive new safety information. They then pass it on to their constituents or those in their community.

 

We currently have around 4,000 members, including tribal leaders in Native American communities, Boys and Girls clubs, health professionals, and yes, many fire stations.

 

The Network delivers timely safety alerts and safety posters -to members via e-mail, who then help with distribution locally.

 

I urge each of you to sign up your state office to be part of the Network and encourage local fire departments to join as well. The Network, of course, is free and very up to date.

 

When a major dishwasher recall that is a fire hazard is announced, we tell the members; when the holiday season rolls around, we send out a well designed poster about Christmas tree and holiday decoration hazards.

 

If you log on to CPSC.gov we have a link to the Neighborhood Safety Network on the front page.

 

The other service that the NSN provides to members is an online tool kit. The kit has downloadable information so that members can create their own safety campaign for fire hazards.

 

The tool kit currently features materials regarding carbon monoxide dangers, ATV safety, drowning prevention, child safety, safety for older consumers, and of course, fire safety.

 

So please join the NSN.

 

I would like to close my remarks by saying what a privilege it has been during my first year as Chairman to serve President Obama and to work on behalf of all consumers and families. It is also been a privilege to lead a small but incredibly dedicated group of public servants at CPSC.

 

CPSC stands for safety and that is best represented in our staff.

 

We are parents and grandparents, survivors and fighters.

 

We are an agency represented by people working in honor of children taken too soon and people whose own lives were almost taken too soon.

 

We have heart and we have talent at CPSC. We have specialists who are experts in their field - whether it be child behavior, fire safety engineering, chemistry, or administrative law.

 

We have field staff who drive hundreds of miles to interview a family who has lost their home to a fire or worse yet, lost their child.

 

We have port inspectors looking for that needle in the haystack as millions of products flood into ports of entry each day, using new technologies to hone in on violative fireworks, toys, and cigarette lighters.

 

And we have an expanded Commission. Not always unanimous in our votes, but all committed to keeping children safe.

 

A new Commission that also has new enforcement powers - and we are not afraid to use them.

 

Consumers expect CPSC to be proactive, put their interests first, use their tax dollars wisely, and be nonpartisan in our pursuit of protecting children.

 

Under my leadership this is what we are striving to do at CPSC and to do it in partnership with great organizations like the State Fire Marshals.

 

Once again, thank you for allowing me to be part of your annual conference. I am honored. I look forward to developing joint education initiatives, both nationally and within each state, and I hope to meet with many of you during the course of my travels around the country.

 

I hope you enjoy the remainder of your conference.