Fire Protection Working Group Puts Focus on Audits and Training
Fire protection engineers in NASA’s Fire Protection Working Group (FPWG) met at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, June 3-6 for its annual face-to-face meeting.
After center and policy status updates, the group turned to Institutional, Facility and Operational (IFO) Safety Audits. Members looked at trends in fire protection findings, as well as in related areas like electrical safety and facility system safety. The group was interested in learning what the working groups in these related areas had done to address their findings and improve their program areas.
Members also reviewed some specific fire protection audit findings to determine if they were more of an observation (a low-level finding), or if they truly qualified as a noncompliance, a critical noncompliance or a catastrophic noncompliance.
“It will help us improve the consistency of the audits and help the people being audited with better guidance,” explained Gerald Schumann, institutional safety program manager at NASA Headquarters’ Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.
Reviewing audit findings also ensures the appropriate fire protection problems are being addressed throughout the agency.
“After a concern has been identified and elevated to the highest level, it gets addressed,” explained Jerry Piasecki, NASA Safety Center operational safety team lead and FPWG technical delegate. “Audits give the visibility for the concerns to get addressed.”
The group wrapped up IFO discussions with a review of the fire protection minimal audit points. IFO Safety Audits use a long checklist of specific requirements, all of which can’t be reviewed during every audit. The minimal audit points are the items that must be checked at every audit to ensure a safe workplace. Members evaluated and updated this list to make sure the right things — things that will improve the fire protection program — are being audited.
“If we have the right checklist and truly go center to center and use the same list, we can learn more easily from our mistakes and share best practices,” said Piasecki. “Without the right checklist, we can’t do either of these things.”
Training: Learning From Outside Specialists
The meeting also included training from outside specialists. The group invited Jason Sutula, a fire protection engineer from Exponent Engineering, to teach members about different fire protection models, their downfalls and what questions to ask when reviewing various options. Computer fire models simulate real-life scenarios and demonstrate, based on a proposed building design, how a specific building would perform during each situation. Centers frequently are presented plans by architects and engineers for new buildings or remodels based on data obtained from a computer fire model. Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) at each center are tasked with reviewing and approving these proposals. Sutula’s training will help the AHJs, who are working group members, make educated decisions and ask the appropriate questions when evaluating plans.
Joe Simone, lead fire protection engineer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), shared details of the NAVFAC fire protection program. Specifically, he talked about Unified Facilities Criteria, a common standard used by the Department of Defense and other agencies, and the Unified Facilities Guide Specifications. NASA currently uses the guide specifications, but has its own policy. Simone reviewed pros and cons to the shared policy to help the FPWG have a better understanding should NASA ever choose to adopt it. Currently, the FPWG is investigating the possibility of making this training available in SATERN for other safety engineers who may have a vested interest in computer fire modeling.
The meeting ended with a planning session for the upcoming year. The group hopes to expand its working relationship with the Facilities Engineering and Real Property division at NASA Headquarters to better understand how facilities project funding is determined and how contracts are awarded. Funding greatly influences what changes and improvements can be made. By understanding the division’s decisions, the group can better plan for future changes for fire protection.
“The smarter we can be about how Facilities funds things, the better off we’ll be,” explained Piasecki.
The Fire Protection Coordinators Group, the working group’s informal predecessor, was formed more than 15 years ago to foster community building and collaboration. NASA's new Fire Protection Working Group — chaired by Schumann — was established in 2013 and facilitates collaboration and resource sharing between centers. The group is responsible for reviewing and updating NASA’s fire protection policy, as well as working with IFO safety auditors to evaluate and address common audit findings and consult on their causes and potential solutions. The group also focuses on continued education for NASA’s fire protection engineers to ensure a strong and consistent skill set agency-wide.