At Las Vegas conference, NFPA president outlines eight elements of the Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem that must work in harmony to protect people and property.
In the year since NFPA president Jim Pauley spoke to attendees at our 2017 Conference & Expo in Boston, Grenfell Tower in London went up in flames, killing 71 people and injuring many more. We also witnessed more than five dozen deaths as wildfires spread through Portugal, a tragic example of the wildfire story playing out all across the globe. Last July, three people died in a high-rise fire in an unsprinklered apartment building in Hawaii. And last fall at the Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, nearly 60 people including 12 off-duty firefighters, lost their lives in the deadliest mass shooting event in the United States.
Mr. Pauley said that these incidents and others that played out on the world stage in the past 12 months beg the questions: How are these events possible in this day and age, and what is it that we need to be doing?
"Each of these events is a tragedy on its own," said Mr. Pauley. "Taken together, they represent a catastrophic failure of what I call the 'Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem'. We are backsliding when we need to be forging ahead."
The good news: the number of fires is declining. But statistically, if you have a fire in your home, you are more likely to die today than you were 20 years ago. We do have many of the tools we need to prevent damaging fires – sprinklers, smoke alarms, codes, and enforcement. But they are being met with resistance -- underused, ignored, or allowed to become outdated.
"We have failed to connect the dots," said Mr. Pauley. While everyone is so focused on particular aspects of incidents, collectively, we have forgotten that safety is a system – not a singular action, piece of equipment, or event.
"From NFPA's perspective, the full Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem includes eight elements that play a critical role in protecting people and property," said Mr. Pauley. "Time after time when we have seen calamities, we can trace the cause of those situations to a breakdown in one or more of the elements of the ecosystem."
Element 1 of the Ecosystem is government responsibility. Federal, state and local elected officials must create a regulatory environment where laws, policies, and spending priorities are dictated by public safety needs, not by special interests. "That is their job, to protect their citizens," he said. "And citizens expect them to do it."
To help educate and support policy makers, NFPA launched the Fire and Life Safety Policy Institute. The Institute studies a wide range of issues and provide information and guidance on the best approaches to improve safety for the citizens they serve. The Institute has already shed light on some serious issues including the gap between public expectations of safety and the reality of timely code use.
Element 2 focuses on the development and use of current codes. "Safety codes developed by experts from all over the world, many of you in this room, ensure minimum levels of safety," said Mr. Pauley. "The current editions of codes and standards incorporate learnings from recent research, technology advances, case studies, loss experience, and proven best practices."
Element 3 addresses the issue of reference standards. "We all talk about the use of the 'code itself' – the building code, life safety code, electrical code," said Mr. Pauley. "But we have to spend more time talking about the importance of the referenced codes and standards as well."
To support Elements 2 and 3, Mr. Pauley announced the launch of NFPA CodeFinder™, an online portal that showcases a map of the key codes and standards used in North America and around the world, as well as insights into the reference standards that relate to the particular codes. CodeFinder also offers a place for users to provide NFPA with information about code use if it is not already in the tool.
Element 4 of the Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem ensures that safety is prioritized. "Whether we are talking about using and enforcing codes, training workers, or choosing products, safety must be top of mind," said Mr. Pauley. "Uninformed decisions to simply cut costs can lead to disastrous and expensive consequences. Even in an anti-regulatory and cost-cutting environment, life safety measures should never be disregarded to save a few dollars."
Element 5 focuses on maintaining a skilled workforce, as employers in many trades are struggling to find competent staff.
Element 6 of the Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem deals with code compliance. "Whether a house or a new office building, the places people live and work are only as safe as the construction and code compliance in place," said. Mr. Pauley.
"Without sufficient resources to ensure construction and maintenance meet code requirements, communities are missing a critical step in the safety ecosystem."
Compliance is integral throughout the entire lifecycle of a building – every phase from planning and zoning through demolition. Mr. Pauley noted that NFPA has assembled an enforcers forum whose members represent the spectrum of a building's compliance issues who are having great conversations about how to better work with developers, owners and facility managers. In addition, NFPA just launched a new Member Section to give electrical inspection members a specific place to gather and take action.
Element 7 address preparedness and emergency response. Because first responders are on the front line for offense and defense for fires, car crashes, medical emergencies, natural disasters, and man-made catastrophic events, they must be well-trained, well-resourced, and well-prepared.
In May, NFPA issued NFPA 3000™ (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter / Hostile Event Response Program, to help communities holistically deal with the fast-growing number of mass casualty incidents. The document is the first of its kind and provides unified planning, response and recovery guidance, as well as civilian and responder safety considerations. "Our work in this area represents NFPA’s growing significance in the full range of safety issues beyond fire," said Mr. Pauley. "We go where our first responder go." (See overview of NFPA 3000 resources and training.)
Element 8 of the Fire and Life Safety addresses the need for an informed public.
Mr. Pauley also announced the kick-off of a new project that combines public education and state-of-the-art technology to drive home critical safety lessons for all ages.
"NFPA has signed on to be the title sponsor for the 'NFPA HEROES Experience' a new attraction at the National Center for Fire and Life Safety," he said. "To be located in Alabama, the NFPA HEROES Experience will immerse visitors in authentic stories, exhibits and experiences that dramatize the importance of preventative fire and life safety measures. Think Disney meets fire and life safety. This will be unlike anything that has ever been done in fire prevention education.
It will impact not only Alabama but the rest of the country and the world."
Mr. Pauley closed his remarks by encouraging attendees think about their role in the Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem. "What more can you be doing to better protect people and property?" he asked. "What more can we do together?
Mr. Pauley said there is not a single answer to safety. "We may not be able to prevent every tragedy from occurring, but by recommitting to and promoting the full safety ecosystem of prevention, protection and education, we can further our work to help save lives and reduce loss. It’s a big world, let’s protect it together. This is not a slogan. It is a call to action. That ladies and gentlemen is the focus of your association."
Watch the full video of Mr. Pauley's presentation.