State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan and Arlington Fire Chief Robert Jefferson want to alert the public that when using certain flammable liquids to finish wood floors, the fire department must be notified 48 hours in advance and, in buildings with four or more units, a permit obtained.
“Over the past several years there have been several tragic fires stemming from the many fire hazards that the floor finishing process poses,” said Chief Jefferson. “Newly revised regulations now address the many different fire hazards of floor finishing – improper electrical hook-ups, the storage of waste materials, and dust explosion hazards, as well as the application of flammable liquids.”
These regulations were put in place in response to a series of tragic accidents associated with floor finishing. In September 2004, a Somerville explosion and fire in a triple-decker caused the deaths of two workers, injured two workers and four firefighters. It is believed that vapors from the flammable liquids were ignited by the pilot light on the gas water heater. In July 2005, a 43-year old man was part of a floor sanding crew that was refinishing the hardwood floors in a Hull single-family home. Once again, fumes from the sealant came in contact with the pilot of the gas water heater causing an explosion and the ensuing fire.
Highlights of the Regulation
The previous regulations applied only to bowling alleys, but have been amended to address the fire hazards of wood floor sanding, finishing or refinishing in all occupancies. Starting June 1, 2010, a fire department permit will be required when any flammable liquids are going to be used in floor finishing in buildings with four, or more, units. The permit fee is $50. In buildings with three or fewer units, the fire department must be notified 48 hours before work commences. No fee is required. Most consumer grade polyurethanes are combustible, not flammable, and do not require notification to the fire department or a permit. Look on the label to see if the product is flammable or combustible. Professional grade products are more likely to be flammable and therefore require a permit.
Preventing Flammable Liquid Fires
The regulations require the removal of ignition sources such as pilot lights prior to the application of finishing products considered flammable liquids until the product has dried. It also prohibits using flammable liquids when direct ventilation of the space to the outside is not possible. The new regulation also requires posting warning signs in buildings with more than one dwelling unit when flammable liquids are used in floor finishing.
Preventing Electrical Fires
It reinforces the fact that the Massachusetts Electrical Code requires an electrical wiring permit when connecting equipment directly to an electrical panel. Some floor refinishing equipment use larger amounts of electricity than home outlets typically provide, so the equipment is often connected directly to the electrical panel in violation of the code. This poses a fire risk and bypasses the normal circuit protection in electrical systems.
Preventing Fires from Dust and Rags
The regulations also address the safe storage of flammable and combustible products and waste materials. There have been many fires started by the spontaneous combustion of the dust from floor sanding put into airtight bags and from rags soaked in combustible and flammable liquids. Some floor finishing products such as linseed oil are considered combustible but not flammable. Rags soaked in combustible chemicals still pose a serious fire risk if not properly handled. The regulations require use of a metal waste can with a self-closing cover for all waste products including wood dust and rags. The can must be removed from the building daily and the materials disposed of properly.
Consider Less Dangerous Alternatives
Use of water-based or non-flammable floor refinishing products does not require notification to or a permit from the fire department. Whether homeowners are doing the work themselves or hiring a contractor, it is important to consider the fire safety aspects of the materials being used. Cheaper and faster products or service can cost more in the long run if there is an explosion or fire.