Author(s): Fred Durso. Published on March 1, 2011.

Hot Seat
Fire chief stands by his decision to keep fans from unsafe seats during the Super Bowl

Only hours before the coin toss commencing Super Bowl XLV on February 6, the contractor overseeing the installation of 15,000 temporary seats at Cowboys Stadium approached Don Crowson, the fire chief in Arlington, Texas, about the incomplete project. "He came up to me and said, ‘We’re not going to make it. We’re done. We’re out of here,’ " Crowson says.

Another on-site construction company filled in, but its efforts didn’t satisfy Crowson’s apprehension over 400 seats in the stadium’s upper west concourse and another 850 in the north and south concourses. Lack of guardrails and handrails, incomplete exit ramps, and structural concerns with the stands led to the closure of these sections — a decision by Crowson that upset 400 fans who paid as much as $1,200, according to some reports, only to be displaced to standing-room-only areas without a view of the field. The remaining 850 were relocated to similar or better seats throughout the stadium.

"People on site were blaming the fire chief for this decision, and I’m happy to take that blame because it kept people safe," said a fatigued-sounding Crowson, who spoke with NFPA Journal via phone just minutes after holding a contentious press conference with local media on the issue. "My responsibility to the public is safety. We don’t compromise on safety — ever." 

Seating construction at the 80,000-seat stadium began the week after the Cotton Bowl on January 8. Combining the temporary seating with viewing areas outside the venue, the Cowboys organization hoped to set a Super Bowl attendance record. Crowson said his department was constantly monitoring the project and became increasingly concerned that the contractors wouldn’t finish on time. He sent a notice to the Cowboys organization and to Cowboys Stadium general manager Jack Hill on January 27, outlining structural loading issues and stands without guardrails and handrails.

"These were issues of concern that the fire department weighed in on considerably to make sure the stands were safe from an emergency egress and general safety perspective," Crowson says. "We were very clear with the Cowboys organization and the NFL about all of these life safety issues. Those issues were not negotiable, and they understood that."

The department, Crowson adds, had spent years developing an operational plan for the Super Bowl that prepared it for an array of contingencies, from weather emergencies to mass-casualty events, and that allowed it to resolve the seating issue quickly, however unpopular it was with fans. "Oftentimes, we are faced with difficult decisions, such as the one Chief Crawson faced in this circumstance," says Texas State Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado. "He made the right decision, though a difficult one, in the best interest of public safety."

The Associated Press reports that attendance fell about 770 short of surpassing the record of nearly 104,000 fans for Super Bowl XIV in 1980, which was held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

The NFL has offered the 400 displaced fans a choice of either $2,400 and a free ticket to next year’s game; a free ticket to any upcoming Super Bowl plus airfare and hotel accommodations; or $5,000 or a reimbursement of expenses incurred, whichever is greater. Some ticketholders have filed a $5 million, class-action lawsuit against the NFL, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and his team. 

"It’s unfortunate that some folks didn’t get to sit in those areas, but I’m very happy that everyone went home safe," Crowson says. "I’ve received emails from across the country — including emails from fans that were in the stands — supporting my decision. I’m very pleased with that. People expect their fire department and fire chief to be watching out for them, and that’s exactly what we did."  

— Fred Durso, Jr.

100 Years of Weeks
The centennial of a landmark law to minimize the impact of forest fires

The month of March may be dominated by the centennial of the Triangle Waist Co. fire but it’s also the 100th anniversary of the passage of one of the most important pieces of wildfire-related legislation ever created. 

Logging practices like this slash cut in New Hampshire's White Mountains could have disastrous consequences.

When President William Howard Taft signed into law the Weeks Act, on March 1, 1911, he allowed for the creation of 52 national forests on 25 million acres spanning 26 states, land that would be permanently maintained as federal forest reserves in order to protect navigable waterways and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires.

Prior to the law’s passage, large-scale logging on forest lands made those areas susceptible to fire and erosion. Activist groups concerned about losses to tourism and business opportunities spearheaded efforts to prevent further land degradation. Congressman John Weeks of Massachusetts introduced the legislation, which initially appropriated $9 million to purchase six million acres of land in the eastern U.S. The effort bogged down, until the devastating "Big Burn" of 1910, which destroyed more than 3 million acres in Idaho and Montana, killed 80 firefighters, and helped swing public opinion in favor of land protection.

"The Weeks Act inspired U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) programs and initiatives in existence today," says Colleen Mainville, public affairs specialist for the White Mountain National Forest headquartered in Campton, New Hampshire. "USDA and USFS leadership continue to work closely to foster forest restoration treatments that reduce the wildfire risk, enhance fish and wildlife habitats, and improve water quality."

For more information on Weeks Act centennial celebrations, visit

— Fred Durso, Jr.

Staying Charged
More car makers join NFPA’s electric vehicle training program. Plus, a new conference on the codes and standards supporting EV electrical demand. 

Nissan, the creator of the fully electric LEAF debuting in five U.S. cities this year, has partnered with NFPA’s EV Safety Training Project, which links first responders with comprehensive, online information and on-site courses about these vehicles. NFPA is currently assisting Nissan with revising and disseminating the LEAF’s First Responders Guide, as well as a related video.

Ford will develop a similar guide for its Focus Electric, debuting in 19 cities later this year; Tesla Motors has received fire service statistics from NFPA that will aid in the development of new EV models; and General Motors, which recently wrapped up its nationwide training tour of the Chevy Volt with assistance from NFPA and motorist-assistance company OnStar, has handed off all training pertaining to this vehicle to NFPA. Nearly 2,000 first responders attended the GM events.

NFPA’s site,, will include all manuals and serve as a central repository for all instructional materials, including self-paced courses appearing this spring. 

"Things are moving at a rapid pace, and it’s very exciting," says Andrew Klock, NFPA’s senior project manager for the project.  "I’m pleased with how the different parts of the project have coalesced."

For the latest EV news, visit NFPA’s new blog at

April EV conference
NFPA is the lead sponsor for the Standards and Codes for Electric Drive Vehicles Workshop April 5-6 in Bethesda, Maryland. The event, developed by the American National Standards Institute on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Idaho National Laboratory, serves as a follow-up to last year’s Safety Standards Summit that addressed safely preparing the electrical infrastructure for an increased demand in electric vehicles.

"This event will bring further clarity on what codes and standards are needed to fill gaps, and what modifications to existing standards are necessary to support the distribution of EVs across the country," says Christian Dubay, NFPA vice president of Codes and Standards and chief engineer.

On deck during the conference is an overview of the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s report, available at, outlining the significant themes from last year’s summit and panel discussions on the international EV landscape. Breakout sessions will discuss concerns currently not being addressed by the standards, fostering greater collaboration among various stakeholders, and identifying the significant standards barriers preventing widespread acceptance and deployment of EVs.

For more information on the conference, visit

— Fred Durso, Jr.

Pet Projects
An array of organizations donate animal oxygen masks to fire departments

A Cleveland resident found his home in flames when returning from a quick trip to the store. A malfunctioning microwave sparked the kitchen fire, which prevented the man from rescuing his dogs: a Pomeranian, a Jack Russell terrier, and their four puppies, only nine days old.   

Cleveland firefighters whisked the animals out of the house, but Honey, the terrier, and her babies remained unresponsive. Rescuers immediately hooked the animals’ muzzles to specialized oxygen masks for pets that were donated to the department by Invisible Fence Brand, a company specializing in electronic pet containment. The devices, now at every Cleveland fire station, resuscitated the dogs.

Similar saves and handouts are occurring nationwide, thanks to a number of organizations supplying fire departments with these oxygen kits. The kits typically include masks in three sizes, to fit a range of cat and dog snouts, and provide a better enclosure and flow of oxygen than masks designed for humans. Since many departments don’t have the funds for such purchases, the donations can be a literal lifesaver.    

Pet industry estimates indicate that 40,000–150,000 pets die from fires each year. The statistic spurred Invisible Fence Brand to partner with state veterinary associations that equip cities with the masks bought from an outside supplier. To date, the company has donated 5,400 masks to seven cities including Chicago, where every rescue unit and fire department received an oxygen kit last year. "Our goal is to equip every fire department in the U.S. and Canada," says Laura Wright, the company’s director of marketing.

Petplan, a cat and dog insurer, donated 40 kits to interested fire departments last year. Pets America, an organization providing pet first-aid workshops and guides on animal welfare, used monetary donations last year to purchase 135 kits for departments in 24 states.

In Boston, every engine, ladder, and rescue truck now has an oxygen kit, supplied last year by the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association Charities and WellPet, a natural pet food company. "We didn’t have any money in our budget to purchase the 60 masks," says Commissioner Roderick Fraser of the Boston Fire Department. "A lot of people consider their pets a key member of the family. If there’s anything we can do to save a pet, we’ll do it."

— Fred Durso, Jr.

Lesson Learned
A sprinkler course meets requirements by the NAHB

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) now offers credits for a sprinkler installation course highlighting provisions in NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes.

Developed by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) in 2008, the free lesson, available at, includes an overview of sprinkler operations, installation, life safety benefits, and key data from the FM Global report, "Environmental Impact of Automatic Sprinkler Systems," released last year. AEC Daily, a provider of online continuing education programs for construction professionals, is delivering the course.           

NAHB joins the American Institute of Architects, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, and 10 other organizations that have approved the course for continuing education credits. To date, more than 950 engineers, fire service members, and building inspectors have completed the hour-long lesson. "We are pleased to see continuing support for the homebuilding industry’s growing interest in the important topic of home fire sprinkler protection," says Gary Keith, NFPA’s vice president of Operations and Education and HFSC board chair.  

The program meets NAHB’s continuing education requirements for the following designations: Certified Graduate Associate, Certified Graduate Builder, Certified Graduate Remodeler, Certified Green Professional, Graduate Master Builder, Graduate Master Remodeler, and Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist. 

The course has also opened the door for new partnerships with NAHB, including an HFSC webinar this year for NAHB’s 50+ Housing Council, which offers educational and networking opportunities for members serving the older adult housing market. For more information, visit

— Fred Durso, Jr.

CPR? Yeah, There’s An App for That
If you know cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), there may be an app looking for you. 

A new iPhone app called "Fire Department" alerts ordinary citizens trained in CPR of nearby cardiac emergencies, offering the possibility of prolonging a life until emergency personnel arrive. When an emergency is called in, an automated system uses location-aware technology to alert all app users in the area with a push notification and unique alert tone. The app provides the user with directions to the victim’s location, as well as that of the nearest automated external defibrillator (AED). Users can download the free app at the Apple App Store (

The app, developed in partnership with the Center for Applied Informatics at Northern Kentucky University, currently only works in the San Ramon Valley (California) Fire Protection District. Other fire departments across the country are looking into applying the app to their districts, however, and the San Ramon Valley Fire District plans to give away the technology it helped develop to other interested agencies. A software company has volunteered to develop the app for the Blackberry and Android smart phones.

"This is probably the most important app ever written," says San Ramon Valley Fire Chief Richard Price, noting that the time frame for saving someone in sudden cardiac arrest, for example, is about 10 minutes. "CPR stops the clock and buys time until advanced care can arrive."

For more information, visit

— Jon Palmer