VDFP Cautions against the Mishandling of Dry Ice Used for Shipping and Storing COVID-19 Vaccines

VDFP Cautions against the Mishandling of Dry Ice Used for Shipping and Storing COVID-19 Vaccines

Improper handling of dry ice when converted to a gaseous state presents structural, respiratory, and environmental hazards.

RICHMOND – December 30, 2020 – The Virginia Department of Fire Programs, a leader in enhancing public safety, is cautioning first responders, health care professionals, and citizens in the Commonwealth about the dangers of improper storage and disposal of dry ice, which has surged in use to transport COVID-19 vaccines that require storage at ultra-low temperatures.

Dry ice is a solid form of carbon dioxide (CO2). Dry ice weighs just about twice as much as regular ice. Dry ice goes from a solid to a gas (sublimates) as it warms, releasing carbon dioxide.

According to a white paper on dry ice response issued by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Hazardous Materials Committee, the primary health hazard occurs when dry ice returns to its gaseous carbon dioxide state at -78°C. The gas quickly expands and displaces oxygen inside enclosed spaces such as in transport compartments, small buildings, and walk-in coolers.

“We’re noticing a number of groups who are coming into contact with dry ice with the mass distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, who may not be aware of the risks that dry ice may impose. For example, dry ice at room temperature, could “off-gas” a high level of CO2 in a confined space. This is a hazard,” said VDFP Executive Director Michael Reilly. “First responders who are trained in hazardous materials response are aware of the proper handling, storage, and disposal of dry ice. We remain partners in response and prevention. We also want to stress the importance of risk mitigation during such an unprecedented time.”

Additional Hazards

If carbon dioxide gas is released while in transport or in storage, hazards can include an increased potential for an explosion due to pressure building within tightly sealed containers with no pressure relief device, unconsciousness due to displaced oxygen, and frostbite or burns if contact with cryogenic liquid or solid pieces of dry ice occurs.

VDFP encourages groups such as health care professionals and medical facility employees who are administering COVID-19 vaccines to call on first responders when carbon dioxide exposures arise.

“Our concern is about how Virginians should properly interact with the volumes of dry ice that the vaccines are packed with. There should be no eating, drinking, or smoking wherever the dry ice is handled, stored, and disposed,” said Virginia State Fire Marshal Garrett Dyer, “If an accident involving carbon dioxide occurs, such as a spillage, there are also environmental impacts to consider. This is why proper disposal of volumes of dry ice by a trained professional is important.”

How to Safety Interact with Dry Ice

  • Protect Your Skin – Contact with unprotected skin will cause severe thermal injury equivalent to full thickness burns. Tight fitting cryogenic gloves are required when handling dry ice and offers the most protection. Where the skin is injured due to exposure to dry ice, the contact area will need to be warmed to avoid tearing off skin.
  • Store in a well ventilated area – Most health hazards occur during the sublimation process, when dry ice is warmed and converts from a solid directly to a gas. Dry ice will sublime (melt) at -78°C and begin “off-gassing” which will quickly displace the oxygen inside of confined areas.


VDFP’s State Fire Marshal’s Office Issues Outdoor Heater Safety and General Guidelines for Tent and Membrane Structures

VDFP’s State Fire Marshal’s Office Issues Outdoor Heater Safety and General Guidelines
for Tent and Membrane Structures

RICHMOND – November 25, 2020 – As COVID-19 continues to place severe limitations on work and social environments, the seasonal weather will further impact how and where people gather. Many restaurants and other venues may use open outdoor space or a temporary membrane structure for patrons to have the adequate social space to comply with social distancing guidelines. With temperatures dropping, many business look to use portable heating appliances to provide necessary environmental comforts to its patrons. This guidance document provides general safety and code requirements within the 2015 Statewide Fire Prevention Code (SFPC) that govern the use and storage of portable outdoor heating, tent and other membrane structures. Guidance topics included:

  • Portable, outdoor gas-fired heating appliances
  • Portable, electric space heaters
  • Tent and other Membrane Structure Guidelines

Review the Outdoor Heater Safety and General Guidelines for Tent and Membrane Structures


NFIRS Modernization Release: Update

NFIRS Modernization Release: Update

USFA has released the new E-NFIRS. It is now available for users to begin (or continue) entering incidents manually. Users who are using a third party vendor software should refrain from using the Bulk Import Utility (BUI) until further notice. Users also should not export large quantities of data.

USFA priority at this time is to address the Bulk Import file validation:

The eNFIRS release includes checks to enforce the 2015 (current) NFIRS specification: specifically, a check on each data value’s length, and whether it exceeds the maximum length allowed for the field. During imports, each time the check finds a value too large, the incident fails with a generic “system error occurred” message written in the .log file. The check was put in place to enforce the 2015 specification and move toward improving system-wide data quality; however, based on the quantity of errors being reported, the USFA determines the check for max length to be too strict, especially for fields involving local-level data and non-required fields.


  • For a short term solution, the USFA will unrestrict the max length checks on text (string, or data type: X) fields.
  • The data in these fields will be truncated to the field’s specified length. The NFIRS Design Documentation contains records and field format length specifics: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/data/nfirs/support/documentation.html  Details on the long term solution will be made available at a later date.

The adjustment for the max length value check is underway and planned for the coming weeks.

If you encounter any import issues, please forward the original import file AND the results .ZIP with a description and vendor (if known) to FEMA-NFIRSHELP@fema.dhs.gov.

IAFC President Urges Fire & EMS Preparedness for Civil Unrest

IAFC President Urges Fire & EMS Preparedness for Civil Unrest

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) President and Chairman of the Board Chief Richard R. Carrizzo recently issued an email of resources for its members to consider regarding the potential for civil unrest in response to Election Day and after.

“To help fire departments provide service to their communities in uncertain environments, the IAFC has both compiled and developed the following resources,” read more here.

It’s Fire Prevention Week. Get your safety tips from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs.

It’s Fire Prevention Week. Get your safety tips from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme is “Serve up Fire Safety in the Kitchen.”

RICHMONDOctober 5, 2020 – The Virginia Department of Fire Programs’ (VDFP) State Fire Marshal’s Office reminds Virginians to keep safety at the forefront while cooking and using appliances in the kitchen. As we spend more time in our residences, the chances of fire-related accidents and injuries increases.

“There have been 29 civilian fire fatalities in Virginia as of September 30. Of those fire fatalities, 3% were caused by cooking. 48% occurred in single-family homes,” said Virginia State Fire Marshal Garrett Dyer. “We often think of the stove and the safety around that appliance, but smaller appliances such as deep fryers and microwaves can start fires that are equally as destructive.”

According to the U.S. Home Cooking Fires Report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), cooking caused an average of 172,900 reported home structure fires per year (49 percent of all reported home fires in the US). These fires resulted in an average of 550 civilian deaths (21 percent of all home fire deaths) and 4,820 civilian injuries (44 percent of all reported home fire injuries) annually.

Victims of Cooking Fires

In the report, it is noted that high-risk populations include those 55 years of age and older. In Virginia, 24% of the total reported civilian fire fatalities victims were between 56-80 years old.

Dyer continued, “The statistic translates to one out of four Virginians over the age of 55 are at a higher risk of a fire-related casualty or injury. Check on your neighbors that fit this category, bring them a meal from time to time. Make sure the meal is prepared using safe cooking practices. And, don’t forget to wear your mask as you enter their homes.”

People ages 25-44 are the leading age group to suffer from cooking fire injuries in U.S. homes nationwide.

Cooking Safety Tips

  • Never leave cooking food unattended. Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling or broiling. If you have to leave, even for a short time, turn off the stove. Leaving food unattended is the leading factor in cooking fires and related casualties.
  • If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
  • You have to be alert when cooking. You won’t be alert if you are sleepy, have taken medicine or drugs, or consumed alcohol that makes you drowsy.
  • Always keep an oven mitt and pan lid nearby when you’re cooking. If a small grease fire starts, slide the lid over the pan to smother the flame. Turn off the burner, and leave the pan covered until it is completely cool.
  • Have a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.

“We hope that the message resonates before we head into the holiday season in a few weeks,” said Dyer.

Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are the leading days for cooking fires in the home.

Virginia Department of Fire Programs Receives $282,000 from Federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program

Virginia Department of Fire Programs Receives $282,000 from Federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program

Funding will support a new fire detection and suppression mobile training lab that consists of sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems.

RICHMOND – September 29, 2020 – The Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP) has been awarded $282,000 in federal grant funding through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 2019 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program. The funding will be used to construct a fire detection and suppression mobile training lab that will be used for fire service personnel who respond to and depend on these systems when engaged in firefighting activity.

The new mobile training lab will consist of functional sprinkler systems, an operating alarm and detection systems, as well as displays of fire alarm control panels that will represent a wide range of technology and capabilities that replicate generic types of fire alarm systems throughout the state.

“Our response and preparation efforts are more vital now, than ever before,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “The construction of this fire detection and suppression mobile lab will yield valuable data for all Virginia public safety personnel as they work together to respond to emergencies in our communities.”

“The Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office wants to bridge the training and development gap from in-person classroom instruction of the Fire Inspector training program that is designed to teach a basic understanding of life safety systems, to a hands on learning experience,“ said State Fire Marshal Garrett Dyer. “The mobile concept will allow VDFP to transport the mobile lab to various locations within the state.”

“Federal funding is critical to the agency’s training programs, as we do our best to sustain already underfunded firefighter training programs in the Commonwealth,” said VDFP Executive Director Michael Reilly. “To be awarded funding during the pandemic, as organizations have become more fiscally conservative means a great deal to our training operations. Every dollar counts.”

This marks the sixth year in a row that VDFP has obtained federal funding for the Commonwealth’s firefighter training programs. Since 2016, VDFP has been awarded approximately $1.5 million dollars.

The agency will provide $42,300 in matching funds and has 12 months to complete the purchases under the grant.

VDFP Now Accepting Course Requests from Localities Until Sept. 1

VDFP Now Accepting Course Requests from Localities Until Sept. 1
VDFP staff is currently working with our stakeholders to reschedule classes that were affected by the March – July shutdown. Additionally, we continue to plan for future VDFP funded deliveries to the more than 700 fire departments that exist in the Commonwealth.
Beginning August 15, 2020 and continuing until September 1, 2020, VDFP Division Chiefs will accept funded course requests from localities for the period of January 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022 (18-months). This extended time will enable VDFP and its stakeholders to be more efficient, allow for a reduction in cancelled classes, allow stakeholders to plan on attendance for future course offerings, and reduce duplicate course offerings in adjacent geographical areas.
  • Stakeholders who submit requests for January and February of 2021 will be notified of their request status by October 1, 2020.
  • Stakeholders submitting requests for the time frame of March 2021 – June 2022 will be notified of their request status by December 1, 2020.
Please make sure that your request is fully filled out to include requested dates as well as venue. VDFP staff will make every effort to accommodate training requests but may have to combine requests in adjacent areas of the Commonwealth.
Questions or comments should be directed to Bill MacKay, VDFP Chief of Training and Operations at william.mackay@vdfp.virginia.gov

VDFP Implements Cancer Reduction Efforts for Virginia Firefighters by Prohibiting Use of Engineered Wood Products Containing PMDI During Live Fire Trainings

VDFP Implements Cancer Reduction Efforts for Virginia Firefighters by Prohibiting Use of Engineered Wood Products Containing PMDI During Live Fire Trainings

Industry research shows that burning oriented strand board (OSB) containing PMDI (poly-methylene diphenyl diisocyanate)
during firefighter training presents increased exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens.

RICHMOND – July 22, 2020 – The Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP) today announced updates to its Live Fire Training Policy that includes the prohibition of the use of oriented strand board (OSB) containing PMDI (poly-methylene diphenyl diisocyanate), and performing decontamination at the end of live fire training with medical evaluation procedures following live fire training events. This policy change covers training burns that are conducted in VDFP training programs, facilities that host VDFP funded schools, and when flashover simulators are utilized.

Current research indicates that exposures to carcinogens, and other hazardous byproducts, such as PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and benzene can occur with the use of these OSB wood products containing PMDI, which release significant levels of toxic byproducts when burned.

Cancer reduction among firefighters and EMS personnel remains a top priority for Governor Northam. As the state agency that provides training programs and resources for firefighters in the Commonwealth, VDFP is charged with prioritizing this effort in alignment with industry standards and best practices. The new policy meets the current version of NFPA 1403 (2018), Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions.

“We are adopting aggressive cancer prevention efforts during such critical training. After each live fire training, a complete wash down of PPE, SCBA, and other tools used in the fire occurs. Also, personal cleanup is done and then a medical evaluation is completed,” said VDFP Executive Director Michael Reilly. “We understand that this prohibition of engineered wood containing PMDI, as well as the extensive rehab procedures may be met with some opposition. However, based on industry research and our mandate to reduce carcinogen exposures and cancer related deaths among Virginia’s Fire Service, it is the right thing to do.”

The Virginia Fire Services Board (VFSB) has been a proponent of this cancer-reducing measure and supports VDFP’s new policy, “The Fire Service explores several methods to reduce risks and harm to our men and women in the field,” said VFSB Chair Walt Bailey, “It is much more meaningful to create policies and involve local and state officials. Then, the widespread action follows.”
Prominent fire services organizations, Virginia Professional Fire Fighters and the Virginia Firefighters Association, also support the decision to prohibit the use of wood products containing PMDI during live fire trainings and will assist with implementing the new practices at the local level.

“The Virginia Professional Fire Fighters reinforces the policy update and applauds Fire Programs for taking such action to protect Virginia’s Fire Service,” said Virginia Professional Fire Fighters (VPFF) President Robert Bragg. “We are united and serious about reducing carcinogen exposure to our firefighters. It is imperative that we continue to adopt preventative solutions.”

“The Virginia State Firefighters Association serves a large population of volunteer firefighters throughout the Commonwealth. By joining together to share research and resources, this decision covers a lot of ground,” said VFSA President Ken Brown.

Visit the VDFP website Policies page for more information on the VDFP Live Fire Training Policy.