Las Vegas Sun

June 23, 2018

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Combating the fire hazard of indoor marijuana farms

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Chris Kudialis

Jacob Nunnemaker of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services speaks during a panel on marijuana and fire safety at the Mandalay Bay, Monday, June 11, 2018. Also pictured, from left, is Kristin Bigda and Ray Bizal of the National Fire Protection Association as well as Jennifer Hoyt of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.

Owners of marijuana cultivation facilities are encouraged to remain in communication with fire officials, who say knowing the chemicals used on weed plants in advance of an emergency can save lives and pot crops.

That was the message on Monday at the National Fire Protection Association at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

As an increasing number of pot cultivations become more complex and secure, the work to keep those facilities safe also intensifies.

“There always needs to be dialogue between building and fire officials and everyone else that’s regulating the cannabis industry,” said Ray Bizal, director of regional operations for the National Fire Protection Association. “It’s important for not only the facility, but surrounding areas as well, in case something goes bad.”

The fire association’s annual convention returned for its seventh year in Las Vegas. More 350 exhibitors attended the convention, which catered to 5,000 attendees.

The nearly two-hour workshop on fire safety at weed cultivation facilities included first responders from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, where medical marijuana is legal and recreational pot is scheduled to kick off on July 1. The three-member panel aimed to educate more 300 firefighters on preventing further disaster in the event of a cultivation facility fire.

Speakers said the advanced security measures and layout designs used to protect the facility from thieves and other unauthorized people also presents an added challenge for firefighters in the event of an emergency.

But most cultivation facilities have “nothing to hide,” said Jacob Nunnemacher, fire protection engineer from Massachusetts, meaning strong relationships between firefighting officials and building owners should not be difficult to develop.

“It’s tremendously important,” Nunnemacher said. “Get out there early, talk to them and know your plan.”

Among a growing number of fire hazards found in cultivation facilities, Nunnemacher cited mold, carbon dioxide and entanglement hazards as the most significant threats to firefighters. Levels of potentially dangerous chemicals vary greatly by facility as pot cultivators aim to serve the market with different marijuana strains, flavors and concentrations.

But without proper communication with regulating officials on which chemicals are used at a given facility, unknowing fire crews may expose both themselves and the facilities to additional danger.

During a question-and-answer session following the panel discussion, attendees inquired about fire codes, like whether a bright white flashing fire alarm sign that affected the delicate growth of the plants, could be considered for change.

“Changing the chemistry of the plants is not a good enough reason to change the fire code,” Bizal said.