Author(s): John Montes. Published on September 1, 2020.

Last Run

Our columnist signs off after four years at NFPA, and urges continued support for the health and wellness of his comrades
After nearly four years at NFPA and two years of writing this column, I have made the difficult decision to leave NFPA to take a position leading an EMS organization in Pennsylvania. Leaving comes with some sadness because my time at NFPA has brought so many amazing experiences and opportunities. I am lucky to have connected with technical committee volunteers, subject matter experts, and first responder industry leaders over the years, and I’ve been honored to write this column and share my thoughts on the many issues facing first responders.
If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that the health and wellness of responders is the topic I’ve always been most passionate about. When I think back on my time at NFPA, I am most proud of my involvement with the creation of NFPA 3000™ (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, and NFPA 451, Guide for Community Health Care Programs. Both of these documents will have a huge impact going forward because they provide a better framework to help responders do their jobs more safely and effectively.
Current events underscore the need for these critical documents. An EMS system that is struggling to meet the needs of the community in the world of COVID-19 can use NFPA 451 as a template for integrating with the larger health care community, supporting telehealth, and providing new services such as staffing COVID testing sites or treating patients at home to reduce the burden on hospitals. NFPA 3000 is extremely useful as first responders across disciplines face challenges like civil unrest and public demonstrations. NFPA 3000 helps create an environment where police, fire, EMS, emergency management, and other community partners can plan and respond to these incidents in a coordinated and organized fashion. In some cases, using the NFPA 3000 framework may have even prevented some of the escalation we have seen in cities across the country. Bringing a variety of community partners and leaders to the table on an ongoing basis before an incident occurs increases the likelihood of working in sync rather than in opposition.

I also want to point out the importance of ongoing efforts to directly improve the health and wellness of responders, a topic that was long overlooked but is finally getting the attention it deserves. In my 20 years working as a first responder, I have lost 13 current and former coworkers to suicide. The agency that I am going to work for lost two members to suicide within the past three years. NFPA is among the organizations taking important steps to help address these crises, such as including new guidance in the next editions of its responder safety documents, NFPA 1500 and NFPA 1582. The Fire Protection Research Foundation continues to support and promote crucial research in these areas, including occupational cancer and other threats. These documents and research findings, while geared toward the fire service, are relevant for all first responders and provide valuable information and resources.

We face many challenges besides the ones I’ve named here, including the looming threat of budget cuts caused in part by the pandemic. You can help by reaching out to responder trade associations and supporting their current legislative efforts to provide better funding and continued maintenance of first responder services. Even with the best codes and standards, our agencies cannot protect our communities unless government leaders step up to ensure we have the resources and personnel to do the job.

It has been an honor to share my stories and perspective with you. I will continue to work with the NFPA staff and do everything I can to share stories and highlight the work of our first responders. It has never been more important.

John Montes is specialist, emergency services public fire protection, at NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler