AUTHOR: James Pauley

wildfire behind houses

Increasing the Pace and Scale of Community Wildfire Mitigation

As we head into one of the hottest months of the year, daily news reports continue to broadcast stories of record high temperatures and severe drought conditions, both contributing factors to the increased wildfire activity spreading across the U.S. and Europe. France, Spain, Italy, and Greece are just a few of the many countries battling forest fires today. Here in the U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that nearly three million acres have burned from current fires. While wildfires may be a natural phenomenon, incidents like April’s McBride Fire in New Mexico, which killed two people and burned more than 200 homes and structures, demonstrate the danger they pose to communities. As president of an organization that has worked tirelessly over the last 20 years on ways to reduce loss of life and property from wildfire, this latest news only reinforces NFPA’s strong conviction that more decisive policy action must be taken on all levels if we want to reduce losses from these events. In May, NFPA hosted an Outthink Wildfire® summit in Sacramento, California that brought together 50 professionals to discuss steps to better prepare communities to avoid wildfire losses. Outthink Wildfire is a comprehensive NFPA policy initiative launched with the aim of fostering collaboration, promoting policy change, and to help communities better withstand the impact of wildfires. At the summit, representatives from the fire service, real estate and insurance industries, research and education, government agencies, engineering, and building organizations shared their knowledge to develop recommendations for the critical task of increasing the pace and scale of home retrofitting and other mitigation actions to reduce wildfire losses. The summit participants’ discussions and recommendations will be summarized and shared in a report to be issued later this month. Bringing together stakeholders to tackle the world’s leading fire safety challenges is at the heart of NFPA’s mission. Participants came to the table ready to identify topic areas in need of the most attention including more prevalent use of codes and standards in wildland/urban interface areas, clear, actionable educational messaging for residents, ease of accessing available funding, better alignment and coordination for mitigation policies and programs, workforce development, and closing knowledge gaps with research and data sharing efforts. Convening these experts was a key step in developing an overarching strategy to spread mitigation throughout the millions of homes and thousands of communities in wildfire-prone areas of the U.S. Moving forward, NFPA will continue to pursue strong stakeholder engagement toward building education campaigns, analyzing funding mechanisms, promoting coordination, investing in workforce training, and other necessary endeavors to reduce wildfire risk to people, homes, and communities. I am encouraged to see the federal government recently stepping up to increase the attention and resources not just for wildfire suppression, but also for catastrophic wildfire prevention. The increased funding for hazardous fuel in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Forest Service’s recent commitment to significantly increase the pace and scale of that treatment, and the newly created Wildfire Mitigation and Management Commission, on which NFPA Wildfire Division Director, Michele Steinberg, has been invited to serve, gives me renewed hope that the country is moving in the right direction. We know that given the size and scope of the U.S. wildfire challenge, reaching our goals will take time, but with continued investment and effort, will save lives and homes, and spare more communities from the devastating losses wildfires can bring. For more information about our policy initiative, Outthink Wildfire, visit nfpa.org/outthinkwildfire.
Woman in hard hat looking into the distance

Ensuring electrical safety means protecting standards development

NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC) is revised and published every three years through an established standards-making system that features dedicated participation by technical committee members who annually contribute hundreds of hours to diligently ensuring the integrity of the process, and by extension the Code itself. From the methodical, time-tested review and consideration of myriad public inputs and comments to the research and learnings from tragedies - these rigorous undertakings collectively contribute to making sure that the NEC continually meets the electrical safety needs of society across countless environments. At the NFPA Technical Meeting held in Boston a few weeks ago, significant proposed changes to the 2023 edition of the NEC were the result of more than 4,000 public inputs submitted during the first draft stage process. These inputs generated major proposed changes in the second draft, with key areas of focus including systems and equipment over 1,000 volts; worker safety; minimum size branch circuits; GFCI requirements for specific appliances; kitchen island receptacles; cannabis production facilities; and cybersecurity. Yes, these processes and procedures reflect business as usual. But they are emblematic of so much more. The NEC has served as the premier electrical code since it was first published in 1897, a year after the launch of NFPA itself. Used by every state in the US and around the globe, the NEC continues to evolve, keeping pace with society’s needs and demands at every turn. Newer requirements within the Code that cover emerging technologies like energy storage systems (ESS) and photovoltaics are just a couple of examples of its critical value and relevance in our ever-changing world. And the ways in which we deliver the NEC have continued to evolve. Along with free online access to the code, LiNK®, the NFPA digital tool that delivers dynamic access to the NEC, allows for even wider usage and implementation of its requirements. In essence, the NEC serves as an essential element of society’s safety infrastructure, ensuring that electricity operates across all environments with an expected level of safety that few people ever consider. In fact, the world depends so greatly on the continuous, ubiquitous, and safe functioning of electricity that it is downright unthinkable to imagine what would happen if associated levels of safety were compromised in any capacity. But what if the NEC and the process by which it’s developed and delivered is threatened? That’s not a hypothetical question. It’s a real one that we must contend with. As I stated at the opening general session of the NFPA Conference & Expo® and have addressed in previous communications, the private standards development model is, in fact, under attack. Within that attack on the system itself is a threat to the safety that our codes and standards have delivered for 125 years. NFPA is challenged by a vocal minority who have the erroneous view that standards, once incorporated by reference, should lose their copyright protection. They argue that if a governmental body decides to incorporate a standard into law or regulation to help with public safety, then the standard immediately is open for anyone to take, copy and distribute – even start a commercial business by offering them to the public – without any compensation to NFPA. This is a very misguided view.  First, NFPA is committed to public access to its standards.  As most of you are already aware, NFPA already offers free online access to all its standards.  Second, retaining copyright protection is essential so that we can continue to offer safety benefits that are of enormous benefit to businesses, government, and the public. Without standards, you wouldn’t have the benefit of collective expertise that helps all of us in our daily job. The continued assault by special interests on copyright protection threatens the ability of NFPA and organizations like us to fund our important work and will lead to a disjointed hodgepodge of safety standards in the U.S. and around the world. The NEC and all it does to keep the word safe from electrical hazards is no exception to these threats. We simply cannot afford to have today’s levels of safety jeopardized by the erroneous wants of a small group of individuals whose only goal is to disrupt the current system with no plan for what would take its place. I firmly believe that these efforts come from a lack of understanding or ignorance on what it truly takes to develop and deliver codes and standards that effectively protect the public. That’s why it’s incumbent on all of us in the world of fire and life safety to remain vigilant in reinforcing the full value and impact of the existing process. By extension, all of us who recognize the integral role the NEC plays in our professional and personal lives - and the dangers presented if our ability to continue delivering it become compromised in any way - must proactively support this time-tested system for its invaluable impact on lives and property, and the process by which it and all our other standards are developed. The risk of not doing so is too great for all of us.
Randy Tucker

Improving Global Community Safety through the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem

Over the years, I have heard people say that when news of a tragedy from a fire, electrical, or other life safety hazard makes headlines, it’s unexpected and shocking. They’re partly right. These incidents are horrifying and incredibly heartbreaking. But do they really happen by chance? I don’t believe they do. Because over time, as we come to learn what caused such a disaster, almost always it was the result of pieces of a process or system that slipped through the cracks. NFPA launched the concept of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem a few years ago to drive this notion forward: we need specific components in place, working in unison, to better protect individuals, our infrastructure, and our communities worldwide. For the last few years, the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute has published, “The Year in Review,” a report that highlights at some of the year’s most notable ecosystem failures and successes to see where we can improve. The latest 2021 report continues this theme of introspection, looking into several fateful events and the contributing factors that led to their deadly outcome. One story in the report about the housing situation in Chicago, caught my eye. For years we have known that cities around the world struggle with providing quality, affordable housing; Chicago is no different. When people can’t afford the cost of living, they search for less expensive accommodations, which often come with safety risks. The Chicago Tribune through an in-depth investigation found that of the city’s 170 home fire fatalities from 2014 – 2019, almost half took place in buildings where serious safety violations existed. Hazards like exposed wiring and blocked exits, nonworking or absent smoke alarms, and faulty heating were repeatedly reported to officials. The Tribune’s examination of the facts revealed that over time authorities closed hundreds of complaints without providing a follow-up to ensure repairs were completed. Further, if landlords were brought to court, the cases often dragged on for months or years while tenants continued to live in unsafe conditions. While investing in safety and government responsibility are recognizable components of the Ecosystem related to housing safety, we have to look beyond the one or two answerable roles and see fire safety as a collective system. In this case, while government must not allow special interests and cost cutting measures to override its responsibility to protect citizens, it should also lead the way and champion efforts to address code violations in a timely manner. But it doesn’t stop there. If we are to move the needle and minimize fire risks in rental housing, we must also insist on ongoing compliance with fire, life safety, and building codes and continue aggressive public education and smoke alarm distribution programs in areas that need the help the most. Another theme of note in the report focuses on a critical world-wide need for skilled tradespeople. For some time now, we have been aware of a shortage of building inspectors, first responders, skilled electricians, and construction workers, to name a few examples. In January 2021, half of the subway lines that carry Mexico City’s four million daily commuters shut down when a fire broke out in a control center. One person was killed and 30 more were injured. Less than six months later, the troubled system was hit again, this time with the collapse of an elevated rail, killing 26 people. According to investigators, inferior workmanship and the political pressure to get the job done as quickly as possible proved a deadly combination that led to this tragedy. A lack of skilled workers has a real impact on safety of everything from new housing developments to infrastructure improvements. The Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem works to bring together all these roles. Incidents like this one in Mexico remind us that to keep workers safe, we must institute programs that recruit, train, and mentor professionals, that encourage and empower more diversity in areas that were once thought to be out of reach and strengthen apprenticeship programs and education networks. We need the workforce to be able to perform their jobs safely in order to help protect the people who depend on them. The role of safety is a complex issue. But understanding where and how to start to ensure the system we have in place is working, is the key to better outcomes. Through collaboration, improved communication, and a full understanding of the principles of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, we can tackle this challenge and help reduce further loss in our communities. It’s a big world and we must protect it together. I encourage you to read these and other stories featured in this free report. Download it today, along with new versions now available in Spanish and Arabic, on our Ecosystem landing page.
Two workers in hardhats

Standards are Evolving – Here’s How You Can Join the Movement

This spring, as we continued celebrating ANSI’s belated 2021 World Standards Week and gear up for further 2022 celebrations in October, we are reflecting on the history of how our codes and standards came to be and how they continue to evolve in our digital world. With over 125 years under our belt at NFPA, we have evolved the way we disseminate codes and standards. From our nineteenth century start to 2022 where we are leading the industry with an accessible, digital codes and standards platform, I would argue our organization has always been at the forefront of innovation. But where did we start? And why is joining the digital transformation valuable? Keep reading to learn more about where we were and where we are going. March 1896 – After a group of organization leaders representing sprinkler and fire insurance interests noticed inconsistencies in the installation of sprinkler devices, the group came together to create a set of sprinkler installation rules titled “Report of Committee on Automatic Sprinkler Protection.” That set of rules is now known as NFPA 13, “Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.” November 1896 – After the first standard was declared in March 1896, a subsequent meeting was held where articles for a new association were created. Thus, the National Fire Protection Association was born. From there, the organization began introducing new members and standards for different devices. This core group committed themselves to building an organization that’s devoted to eliminating death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. As codes and standards became, and continues to be, the backbone of what NFPA does, the organization became the leading information and knowledge resource on fire, electrical and related hazards. Throughout the 1900s – Organizations in the stock fire insurance, fire departments, and sprinkler manufacturing and installation fields became members of NFPA and vowed to live by the standards set forth to reduce the burden of fire and related hazards. These codes and standards united multiple organizations to begin working with safety at the forefront of their daily operations. Since then, NFPA has continuously worked with the brightest minds to create standards that provide safety professionals with the guidelines needed to do their jobs safely and efficiently. Over the years, this organization has developed dozens of physical book editions, constantly publishing the newest information for our standards. As the years went on, NFPA sought out ways to ensure the information in these books were actively being optimized to share the latest information in the most accessible format. Redefining standards in a digital landscape September 2020 - NFPA is now redefining what it means to work together and access the codes and standards that have been crafted over the years. As part of a commitment to always provide our stakeholders with the best fire and life safety information and knowledge, NFPA’s next step was to modernize the way our codes and standards are accessed. While our world is evolving to welcome more digital accessibility, codes and standards are one of the best ways to unify our industry and join the digital transformation journey so many professions are experiencing. With NFPA LiNK®, a digital platform where users can easily access all the current NFPA codes and standards they need from their favorite electronic device, NFPA is redefining how we use and access these documents every day. As the pioneers in our industry, NFPA is at the forefront of digitizing our industry while continuing to deliver the guidance that make our world safer. Learn more about how your team can join the digital transformation at nfpa.org/link.
NFPA's 125th anniversary - A collage of memories

Honoring our history is the roadmap for advancing safety

The truism “history repeats itself” often runs alongside the notion that the future is predicated on the past. I can’t help but apply these sentiments when thinking about next month’s NFPA conference and expo (C&E) in Boston. While this represents the first time in three years that we’ll all be together in person to learn, network, and collaborate, the conference also allows us to officially commemorate the association’s 125th anniversary. We certainly plan to highlight this momentous milestone in a number of ways, but it is also has special significance among other critical elements of this year’s meeting. Let me explain why. We all know that the world is inordinately safer from fire, electrical, and other life safety hazards than it was in 1896 when NFPA was founded. There are countless advancements we can point to and be proud of as fire and life safety practitioners; these milestones will be recognized at the conference through various events and initiatives, as you might expect. For example, the very first standard developed by NFPA – NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems - was the result of widespread recognition among multiple audiences that sprinkler requirements were needed to adequately protect people and property from fire. Since that first standard was launched, more than 300 NFPA codes and standards have been developed with the ultimate goal of eliminating the risk of fire and associated hazards on the built environment. But celebrating NFPA history not only honors the impact of past efforts and achievements; it also sets the groundwork for successfully moving forward. More specifically, the work that has been done over the past 125 years and the vastly safer world we live in today is a direct result of the time-tested process for developing, updating, and disseminating NFPA standards. Our system of standards development has represented an integral element of public safety over the past century and a quarter. As the world continues to evolve and change in myriad ways, with emerging technologies and other circumstances presenting new potential threats, that infrastructure of safety is arguably more important than ever. For NFPA to continue advancing fire and life safety throughout the 21st century and beyond, we must remain committed to upholding our foundational beliefs about the extensive safety value of standards, as well as the process by which they are developed, updated, and used in practice. That process will be on full display at the 2022 NFPA Technical Meeting in Boston on June 8 and 9. Proposed changes to the latest editions of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® and NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code, for example, will be debated and voted on, highlighting that standards are dynamic documents that are regularly modified, expanded, and changed in order to keep pace with the world’s fire and life safety needs and challenges. It is a live example of the time-tested, open consensus process that benefits governments, industry, and the public. It also comes at a time when a vocal few are working to upend the ways in which standards are shared and disseminated by challenging our copyright that has existed for decades. This action threatens the ability of standards-making organizations like NFPA to continue doing the invaluable work we’ve done for 125 years. In that vein, I look forward to seeing everyone in Boston next month so we can celebrate all we’ve collectively accomplished, and to share more about our need to work together to maintain the standards developing process that is so integral to moving safety forward in the 125 years to come.  
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