Retired Fire Marshal Dedicated to Life Safety
As a proponent for total life safety, retired Aspen, Colorado Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven has embraced all aspects of fire prevention. His work at the city, state and national level has helped establish ordinances and shape standards for those in the fire protection industry. And, a 30-year career in the industry didn’t end with his retirement, as he continues to serve on several committees and within organizations in support of his goal. This year, the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) is proud to honor Ed Van Walraven as its Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year.
A Career That Found Him
Van Walraven didn’t seek out a career in the fire protection industry, but he had several friends who were volunteers with the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department.
“A couple of good friends talked me into joining as a volunteer firefighter,” recalls Van Walraven. “After a few years of growth in the area, the fire district hired a fire marshal and decided they needed a fire prevention bureau.”
When a fire inspector position was created within the bureau, Van Walraven applied.
The Aspen community is an upscale resort town in the mountains. Most of the homes are large – from 5,000 ft2 to as large as 55,000 ft2 – and many are difficult to access and in remote wooded areas. Shortly after becoming fire inspector, Van Walraven came to the conclusion that fire sprinklers were needed.
“It just made sense to me that everyone should have fire sprinklers,” Van Walraven remembers. “My boss and mentor Wayne Vandemark said ‘go for it.’ I got input from my new friends in the local industry and knew a couple county commissioners and city council members. It was trial by fire. It was my first time going before the fire district board, then to the county commissioners and city council, attending hearings and proposing the ordinance.
“Strangely enough, nobody argued with me. They all said it sounded like a great idea, so we did it. Our fire district board was and still is progressive,” Van Walraven continues. “The original ordinance called for any structure over 5,000 ft2 and more than five minutes from the fire station to have sprinklers. The vast majority of homes in the area qualified. The code was then amended to add any place difficult to access as determined by the fire marshal.”
Van Walraven says he picked the square footage size because there weren’t many residential occupancies under 5,000 ft2.
“We also used the Iowa method of calculating fire flow, and we could initially carry about that much water to the fire scene. If we had water on the fire from the residential sprinkler system, it would keep the fire in check. That’s a double win – containing the fire and life safety for the home’s occupants and our firefighters. My goal was life safety for both.”
Eventually the five-minute response time requirement was removed and the code stands: Any structure over 5,000 ft2 and difficult to access. The Aspen Fire Protection District’s residential fire sprinkler codes have been used as a model for other ordinances in the area.
“If there is anything that I could take pride in, it is the fact that life safety was my number one objective,” Van Walraven says. “Life safety for firefighters, emergency responders and occupants of the structure.
“We need to educate the public so the elected officials get the message from their constituency. That’s how we get residential sprinklers accepted and fewer ordinances overturned. Our elected officials are going to push for what their constituents want. In Colorado, we’re doing it. The Colorado Fire Sprinkler Coalition is getting the message out. National organizations like the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition offering media-ready materials to Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) who are out there in the trenches makes sense. You’ve got to have the research and the numbers to convince the public.”
Van Walraven notes a current public awareness program led by Ron Biggers, fire marshal for the Glenwood Springs, Colorado Fire Department. Biggers has run film trailers at the local movie theaters extolling the virtues of residential fire sprinklers.
Van Walraven was promoted to fire marshal of the Aspen Fire Protection District and City of Aspen when Vandemark retired and notes: “Wayne Vandemark was my mentor, a true friend, and always supported my efforts. He left large shoes to fill.”
Serving the Industry
During his career as inspector and then fire marshal, Van Walraven was elected to the committee for NFPA 720, Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment, and continues serving to this day.
“I looked at the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) standards-making process and how it works and there weren’t a lot of AHJs on the enforcement end. I wanted to make a difference,” states Van Walraven. “We AHJs need to have input in the process. I was fortunate to have the support of my fire district and the Fire Marshal’s Association of Colorado to serve in this capacity. We wanted to at least have our voices heard. Now with NFPA instituting the enforcer reimbursement program, more AHJs might have the opportunity to take part in the process.”
Throughout his fire protection career, Van Walraven has been active in writing and enforcing the codes, setting up inspection programs, determining origin and cause of fires in his jurisdiction, and organizing public education programs within the schools and surrounding communities. He was involved with wildland fire prevention and education in local neighborhoods and communities and worked to adopt and amend codes to fit his community’s jurisdiction. And all the while, even though his focus was fire prevention, he ultimately promoted total life safety.
“There are many hats that AHJs wear,” Van Walraven comments. “Fire sprinklers are a passion of mine, but I’m involved with all aspects of life safety – smoke and carbon monoxide detection, smoke alarms, enforcement of the fire code, and fire investigations.”
In addition to his seat on the NFPA 720 committee, Van Walraven serves as a member of the technical committees for NFPA 13D, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, and 13R, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Low-Rise Residential Occupancies.
“My goal has been to provide input from an AHJ’s point of view but to also try to make the standards enforceable and easily understood,” he states.
He also serves on several task groups and committees for antifreeze, which were set up by the NFPA Standards Council. In addition, he is involved with the NFPA water meter study focusing on how water meters affect sprinkler systems and on the task group for sprinkler piping insulation.
“I tended to get involved in issues that affected my jurisdiction directly and ultimately helped other jurisdictions,” Van Walraven states. “When I heard about antifreeze issues, I had to get involved immediately because of the climate in my jurisdiction. The challenges were working with contractors and designers/architects. The homes in the area were mostly designer homes with large square footage and a bigger challenge because of the roof systems with architectural features and little or no insulation.
“I worked with both groups to address the best way to solve the issue for new and existing systems. Throughout this difficult time, I was able to maintain our ordinances even when the opposition challenged the difficulty of applying the new rules,” he states.
Another area that piqued Van Walraven’s interest was sloped ceilings and fire sprinkler coverage.
“Tyco sets the installation guidelines for their products. When talking about ceilings, their technical bulletin covered 4/12 to 8/12 pitches. At the end, it said ‘anything over 8/12 pitch, check with the AHJ for approval.’ Basalt Fire Marshal Bill Harding and I discussed that and the fact that we didn’t want to take on that liability, as we weren’t engineers. So we found James Golinveaux, senior fellow, Tyco Fire Protection Products, and asked what he could do about that.”
As many in the industry know, Van Walraven had found the right man to ask.
“James said he didn’t know but he’d find out. That was the beginning of tests to determine if sprinklers would work. All of the ceilings around here have greater than 8/12 pitch ceilings. If you’re going to ask me to approve something, you’re going to have to show me that it will work. These tests gave us that information.”
Harding concurs. “Ed has always been an advocate for residential sprinklers and this was the ‘icing on the cake’ for him. The results of the testing were rather surprising and sort of revolutionized the whole industry. You see our results in the present day code. NFPA 13D has been revamped to give more specific criteria and more options, and we can refer to guidance from manufacturers who have done testing to try and approximate which setup will work for the application at hand.”
Golinveaux remembers long days of fire testing and the “Van Walraven Furniture Package.”
“We were working with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) running the tests, adjusting the cathedral ceiling and placing the furniture in the corner per the standard, and Ed walks in and says ‘I’ve never seen furniture in a corner. It’s always arranged in the middle of a great room’ and then proceeds to arrange the furniture to what it would normally look like,” he says.
That simple rearrangement sent everything off the charts.
“We had to rethink our testing,” comments Golinveaux. “We had to run over 30 new tests. But if Ed hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have had a real fire protection solution. Ed brings that perspective. He’s a common-sense grassroots fire protection advocate and believes sprinklers are his best tool for residential applications. When one guy can walk in and change an industry’s test method, that’s pretty powerful,” Golinveaux summarizes.
Those results also now provide cost savings to the design and ultimately installed costs of residential sprinkler systems in all regions utilizing sloped ceilings.
Van Walraven served as vice president and is still a member of the Fire Marshal’s Association of Colorado, president and one of five directors for the Basalt & Rural Fire Protection District, member of the International Fire Marshals Association, member of the Fire Sprinkler Advisory Committee for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, certified educator and member of the Fire and Life Safety Educators of Colorado. He is on the Code Committee for the Fire Marshal’s Association and Ad Hoc Sprinkler Committee member (currently known as the Colorado Fire Sprinkler Coalition). He was also a member of the Underwriters Laboratories’ (UL) task group evaluating CPVC compatibility for the long term.
Van Walraven served for 20 years as fire marshal of Aspen before retiring in 2014. While he talks about his 30-year career in fire protection, in reality it continues with his current service on local, state and national committees. So will he ever truly retire?
“I’m starting to enjoy retirement, but I’ll talk life safety to anyone who calls,” he says with a smile in his voice.
His wife, Kathy, is helping him make the transition, and he credits her as his main support over the 43 years they’ve been together.
“We just returned from a cruise to Alaska and my new ‘retirement bike,’ a Harley-Davidson 2015 Road Glide motorcycle is waiting in the driveway,” Van Walraven says. “She understands the process and what I was attempting to do. She’s been my sounding board, and I can’t thank her enough. She’s the friendliest, funniest person I know,” he concludes.
Van Walraven is also proud of his other family members: brother Joe is a tribal judge in Reno, Nevada; his nephew Joe is a paramedic/firefighter in Sparks, Nevada; and his niece Vanessa is an esthetician in New York City.
AFSA created the Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year award to honor individuals not directly involved in the fire sprinkler industry whose efforts have significantly advanced the fire protection industry and automatic fire sprinklers. Nominees are recommended by AFSA’s Legislative Committee and approved by the Board of Directors.
“Early on, a residential sprinkler ordinance in Aspen made sense to Ed Van Walraven and he made it happen,” comments AFSA President Steve Muncy. “It created a foundation for a focus on total life safety in Aspen. As fire marshal he guided efforts in his community, state, and eventually the nation through his work on NFPA committees. He is well deserving of this award.”
Golinveaux remarks: “Ed has demonstrated the qualities of passion for life safety in his region, and sprinklers have been a large part of his commitment. He constantly challenges the fire sprinkler industry to do better to help maintain our great reputation and his belief that sprinklers are a vital tool in life safety. Ed is very deserving of this award, and I wholeheartedly congratulate him on this recognition.”
“Ed is very deserving of this honor,” comments Fire Marshal Bill Harding. “He has worked very passionately in favor of the sprinkler industry for years. His work on NFPA and other committees has helped provide a lot more information and guidance. We’ve essentially seen an improvement in quality of design and better life-safety protection for the applications that are facing us.”
AFSA Legislative Committee Chairman Ted Wills, Jr., Anchor Fire Protection, Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania, will present the 2015 award to Van Walraven on October 12, during the opening general session of AFSA’s Convention & Exhibition in Phoenix.
“We are very pleased to be awarding the AFSA Sprinkler Advocate of the Year to Mr. Ed Van Walraven,” comments Wills. “Ed’s 30-year history in fire protection has seen him serve on NFPA technical committees, as fire marshal for the Aspen Fire Protection District, and an overall advocate for the fire sprinkler industry. It is an honor to recognize his commitment to life safety.”
“I’m happy to be a small part of this,” summarizes Van Walraven. “I am truly grateful for the unique opportunity to have had a chance to contribute even in a small way to life safety.”