As 2018 comes to a close, the NFPA Journal editorial staff has each chosen his favorite article from the past year. From a story covering a primetime cry-fest to one covering a groundbreaking new NFPA standard, here are our choices, presented with explanations on why we chose them.
Executive Editor Scott Sutherland's pick: "This is Safety,"March/April Dispatches lead story
This challenge is difficult to the point of being unfair, when you consider the breadth of the topics we covered and the urgency that drove a lot of our coverage. There were big, pressing stories like Angelo Verzoni’s feature on the new NFPA 3000 ("Writing History,"May/June), or Jesse Roman’s big-picture consideration of development in the wildland/urban interface ("Build. Burn. Repeat?,"January/February). A personal favorite was one of our last features of the year—Jesse’s piece on the remaking of NFPA 150, the standard on animal housing facilities ("Critter Life Safety Code," November/December), with its plucky cow that graced our cover.But I think my favorite, for entirely subjective reasons, wasn’t a feature at all—it was Angelo’s March/April Dispatches lead story on the season-ending episode of "This Is Us," the NBC tear-jerker series that featured a home fire and prompted a national conversation on fire and life safety—and sparked a kerfuffle on slow cookers for good measure. NFPA and NFPA Journal are uniquely positioned to consider fire and life safety as depicted in popular culture, and Angelo’s piece was a great example of how we can probe the zeitgeist and help readers understand why it matters and what it all means.
Associate Editor Jesse Roman's pick: "Build. Burn. Repeat?,"January/February cover story
In light of the terrible events that unfolded recently in California, in my opinion the most important article that ran in our pages this year is the feature "Build. Burn. Repeat?," the cover story in January/February.The main takeaway from the piece is that wildfires are a natural element of the landscape; as with hurricanes, tornados, and other natural disasters, they are not preventable, so best to prepare, plan ahead, and take steps to dull the impact. In reporting the piece, expert after expert told me that we have the knowledge and technology today to prevent almost all houses from igniting during a wildfire—what we lack is the will to mandate that residents build a certain way and in certain locations.Instead, the opposite is happening: building codes are being relaxed, and development is expanding further into the wilderness. Even in places like Santa Rosa, California, and El Paso County, Colorado, where huge wildfires have recently destroyed homes and taken lives, instead of taking steps to lessen the chance of another wildfire disaster, local governments choose to relax building codes. This is typically done out of a desire to help the victims get back on their feet by making it fast, easy, and more affordable to rebuild their homes in the same fire-prone areas; often, the rebuilt homes have even less fire protection than the ones that just burned. It’s an understandable reaction, but one that leads to predictable outcomes. Hence the headline, "Build. Burn. Repeat?"Upon rereading the piece recently, it’s almost eerie how true this is. Almost exactly a year ago as I was writing "Build. Burn. Repeat?" residents of Santa Rosa were still coming to grips with the Tubbs Fire, which had torn through neighborhoods destroying nearly 15,000 homes, and killing 44 people. A year later, it's the residents of Paradise who are picking up the pieces. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight, and it seems that the lessons in "Build. Burn. Repeat?" will be relevant long into the future.
Staff Writer Angelo Verzoni's pick: "Writing History,"May/June cover story
It's not every day as a journalist that you get to sit down with the nation's most prominent public safety leaders, some of whom responded to the nation's deadliest, most horrific mass shootings: Newtown, Orlando, Las Vegas. The sources are what make this story shine, in my opinion, and there are plenty of them quoted in the piece. It was published in May to mark the release of NFPA 3000, NFPA's biggest, most-talked-about standards writing effort of the year, and does a nice job explaining how those efforts came together and ultimately played out. It wasn't an easy process; when NFPA brought cops and firefighters to the same table, for example, they didn't always see eye to eye—to put it mildly.One of the most powerful interviews I conducted for the story was with Dr. Richard Kamin, a trauma surgeon who responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. "I walked out of that school and I was really afraid that I was broken," he told me. That quote will always stick with me. After writing the story, I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Kamin again to interview him for a separate video project for NFPA.Unfortunately, the reality is that "Writing History" and NFPA 3000 are just as important and relevant today as they were several months ago, as mass shootings have continued to plague the country. My hope is that communities and leaders who haven't already will learn from the standard and from leaders like Kamin who have gone through hell and back to better prepare themselves should an incident like that occur on their turf, and reading "Writing History" might be a good place to start.
What did readers think? Based on web traffic, the most popular Journal articles in 2018, in order of first to fifth, were: "Smoke Signals"(March/April); "Smarter About Smoke"(May/June); "Firefighter fatalities in the United States in 2017"(July/August); "Small Scale, High Proof"(March/April); and "The Makeover"(May/June).
NFPA Journal will be back in the new year, with an issue focusing on health care, violence against responders, the Camp Fire, and more.