Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on May 4, 2020.

Consistency Matters

How an NFPA committee ensures that public safety messaging is consistent across jurisdictions and from country to country


After a home fire occurs, you’ve probably noticed some similarities between what the public information officers (PIOs) for the local fire departments say to the media. When a PIO adds relevant safety messages to their overview of a fire incident, the content of those messages is virtually the same as it is when it’s delivered by any other department. And that’s no accident.

PIOs consistently say things like “working smoke alarms save lives” and “everyone should have smoke alarms on every level of their home, inside each sleeping room and outside each sleeping area.” Maybe you notice that most say “level” as opposed to “floor,” a nuance that is necessary because various spoken languages interpret the two words differently. Think about what could happen if you said “put a smoke alarm on every floor”—it could be misconstrued to mean the actual floor.

This consistency in the detail of safety messages across the US and in countries around the world is thanks to the work of the NFPA Educational Messages Advisory Committee, or EMAC, which creates a desk reference on a range of educational messages for safety professionals that provides core messages and offers suggestions for using those messages with various audiences. The EMAC has existed in one form or another for about 20 years, and today the committee consists of 15 individuals representing organizations that play a role in fire safety. The committee meets periodically to review submissions to the guide for new fire, life, and electrical safety messages, as well as changes to current messages. Anyone, including EMAC members, can suggest language changes or introduce new topics, a process that accommodates changing times, new and emerging technologies, and topics that have attracted the attention of the safety world.

The 2020 desk reference is available in English and French and will be available in Spanish later this year. For this latest guide, the committee considered 45 proposals for changes. It worked with technical and data experts to understand the rationale and validity behind the proposal, and ultimately voted to include it, reject it, or study it further. The 2020 version contains new chapters on pet safety and youth fire setters, as well as nine new sections within existing chapters on topics that have become more prominent for safety professionals.

One change expanded home fire escape messages for people with disabilities. There was also a significant change from a previous stance against the use of turkey fryers, one that acknowledged technological advances that provide safer frying methods requiring significantly less oil, or even none at all. Carbon monoxide messaging, which addresses a deadly problem that plagues communities, received the most comments. That section also saw the most changes, including a clarification of how far a portable generator should be located from an opening such as a door or window. The change aligns the installation of portable generators with data from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, which says the distance should be at least 20 feet from an opening.

To maintain the consistency of messaging delivered by public educators, it is important that members of the safety community contribute to the further development of the desk reference. Its value comes from the contributions of those who know these issues and engage regularly with the public. The next round of comments will begin in June, and a submittal form will be posted at that time. If you have thoughts for inclusions, omissions, or changes, we want to hear from you.

For more information on EMAC and to download the latest desk reference, visit To hear a recent NFPA Podcast on EMAC, use the player at the top of this page, or visit

Lorraine Carli is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler