At NFPA’s Conference & Expo in 2018, Jim Pauley introduced attendees to the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, telling them "we have failed to connect the dots. While everyone is so focused on their particular aspects of incidents, collectively, we have forgotten that safety is a system – not a singular action, piece of equipment, or event.”
At this year’s event, the focus has moved to urging all to recognize their role in the Ecosystem and to find ways to work together. From NFPA's perspective, the full Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem includes eight elements that play a critical role in protecting people and property. Time after time when we have seen calamities, we can almost always trace the cause of those situations to a breakdown in one or more of the elements of the ecosystem.
During opening General Session, Jim Pauley told the crowd that “Safety does not exist in a vacuum. However, we have been treating it like it does. The policy maker makes isolated or ill-informed decisions and all of you have to compensate for the consequences. Valuable research falls on deaf ears because few outside of the research community are paying attention. The fire departments focus on responding quickly with enough equipment. The building owners worry about energy efficiency because fires are really rare, right? School officials talk about removing pull stations because they think they are not needed at a time when the threat of active shooters consume their attention.”
It’s time to change the way we are all thinking. Safety is a system – an ecosystem.
NFPA’s Guy Colonna presented an education session on the topic as well. When he asked attendees why they came to his session, most people said they wanted to learn more about how to apply the Ecosystem principles. Today’s audience consisted of at least one person from each cog, but Guy reminds people that even if they don’t feel like they fit into a specific area, everyone is included in the ‘informed public’ cog, so we are all affected by the Ecosystem.
Guy likes to think of the Ecosystem as a safety management system as it helps show the importance of everyone talking to one another, working together, and striving for the same goals. When looking at the interdependence of two of the components, skilled workforce and investment in safety, we can see how they both demonstrate behavior change to build an enhanced safety culture, how skilled workers are needed for proper application of current code requirements, and that safety investments yield a more committed workforce.
Bringing up recent news events, where the government responsibility component failed, Guy solicited some reactions and thoughts from the crowd. He talked about London’s Grenfell fire and how changes have been slow in coming since its occurrence two years ago. He also talked about a recent fire in Bangladesh that reminded us to put safety first as it was almost identical to a 2010 event.
To conclude, Guy asks attendees, “how can you put the system to work?” He advises that to help answer that question, think about who your allies are in the community, what information you can provide to them, and stresses that this is not something you can do alone. Guy hopes that the ecosystem will eventually become the starting point for every conversation about fire & life safety.