Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on July 2, 2018.

We Can Be Heroes

How an innovative public attraction in Alabama will help NFPA spread important fire safety information

We often hear firefighters described as heroes. While I wouldn’t disagree, many firefighters would.

I’ve heard firefighters say they’re just doing their jobs, and that they would rather not have to rescue people from preventable fires. Most firefighters would prefer that the public take the simple steps necessary to avoid fires and other emergencies in the first place. NFPA agrees that prevention is the best strategy.

With that goal in mind, at the NFPA Conference & Expo last month we introduced attendees to an exciting project, the NFPA HEROES Experience, which is intended to engage the public in becoming their own heroes when it comes to fire prevention and safety. The attraction will be the first of its kind, and a very different way to impart life-saving information in an age when it’s increasingly difficult to get people’s attention and to get them to take action.

Part of the National Center for Fire and Life Safety to be built in Pelham, Alabama, the NFPA HEROES Experience will be a 100,000 square-foot nonprofit public attraction serving K–12 school groups, families, visitors, and tourists of all ages. Visitors will be immersed in authentic stories, exhibits, and experiences that convey the importance of preventative fire and life safety measures—think Disney or Universal meets fire safety. As visitors make their way through the NFPA HEROES Experience, they will learn about risks that exist in our world and what they can do to keep themselves safe. The idea is for visitors to emerge from their journey with the recognition that they can be their own heroes.

When I talk to people about this project, a few questions always come up, including “Why Alabama?” The simple answer is it was their idea. The notion grew out of discussions among officials in Shelby County, where the attraction will be located, and took off from there. Another reason the area makes sense to NFPA is that Alabama is in a part of the country that experiences the highest fire death rates in the nation—Alabama and abutting states account for 25 percent of all fire deaths in the U.S. each year. If the NFPA HEROES Experience has a positive effect in the region, it would have a real impact on the fire problem nationwide.

The other question I often get is, “Why is this necessary?” Here’s why: After decades of decreasing fire deaths, which is a great thing, we have settled at a plateau of about 3,000 deaths per year. We are struggling to reduce fire deaths below this level. How do we reach those last few communities and regions of the country that are most difficult to reach, those at greatest risk, or those who have not benefited from current or previous strategies? Some people have suggested that we have pushed annual fire fatalities to the lowest number that can reasonably be achieved, but NFPA feels differently—our vision is a world where we have eliminated loss from fire and related hazards. Achieving that vision will be difficult, but that doesn’t mean we concede. It means we need to be willing to try new approaches.

The NFPA HEROES Experience will not just be a destination for people of all ages to visit and learn and enjoy, it will also provide a place for NFPA and others to research and test new education approaches to safety and prevention. What we learn from our efforts in Alabama will be disseminated to a worldwide audience.

The goal is to break ground on construction in 2019, and open the attraction in 2021. NFPA is currently undertaking a capital campaign to raise money for the HEROES experience, and we invite others to join us in building the future of fire prevention. For more information on the project and to see renderings, visit the website.

LORRAINE CARLI is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Top Illustration: Michael Hoeweler