Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on May 1, 2019.

Signing Off

Our globetrotting columnist offers an appraisal of past successes and future challenges, along with a bittersweet farewell

If I had to design the ideal job to close out my career, vice president of field operations at NFPA would be it.

So it is with gratitude and sadness that I will retire from the organization in June. Although it’s hard to say goodbye, I leave feeling confident that we are on a solid path to achieving greater fire and life safety for people around the world.

I feel optimistic in large part because of the incredibly smart, passionate, and committed fire-safety professionals I have met all over the globe. Although there were plenty of times that I may not have understood the language, I was always confident in the professionalism and skill I saw on display. Wherever I traveled, fire safety is seen as a universal cause that transcends national borders, political philosophies, and religious differences. Even in countries embroiled in political disputes, it was clear in meetings with fire chiefs and fire-protection experts that collaboration to protect human lives was always far more important than the surrounding politics. It is this collaboration and commitment that is required to reduce loss and death from fire worldwide.

Firefighters all over the world know this, and for that reason I was always welcomed with open arms, from the smallest volunteer fire stations to the biggest metropolitan fire brigades. The fire chief of a capital city in Asia once told me, “We don’t care what our countries think of each other—you are a firefighter, which means you are my brother.”

I am extremely heartened by the extent of NFPA’s reach and impact throughout the world. Our brand and mission are well known and well respected, and it is not an exaggeration to say that NFPA standards are the international gold standard for fire safety. Our research, training, public education, and Firewise® materials are in high demand everywhere I travel. As we continue to develop more digital offerings in multiple languages, it will be exciting to see how effective we are in accelerating improvements to the fire and life safety ecosystems where people are at the greatest risk.

As proud as I am of my work and of NFPA’s global initiatives, I freely admit that there is still much more to do. The World Health Organization has estimated that 300,000 people around the world die in fires every year, and that 95 percent of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Millions of people suffer permanent injuries as a result of fire, which is the fourth-largest cause of accidental injury worldwide, after road accidents, falls, and drownings. Reducing these numbers in the next decade will be NFPA’s most significant challenge, but I am confident that those who succeed me will make it happen. I look forward to reading about it in these pages.

Lastly, I wish to say thanks. My experiences have taught me that anyone committed to fire safety is always hungry for knowledge, and always willing to share their experience, research, and practices. It has been a joy to learn from so many wise and experienced experts, and I will be forever grateful to those who have mentored me along the way. There has been so much to learn, and even now I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Thanks to the incredible members and staff of NFPA who taught me the things that enabled me to be successful throughout my career.

I never imagined that, four decades after joining NFPA as a member, I would have the honor of working for the organization. My first day as an NFPA employee actually felt like a homecoming. No wonder my departure feels bittersweet.

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