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A Fire That Changed NFPA Codes Essay

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Updated: Jun 18th, 2019

The rules and regulations set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) evolved in the course of more than one hundred years. In part, these changes were a response to disastrous fires that could be avoided or at least minimized, if proper rules and regulations had been in place. The Southwest Boulevard Fire was one of such events. It affected many safety procedures and the rules to which firefighters have to adhere. This paper will discuss the impact of this event on the code of the National Fire Protection Association.

This fire broke out in Kansas on August 18, 1959 (Burke 129). It occurred at the premises of the Continental Oil Company and began to spread very quickly. The flame could threaten other streets and the fire itself was very difficult to extinguish because of extreme heat, humidity, and flammable liquids, namely oil and gasoline. The tanks containing these liquids began to explode, and this circumstance made the work of firefighters extremely difficult.

This fire caused the death of five firefighters and one civilian (Burke 129). This tragic event changed many codes of NFPA; one can say that it illustrated the deficiencies of the existing NFPA code, especially if one speaks about the storage and transportation of inflammable liquids or materials. New regulations had to be imposed; otherwise such fires could result in more deaths and losses.

First of all, the National Fire Protection Association organization had to pay more attention to the way in which flammable liquids like gasoline or oil are stored. In particular, new regulations required service stations to keep storage tanks with such liquids underground (Burke 129).

This requirement is particularly important for service stations that are located within urban areas because any combustion of their tanks can result in the quick spread of fire to other buildings. Moreover, it can pose a threat to the lives of many people. Thus, this fire showed that companies that are working with gasoline or oil must ensure the safety of the public and store such tanks below the ground level.

Admittedly, there are a few cases when NFPA permits aboveground storage of flammable liquids; however, these tanks have to be kept in the vaults that are specifically designed such purposes (NFPA 17). Overall, these regulations are aimed at ensuring that the combustion of one tank will not result in the combustion of another tank. If this safeguard had been in place before 1959, the Southwest Boulevard Fire could have been averted. At least, it would have been easier to extinguish this fire.

Moreover, NFPA code states that organizations should restrict public access to inflammable liquids or materials (NFPA 30). The main danger of the Southwest Boulevard Fire was that other buildings could also catch fire. New provisions of NFPA codes were aimed at reducing such risks. Furthermore, these changes were supposed to make the work of firefighters easier. Organizations were required to store tanks with inflammable liquids in such the locations that are easily accessible to firefighters.

The Southwest Boulevard Fire eloquently demonstrated that firefighters could imperil their lives in those cases when they could not easily approach a burning tank. To a great extent, these specific regulations were a direct response to the Southwest Boulevard Fire. After this event, it became apparent that many more lives could be imperiled if there are no proper regulations.

This fire resulted in another change in the NFPA code. In particular, firefighters themselves had to meet new professional standards and follow more strict rules. First of all, these people had to wear full turnout gear because during the Southwest Boulevard Fire suffered severe burns (Burke 130).

Certainly, this rule existed before this fire, but this even highlighted the importance of this requirement. Furthermore, these professional were required to approach the tanks with inflammable liquids from the sides, rather than from the ends because only in this way, they would be less exposed to burning liquid (Burke 129). Thus, one can say that the Southwest Boulevard Fire affected the strategies of firefighters.

One should remember that the casualties caused by the fire could be partly explained by the lack of any procedural guidelines for coping with such situations. Thus, this problem had to be addressed by professional regulators. Surely, this fire can be viewed as a real tragedy; however, it helped to save many lives in the future, although the cost was very high.

This discussion shows a single event can highlight the limitations of existing rules and standards. The Southwest Boulevard Fire showed that the storage of inflammable liquids posed a significant threat to the entire community. It did not affect only the companies that handled or sold them.

The changed in NFPA code were supposed to reduce the risks of such fires or at least mitigate their effects. Moreover, it has been shown that the firefighters had to act differently when facing such situations. Thus, one can say that the development of the NFPA code was influenced by separate events such as the Southwest Boulevard Fire.

Works Cited

Burke, Robert. “The Southwest Boulevard Fire: Kansas City Remembers A Tragedy.” Firehouse 34.12 (2009): 128-132. Print.

National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code. PDF file. Web.

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