Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on July 2, 2018.

Teaming Up

Why partnerships are critical to strengthen and maintain the international fire safety ecosystem

We often talk about the importance of using current safety codes and standards, but what if there aren’t enough skilled professionals to knowledgeably apply those requirements?

An NFPA member in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, once told me how hard it is to operate his fire protection company. He has difficulty finding skilled workers to install and maintain fire protection systems. He said that most architects and engineers don’t incorporate fire safety systems into their building designs, and that the local building inspection department doesn’t have the training to review and approve the systems that he does install.

In my experience, these are not uncommon complaints. I’ve found in my travels that the local capacity of skilled professionals—architects, engineers, contractors, installers, inspectors, maintainers, etc.—can be extremely limited or nonexistent. As a result, countless structures worldwide are built to substandard requirements, and those with proper designs are often poorly maintained. Given the World Bank’s estimate that up to 1.4 million people per week are moving into urban areas around the world, and that nearly 1 billion new dwelling units will be built by 2050, this gap in the safety ecosystem is cause for immediate action.

Several groups, including NFPA, have stepped up to begin initiatives supporting the development of fire safety curricula and training programs in regions where there is a need. In 2016, for example, NFPA and the University of Maryland teamed up to offer guidance to the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), with a focus on improving workplace safety for tens of thousands of garment factory workers. Creating a true culture of safety in Bangladesh must happen systematically starting with the university’s ability to train the next generation of leaders and fire safety experts. In addition to giving professors and students direct access to our information and resources, NFPA facilitated a three-week intensive training course for BUET faculty on the principles of fire protection engineering and the role of NFPA codes and standards. We have also signed a memorandum of understanding with BUET to provide ongoing support.

In China, Worcester Polytechnic Institute has partnered with Tsinghua University in Beijing to establish the Center for Global Public Safety, an interdisciplinary research consortium that focuses on advancing essential technology for the development of smart and safe communities worldwide. The schools have plans to expand the Center to universities in other regions of the world. In South Africa, NFPA is exploring ways to support Stellenbosch University as the school incorporates fire safety concepts into its engineering program.

The global reach of NFPA’s certification and training programs are also having a positive impact. With classroom, online, and hands-on offerings, students anywhere in the world can access the most current information and knowledge about fire and electrical safety. Classroom training is offered in Spanish and Arabic in approximately 20 countries, and we are currently developing certifications in Spanish. NFPA also recently established hands-on training for water-based fire protection and fire alarm systems in Latin America, and there are plans to expand this initiative to the Middle East.

But our work is not done. Solving the problem will require a concerted effort by academic institutions, trade associations, labor groups, nongovernmental organizations, and public policymakers. That’s why NFPA is committed to building the partnerships and initiatives needed to strengthen this critical component of the fire and life safety ecosystem.

DONALD BLISS is vice president of Field Operations for NFPA. Top Illustration: Michael Hoeweler