Stephen D. Reimers, PE
Mr. Reimers was introduced to hyperbarics as a young Naval officer in 1969 and has been designing and building hyperbaric facilities ever since. He is a long-time member of the committees that manage the two codes that most affect clinical hyperbarics; ASME PVHO-1 Safety Code on Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy and Chapter 19 ÒHyperbaric FacilitiesÓ of NFPA 99 Health Care Facilities. Presently he runs two companies, Reimers Systems, Inc. (RSI) and Hyperbaric Clearinghouse, Inc. (HCI). RSI is a major installer of monoplace chambers. They have developed liquid cylinder based oxygen supply systems and air ventilation equipment that make it possible to establish a monoplace center nearly anywhere.
THE APPLICATION OF NFPA HYPERBARIC FACILITY RULES
Steve Reimers, PE
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) document NFPA 99, Standard for Healthcare Facilities, is the primary safety standard addressing the safety of medical gas and electrical services in US healthcare facilities. Its Chapter 19 "Hyperbaric Facilities contains a comprehensive set of safety requirements for hyperbaric chambers used in healthcare settings. Further, NFPA 99 rules for hyperbaric facilities are generally not voluntary. In nearly all jurisdictions, they are have the same force and effect as any other portion of the national fire codes.
The NFPA 99, chapter 19 rules for hyperbaric facilities were originally developed in the late 1960's and early 1970's in response to a string of fatal fires in both hyperbaric and hypobaric facilities. The feedstock standard used at the time was the standard for the use of flammable anesthetics in operating rooms, From conception through the 1996 edition of the NFPA 99 hyperbaric facility rules the target fire threat was the combustion of flammable vapors. The NFPA 99 rules are updated on a three year cycle . During the meetings of the NFPA Technical Committee on Hyperbaric and Hypobaric Facilities leading up to the 1999 edition, the issue of the target fire threat was reviewed for possible revision based on current practices. Following a careful review of the issues, the Committee recommended that the target threat be changed from the combustion of flammable gases to the combustion of flammable solids. This change was then accepted by the NFPA and the changes incorporated in the 1999 edition.
The practical effects of the change in target fire threat are substantial. Combustible solids are much harder to ignite than are combustible vapors. That difference has permitted the Chapter 19 rules for electrical devices to be revised to permit the use of a significantly wider away of cord connected and portable electrical devices in multiplace (e.g. air environment) hyperbaric chambers than has previously been considered permissible. The practical result is that it is now possible, subject to some limitations, to perform most normal medical monitoring functions in a multiplace hyperbaric chamber.
That is the good news. The bad news is that the edition of NFPA99 that is officially adopted, and therefore enforced, is usually determined by legislative action. The result is that the officially adopted edition can be several editions behind the most recent one. Connecticut enforces the 1996 edition. However, California is currently using the 1990 edition, and New York City is still using the 1987 edition. If you are a multiplace operator and you wish to use the new rules, in most areas you will need to petition your local Fire Marshall's office for permission to use the new rules. At the same time you should ask which edition of the NFPA 99 is the one officially adopted for your jurisdiction. The answer may surprise you. You should also always be aware of which edition has been officially adopted for your jurisdiction. Changes to industry consensus standard, such as NFPA 99, come slowly. Nonetheless, in evolving technologies, such as hyperbarics, the changes in requirements from one edition to the next can have substantial practical impact, and this can be true for existing facilities as well as new one construction.
The NFPA 99 standard can be obtained from:
The National Fire Protection Association
1 Batterymarch Park
Quincy, Massachusetts 02269-9109 USA