Volume No. 15 Issue No. 9 September 2018  

  Marijuana grows: danger to firefighters
  By Robin Widmar

     According to “The New Face of Pot” by Jesse Roman, published in the July/August 2018 NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Journal, the rapid expansion of the marijuana industry has created challenges for fire departments dealing with legal marijuana growing and processing operations.
   Fire codes did not specifically address the various aspects of the marijuana industry until recently. Recognizing that most fire agencies have never dealt with marijuana businesses, the National Fire Protection Association published a new chapter in the 2018 version of NFPA 1, Fire Code, to help fire authorities navigate issues surrounding marijuana growing, processing and extraction facilities.
   Whether or not a particular marijuana production operation is legal, the hazards resulting from the cultivation and processing of marijuana can jeopardize firefighter safety. Illegal grows can pose significant hazards since they are unregulated and likely unknown to firefighters. According to the Falcon Fire Protection District, in 2016, its firefighters responded to a fire at a home where large amounts of marijuana were being grown. Inside the single-family residence, firefighters encountered improvised electrical wiring and a hodgepodge of flexible ventilation ducts that had the potential to entrap firefighters. This was the first fire involving a marijuana grow to which Falcon firefighters had responded. Since then, they have encountered large-scale marijuana grows at three other structure fires.
   The fire service has been working to educate firefighters about recognizing potential grow operations and understanding the hazards they pose to firefighter safety. Several recent articles in fire service publications cite various hazards that firefighters can expect to encounter inside structures where marijuana is grown. These include, but are not limited to
  • Improvised electrical systems, shoddy wiring, high electrical loads and overloaded circuits, and electric meters that have been bypassed to avoid detection of significant electricity usage or paying large bills
  • Modifications that weaken structural integrity, promote rapid fire spread and can cause structural collapse more quickly under fire conditions
  • Wood structural components (joists, flooring) that have rotted from high moisture content and can fail during a fire
  • Entanglement hazards such as overhead lighting, flexible ventilation ducting and wiring that can fall during a fire
  • Exposure to chemicals used in fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides
  • Significant quantities of flammable gases and solvents such as butane, propane or acetone used in extraction or to fuel equipment.
  • Exposure to carbon dioxide, which is used to increase crop yields
  • Exposure to mold
  • Pressurized cylinders containing propane or carbon dioxide
  • Obstructed or hidden entrance and egress routes

   (Sources: NFPA Journal, Fire Engineering magazine, Firehouse magazine)
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