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October 25, 2018 Previous day Next day

You won’t find too many emergency responder organizations convening on the gutsy topics being discussed at this week’s 4th NFPA Responder Forum in Alabama.


During his opening remarks today, NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley told the crowd of more than 130 attendees from 15 leading first responder organizations that when he first heard about this year’s plans to tackle the issues of bullying, hazing, racial bias, cultural acceptance, and gender equality during the 3-day program – his first reaction was, “that’s an ambitious agenda.”


Since its debut in 2015, the Responder Forum has taken on new risks and zeroed in on the emerging challenges that emergency responders are facing on the front line. Previous Forums have covered smart firefighting, civil unrest, drones, contamination control, energy storage systems, active shooters, and occupational health and safety – all timely topics that either put people and property at risk or provide solutions to address long-standing issues.


This year the Forum is taking things a little further.


The firefighters, chiefs, marshals, trainers, investigators, EMS professionals and others in attendance have been recognized as forward-thinkers, and as such are considering content that some might find unfamiliar and uncomfortable. They are answering important questions such as – what is the modern day emergency response community doing to protect our firefighters, police and EMS professionals in the spaces where they work, day in and day out? What are we doing to ensure that the perception of the “brotherhood” that is so often touted by first responders, is in fact, relevant for all?

Pauley told the scholarship candidates, “It is up to all of us to ensure that each man and woman that dons the uniform feels that leadership has their back in the station, around the kitchen table, in the apparatus, and .”


Day 1 included presentations designed to help the attendees and the larger emergency response community take o difficult topics.


  • USFA Deputy Fire Administrator Denis Onieal acknowledged and explained why the topics of inclusion, hazing, bullying, and LGBTQ awareness are complicated. The well-known fire authority referenced the New York Times best-seller, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance in his remarks. He asked attendees “to resist the urge to be more tribal; to avoid retreating to comfortable corners.”
  • NFPA Director of Internal Communications Mike Hazell asked the up-and-comers to take notice of behaviors, to emphasize the impact they are having in the workplace, and to have bold, thorough conversations with all personnel. 
  • Casey Grant, Executive Director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, spoke about the value that the Responder Forum has in the research community. Grant said, “Sharing your voices and stories is hugely important” as he and others look to provide behavioral benchmarks and best practices.
  • Sara Janke, PhD, Director & Principal Investigator for the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research then entertained and enlightened the crowd with first responder statistics and stereotype observations. Janke said, “If firefighters are not motivated to report and rarely report, it is the equivalent of a “green light” for perpetrators within that culture.”
  • Next, NFPA’s Senior Director of Public Education Andrea Vastis highlighted how stereotypes and unintentional bias can impact our behaviors. Vastis’ presentation drew spirited comments and questions from the audience, and prompted many follow up conversations after she left the stage.
  • Finally, it was time for Ali Rothrock to share her powerful story. A volunteer firefighter, EMT, author (Where Hope Lives), mental health advocate and post-traumatic author from Pennsylvania, Rothrock silenced the audience as she recounted the physical, sexual and mental abuse that she experienced at a young age in firehouses. Her journey nearly broke her until she sought help for PTSD and began her new mission of helping others heal from harrowing events.

As promised, today’s Responder Forum was groundbreaking in a number of ways, but the hard work begins when these leaders break into work groups tomorrow and ultimately return to their respective stations to champion change.


Read about Day 2 of the Responder Forum

Read about Day 3 of the Responder Forum



On the final day of the Responder Forum, it was time for participants to highlight key takeaways from their breakout groups and ask the difficult questions that will help fire, EMS and police organizations become more culturally aware.


Attendees from 15 diverse responder organizations worked together to identify best practices and the honest questions that need to be answered if equity is going to be achieved and awareness is going to be prioritized


Here’s a snapshot of the suggestions and considerations that the teams presented on. All proceedings from the Forum will be shared at a later date in a separate blog:


  • We need to educate ourselves, internally and externally by making sure that we interact with our colleagues and our residents – and take time to get to know the people around us
  • It's important that we meet people where they are. For instance, in Palo Alto, California – the fire service in that affluent city inserts notifications about risks and seasonal challenges in library books because more than 50% of their calls involve the elderly. Palo Alto is home to five libraries widely used by senior residents. Officials have also tapped into Whole Foods to get safety messages to the area’s older audience. In the Detroit area, a fire department established 501C status so that they could support their community. They fundraise and then engage with residents of all ages via Christmas programs, backpack distributions, and neighborhood events. This goodwill goes a long way when emergency responders need support from the community.
  • Departments must have a defined code of ethics/conduct that makes the standard of behavior clear. This way leadership and rank and file requirements can be defined and communicated.


Here are some of the queries from the group that will unearth answers as first responders look to establish equity in their stations and establish rapport with area residents:


  • Why isn’t bullying and hazing being reported? Is it because the leader will brush it off or has an environment of intimidation been adopted?
  • Are you using observations from the field or current events to foster discussions in your station?
  • When was the last time you showed up in your community when things went right, not just when things went wrong?
  • Does everyone have a seat at the table - or just a select few?
  • Are you encouraging and creating educational opportunities that will result in changing behaviors of unconscious bias?
  • Do your recruitment efforts reflect the community; and does your community see emergency response as a relatable, attainable, viable career option?
  • Does your department have a policy on the use and maintenance of social media, as it relates to community engagement?


Earlier in the day, the audience heard from a local firefighter who championed a community engagement strategy that is being considered in many jurisdictions throughout the country. Ben Thompson of Birmingham Fire & Rescue spoke about his city’s C.A.R.E.S (Community Assistance, Referral and Education Services) program which is taking proactive steps to serve patients who frequently call 911 for non-emergent complaints. Time spent helping the elderly may preclude departments from providing life-saving medical evaluations, treatment and transport, so Birmingham Fire & Rescue Fire partnered with social workers to develop a “Prevention through Intervention” home-visiting program for recently discharged heart-failure and COPD patients. This para-medicine initiative is a great example of an emergency response organization connecting with a certain market segment and community partners to add value in a way that is relevant today.


The final day of meetings in Alabama featured leaders at all levels rolling up their sleeves, asking difficult questions, listening to different perspectives, and redefining the perception of first responders - both internally and externally.
Preparing modern fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel to address challenges, on the front line and in the places that they work, is exactly what the NFPA Responder Forum is all about.


Read about Day 1 of the Responder Forum

Read about Day 2 of the Responder Forum



The NFPA Headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts welcomes many visitors from all over the world. In the main lobby resides a beautiful antique fire engine that always attracts attention.
This hand-pump fire engine was built by the Hunneman Company (started by one of Paul Revere’s apprentices) for the Houghs Neck Fire Station in Quincy, Massachusetts. It was delivered  on July 16, 1844.
Hunneman No. 244 “Granite” No.2 at NFPA Headquarters in Quincy, MA
The town of Quincy donated the engine to the National Fire Protection Association in 1981, when the organization made Quincy its new home.
For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.
The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

Katie Cornhill wants you to know something: She's still a "badass."

That's what the former Royal Marine and current United Kingdom fire officer told attendees of the 2018 NFPA Responder Forum in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, garnering laughs from the crowd of more than 130 people. Cornhill is the subject of a “Perspectives” interview in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal.
Cornhill, a group manager at the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, identifies as a non-cisgendered female—some people mistakenly identify her as a transgender female. She says she was assigned the incorrect male gender at birth and lived the first 39 years of her life, including six years as a commando in the very masculine Royal Marines, hiding her true identify from everyone except her ex-wife, brother, and a few close friends. Twelve years ago, Cornhill says, she decided it was time to finally start living her life as the person she had always been since the day she was conceived, and six years ago, she came out to her department. Since then, she's become a champion of inclusion in the fire service. 
"We need to be truly inclusive leaders and do all that we can every day to make our archaic institutional cultures move forward," Cornhill said at the forum. "The world would be a better place and it would be a safer and happier place if everyone could truly be themselves." Cornhill's talk was one of a number of presentations at this year's forum that tackled fire service personnel issues like bullying, hazing, racial bias, cultural acceptance, and gender equality in the fire service
Last month, Cornhill shared more about her personal journey with my colleague Jesse Roman. His interview with her will appear in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal. "I think every fire and rescue service is populated with individuals who are not out to their colleagues," Cornhill told Roman. "That is in terms of both sexual identity and gender identity. I think that what every fire and rescue service needs to do—we are not there, and nowhere near it—is to create an environment where we embrace diversity so people can truly feel like they can be themselves." 

Read the full story here.

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