Illustration of Lorraine Carli
Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on May 2, 2023.

A Career of Advocacy 

Chief Ron Siarnicki of Prince George's County, Maryland, is this year's recipient of the Shannon Advocacy Medal 

I arrived at NFPA more than 17 years ago, just as the organization was intensifying its efforts to influence fire safety through advocacy, a key element in reducing loss, alongside its other activities. I very quickly realized that NFPA could not be successful on its own. It takes committed champions who not only understand the full landscape of the fire problem but who also bring desire for change and are willing to work hard on the steps that can be taken to reduce the loss of life and property to fire and other hazards.
One of those individuals is Chief Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). Ron was one of the first advocates I met as we launched the Fire Safe Cigarette Coalition, which he enthusiastically joined. I knew he came to the group because of his NFFF position to lessen the impact of cigarette-related fires on first responders. At the time, I didn’t realize his advocacy had begun almost the moment he stepped into the fire service more than 45 years ago as a third-generation firefighter. But I certainly know now.

That career of advocacy is why Chief Siarnicki is this year’s recipient of the Shannon Advocacy Medal. The award was established in 2016 to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the fire loss problem through advocacy. The honor was named after former NFPA president James M. Shannon, who concluded his 12-year tenure in 2014 with an exceptional record of advocacy to reduce fire loss.
As a young fire officer in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Chief Siarnicki became known as the guy who pushed prevention—back then, he worked tirelessly to promote smoke alarms and to teach safety education. His intense passion drove his work as part of the team that managed efforts to secure landmark home fire sprinkler legislation in Prince George’s County. When he became fire chief of PG County, he implemented efforts to track the sprinkler data that became instrumental in national code advocacy and state legislative efforts. This groundbreaking work remains a cornerstone of today’s education and advocacy efforts for the inclusion of sprinklers in all new homes. 

Chief Siarnicki has brought that same drive and determination to save lives—in particular, those of our first responders—to his role at NFFF, one he will retire from at the end of this year after more than two decades. He oversaw the first Firefighter Life Safety Summit in 2004 where the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives (FFLSI) were jointly developed by all of the fire service organizations. Since then, the 16 FFLSI have been used as a blueprint to reduce preventable line-of-duty deaths and injuries across the fire service. One of them, FFLSI 15, speaks to advocacy, saying that advocacy must be strengthened to support the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers. This item, along with the other Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, has continued to be a hallmark of Chief Siarnicki’s efforts to reduce the incidence of fire, not only as executive director at NFFF but as a current and former board member of various organizations including the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors.

I have had the opportunity to share the stage with him at a lot of events over the years and to watch him in action. I have also been fortunate to benefit from his counsel and his constant offer of “What else do you need?” no matter what the cause. His commitment to safety is unparalleled. He is a powerful advocate who has a great deal to teach me and many others. Chief Siarnicki is well deserving of this recognition, and I’m sure his voice will continue to have an impact long after he retires.

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