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16 Posts authored by: jimpauley Employee

Ruminating About Research

Posted by jimpauley Employee Oct 22, 2020

This infographic is also available in Spanish at


I recently sat in on an information-sharing session called Coffee Time at NFPA. Coffee Times are conducted (internally, but virtually these days) by staff looking to apprise colleagues about projects underway, efforts completed, or issues bubbling up for NFPA audiences.


This particular day, a trio of young researchers (engineers by trade) from the Fire Protection Research Foundation, NFPA’s research affiliate, spoke about the role of the Research Foundation and some of the projects currently underway. True to both the NFPA and Research Foundation missions, the laundry list of projects touched on every corner of life safety. Newer employees were impressed to hear that more than 50-plus efforts are being managed right now by a small team of five, but for those of us who have worked with or watched the Research Foundation take on challenge after challenge, we were not surprised by the work they quietly do in the interest of safety.


Since 1982, the Research Foundation has been bringing people from diverse backgrounds to the table in much the same spirit as the NFPA standards development consensus process. They delve into issues, incidents, and insights that not only inform the standards development process, but more importantly - inform stakeholders like you.


Our Association is largely known around the world for our standards development work, but there is also a similarly important contribution we make through the work we collaboratively do to produce meaningful research that is used across the globe. The Research Foundation investigates emerging fire safety hazards, and works closely with our equally impressive Data and Analytics and Applied Research departments which are focused on generating information, metrics, tools, and analytics related to the fire problem, building and life safety, fire protection, electrical, responder safety, wildland fires and hazardous materials.  The research arms of NFPA add tremendous value in a world that is never short on threats or hazards.


When I speak with groups, I always point to the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem as the framework to facilitate important safety conversations today – to connect the dots on safety. Chances are you have heard me speak about the eight-component system that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss. One of those components is an investment in safety, which I often describe along two lines. We invest in safety by prioritizing the decisions being made. Choosing to protect people and property, and refusing to pander to politics, budgets or aesthetics is essential. The second way that we invest in safety is with research that addresses the new problems we are facing. While progress can be exhilarating and is certainly needed in our world, we must make sure innovation works alongside safety. We need research, testing, and benchmarks to fully understand issues and opportunities.


Prior to being the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong flew X-15 rocket planes. He was once asked to honor his test pilot colleagues that were among those who flew nearly 200 radical missions in the 50s and 60s. “In much of society, research means to investigate something you do not know about or do not understand,” Armstrong said. “Research is exploration and discovery. It’s investigating (something that) no one knows or understands. Research is creating new knowledge.”


The dozens of projects being juggled right now by the Research Foundation will create new knowledge for the built environment, detection and signaling, suppression, emerging technologies, wildfire, first responders, and so many other topics. It will provide you with information you may not even know you need yet. This is the “exploration and discovery” that Armstrong spoke of; that has become synonymous with NFPA. The Research Foundation exists to discover – just last week they received two new grants for research, bringing the total number of grants or subawards to 40 since 2005.


Now, I realize I may be biased about the fantastic research being done by the Research Foundation and our Data and Analytics and Applied Research teams but if you need further proof about the value of research, consider the words of wisdom from a man famously known for taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". Or better yet, visit or so you can be well on your way to the understanding that Armstrong spoke about.


This blog originally appeared in the NFPA Network Newsletter. If you find this content insightful, subscribe to the newsletter for monthly personalized content related to the world of fire, electrical, building, and life safety.

Every year on this day, I am overwhelmed with a sense of sadness that almost seems as raw as it did on that beautiful September morn in 2001. Tears flow. Memories flood. And I wonder, what have we learned in the aftermath of 9/11?


Nineteen years ago, we said we’d never forget.


At NFPA, we have not forgotten 9/11 nor will our nearly 125-year old organization ever forsake first responders. As I often say, “NFPA goes where first responders go.”


NFPA’s purview extends beyond the response community, and our Association continuously remembers the lessons learned from 9/11 by working with individuals and organizations across a wide spectrum of safety to usher in the critical changes needed to ensure that people, property, and first responders are protected to the utmost.


Looking back at NFPA Journal articles, NFPA blogs, and interviews on YouTube, there have been at least a dozen NFPA codes and standards that have been altered or influenced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy. Our global advocacy efforts have also driven change. Some of the advancements include:


  • In 2005 and 2008, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released landmark reports on the investigation of three buildings — the 110-story towers and Building 7. The 2005 report outlined 30 recommendations for NFPA and other standards development organizations to address. NFPA immediately got to work addressing these recommendations in its codes and standards by gathering a team of engineers, architects, fire service officials, and public advocacy groups to form the High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee (HRBSAC) in 2004. The committee prepared recommendations in the form of proposed code changes primarily for NFPA 1 Fire Code; NFPA 101 Life Safety Code; and NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code and other NFPA projects, as applicable.
  • Details related to a building’s means of egress design in NFPA 101 were revisited, including width of exits and use of elevators by occupants and first responders.
  • Mass notification systems per NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code were revised. Before 9/11, the code did not permit other signals to override the fire alarm signal. NFPA 72 now allows another emergency signal to take precedence over a fire alarm signal.
  • The construction, location and practices surrounding building security were adjusted in NFPA 730 Guide for Premises Security as well as the placement, performance and testing of these systems as defined in NFPA 731 Standard for Installation of Premises Security Systems.
  • The need to prepare for other manmade or natural catastrophes was made evident in the 9/11 Commission Reportwhich encouraged the private sector to adopt NFPA 1600 Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management. NFPA 1600 is widely used by public, not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and private entities on a local, regional, national, international and global basis. It has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness.
  • Fire service agencies and related organizations, including NFPA, began to underscore the all-hazards role that emergency responders play in society. In the aftermath of 9/11, NFPA conducted the 1st Needs Assessment Survey of the U.S. Fire Service in 2001 to identify where fire departments are meeting the needs of their communities and where there are gaps in the service they provide. Insights from 9/11 and the Needs Assessment have led to changes over the years— specifically, technology used by firefighters and personal protective equipment—but certain gaps still exist, due in part to monetary shortfalls. The Needs Assessment Survey of the U.S. Fire Service deploys every five years; the 5th edition of the survey will be sent to every fire department in the U.S. late next week. Additionally, programs such as the Assistance for Firefighter Grants and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants have provided extensive funds annually for community preparedness—particularly for fire department staffing, equipment, vehicles, and training but as we are seeing yet again during COVID times, common thinking is that firefighters only fight fires.
  • New types of communication, including wireless systems dedicated to emergency responder use, are now designed so that firefighters and other emergency personnel can more easily communicate with each other. Since 9/11, NFPA committees have worked on a range of code provisions that address this all-hazards approach. Communications capabilities or specifically what's known as "interoperability," the ability to send and receive urgent messages during an emergency incident as quickly as possible, was widely discussed in the wake of 9/11. In 2011, former NFPA fire service segment director Ken Willette told NFPA Journal, "Giving everybody a portable radio isn't the answer to interoperability post 9/11. You need to have good standard operating procedures in addition to a well-developed infrastructure to support this technology.”
  • NFPA 1561 Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System and Command Safety now provides requirements for using "clear text" terminology during an incident rather than radio codes, with the intent of providing a more accurate picture of what's actually happening at the scene.
  • Protecting responders from various respiratory hazards was also addressed in NFPA 1981 Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services. Provisions for the cleaning and decontamination of personal protective equipment soiled by the threats noted above are also part of the current edition of NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
  • And changes to both NFPA 472 Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents and NFPA 1026 Standard for Incident Management Personnel Professional Qualifications ensure that emergency responders, specialized personnel, and incident command competencies are prioritized. Responders and fire service leaders, faced with the unthinkable, now have better training, insights, and authority as a result of the World Trade Center attacks.


At NFPA, our more than 300 employees come to work each day to help save lives and reduce loss with information, knowledge, and passion. Like so many others, we will never forget 911, and will continue to incorporate the lessons learned in Manhattan many years ago by delivering information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering our mission.  

In my recent NFPA Journal columns and in the many engaging conversations I have had with people around the world, I have talked about how NFPA continues to grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of our diverse global audiences. We are committed to knowing what matters most to you, listening carefully to what your needs are, and working diligently every day to deliver the most useful tools to you.

As part of this commitment, I am pleased to tell you that this month, NFPA launched a new monthly e-newsletter called NFPA Network that is replacing the previous newsletters you have received. NFPA
Network aims to deliver the content you want and need, while at the same time providing additional insight into the broader fire and life safety issues that directly impact the work we all do every day.

With each issue, we will highlight themes that resonate across the 
NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, helping to drive home the idea that the work we do is an integral part of a larger, interconnected system. It is my hope that these pieces will prompt broader discussions about how we tackle today’s challenges in fire, life safety, electrical, and related hazards, and how we engage with others on shared solutions.NFPA Network

In our inaugural issue, we look at the subject of fires in unsprinklered high-rise residential buildings. In the past few years, we have witnessed a string of tragic events across the United States—New York City, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and elsewhere—that have brought to light a clear breakdown in the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem. These incidents have also raised an essential question around whether it’s time for jurisdictions to follow the lead of codes including 
NFPA 1, Fire Code, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, which require that all existing high-rise residential buildings be protected with sprinkler systems.

This isn’t just a US problem—it’s a complex global issue, and it’s a perfect example of why we need to stay connected on the issues that matter to us the most. NFPA Network is just one way we are helping set the stage for more engaged and meaningful conversations and creating strong catalysts for change. 
We invite you to subscribe to NFPA Network and to tell us about the topics and stories you’d like to read about every month. We look forward to hearing your comments.  


As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.



As the world grapples with the unprecedented health crisis known as COVID-19 or the coronavirus, NFPA, like many organizations, is monitoring the U.S. Centers for Disease Controland Prevention and other governmental sources for COVID-19 updates and adjusting business practices as recommended.


We know that the information available through NFPA is of paramount importance to safety in both ordinary times and extraordinary ones. NFPA is fully operational and providing our tools and resources to those who depend on them to continue to do their jobs safely and protect their communities. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve put out a number of communications related to the pandemic.  For your convenience, here’s an overview of them and some additional information in one single post.


Emergency Planning

In a blog earlier this month, our Emergency Services Specialist John Montes wrote a blog entitled, Organizational Planning Tips for Pandemic Preparedness. While many may not immediately think of NFPA as the first place to go for resources in a medical emergency, Montes points to NFPA 1600, Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management  which was recognized as the US National Preparedness Standard by the 9/11 Commission. Widely used by public, not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and private entities on a local, regional, national, and global basis, NFPA 1600 has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness. The standard is available on the NFPA website for free viewing, and offers key information for entities who want to conduct a risk assessment, business impact analysis, capabilities and needs assessments, and develop emergency and recovery plans.


He also references NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code which provides critical safety information and requirements for isolation spaces, emergency planning, IT and data infrastructure, and more. An additional resource is the NFPA Emergency Preparedness Checklist.


Responder Safety During Pandemics

When tragic events unfold, it is our first responders that are on the frontline, risking their own safety to help others. Staff Writer Angelo Verzoni speaks to a number of fire service professionals in the latest NFPA Journal Podcast. The timely podcast looks at the additional precautions that can be put in place to enhance the well-being of first responders.


Fire Doors and Life Safety

Kristin Bigda, the NFPA technical lead on building and life safety posted a blog - Don't Compromise Fire Safety While Responding to Coronavirus: Keep Fire Doors Operable after hearing that  facilities had begun propping fire doors open so that people didn’t have to touch handles for egress. While she recognizes the logic in terms of germ spread prevention, Bigda stresses that propping fire doors open presents significant hazards and risks in the event of a fire.  “It is imperative that we not forfeit institutional elements of safety while working to address others. In this case, we need to balance the risk of the coronavirus against other real hazards that have the potential to harm multiple people in a very short window of time,” the popular NFPA 101 blogger said.


NFPA codes and standards such as NFPA 1, Fire CodeNFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, govern the installation, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire doors.  Fire doors and other opening protectives such as shutters and windows must be operable at all times. 


Trainings and Certifications

Amidst travel bans and cancellations of face-to-face gatherings, we understand that individuals are not able to participate in live training programs or conferences aimed at keeping them up to date on the latest learnings for their professions or meeting various certification requirements. NFPA offers a full array of online training and certification programs to help meet those needs.


During this time, we are all focused on responding appropriately and continuing our efforts to enhance safety. Thank you for the work you all do. For the latest from NFPA, please visit our website.


Gilroy, California. El Paso, Texas. Dayton, Ohio. In the span of 10 days, news outlets have reported on three horrific active shooter incidents that have claimed the lives of 34, wounded 63, and rattled the American public to its core. Again.


Whether we identify as a private citizen, first responder, parent, community leader, medical personnel, or list ourselves among the many professionals charged with protecting people at public events, on campuses, in business environments, at entertainment venues, or in commercial settings – we are sad, frustrated, and feel, at times, the same sense of not being able to do more in the wake of these tragedies.


We may be heartbroken but we are not helpless. Preparedness is where we can all do something right now.


Every community is painfully recognizing that they must address preparedness in some way, shape or form. Some are training together, and others are expanding efforts to include key influencers beyond traditional police, fire and EMS response. They are looking at an intensive investigation, communications coordination, and starting to realize that recovery is the hardest, most enduring phase of one of these incidents. We applaud all of this – and underscore the need for it – and a lot more. We also know that very few are doing all that it takes to address hostile events before, during, and after chaos unfolds.


So, what is it that you can do? Start by asking questions, questions that lead to action. Is your city or town well-versed on whole community guidance so that it can prepare, respond, and recover from active shooter and hostile events? That should be the first question you pose to local authorities; and here are some others to continue the conversation that is necessary today:


  • Do police, fire, EMS and federal authorities have a plan to work together to address threats and access victims as quickly and safely as possible?
  • Do first responders have the ability to access your business, school, or place of work quickly in the event of an emergency?
  • What training is offered for civilian response to active shooter incidents?
  • How will victims of loved ones receive notification at home, school or work, if there is an incident?
  • Are local hospitals in communication with responders, and can they handle a surge of victims?
  • Beyond responders, who else should be sitting at the table for key preparedness discussions?
  • How will officials notify families and support them in the aftermath with security?
  • Has learning about “Stop the Bleed” or “Avoid, Deny, Defend” been encouraged in your community?
  • Are you registered to volunteer for a CERT team or your local Medical Reserve Corps?
  • Is your city or town prepared for the level of counseling that will be needed for recovery?
  • Are you prepared to handle an onslaught of donations, media, and outside resources?
  • Is there a continuity of operations plan in place where you live or work?


To be fair, many communities have answers to some of these questions; but many don’t have all the answers and far too many are without formalized plans. As new details about the three horrific incidents are learned – refuse to numb yourself to the violence. Instead, let your frustration fuel the forward-thinking action that is needed now on a local level.

There are many resources available to help communities face this growing threat.


Here are some: 


NFPA was saddened to learn of the recent tragic fire that swept through Dhaka, Bangladesh claiming the lives of nearly 80 people and injuring scores more. While a specific cause for what started the fire has yet to be determined, we do know that the intensity and spread of the fire stems from the storage of chemicals in the midst of the mixed-use part of the old city combining residences, shops, and unfortunately, chemical storage warehouses. (We don’t know specifically what chemicals were involved, but news accounts have mentioned flammable gas, flammable or combustible liquids like solvents or similar volatile materials, and have alluded to perfumes, cosmetics, and simple combustibles.)

What is particularly troubling is that a similar incident occurred in Dhaka in 2010. While the event was followed by a government effort to prohibit chemical storage in the city center, the effort was not sustained because it lacked a commitment of all involved parties tasked with protecting people and property. Such collaboration is at the root of what NFPA calls the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, a concept that helps guide all affected stakeholders through the process for identifying fire, life safety, electrical, and related hazards, and creating solutions to manage such hazards. Right now, this safety system is broken. Ecosystem

Take the 2010 incident in Bangladesh. While the process began with government recognition of the hazard, it needed more than just a push from government to build the framework. By way of example, according to the Ecosystem concept, full adherence to the codes and the referenced standards within would provide the process for storing chemicals in designated areas away from the public; an informed and skilled workforce would better be able to identify and respond to dangerous actions (i.e. the movement of stored chemicals from a once designated separate place back to residential areas); and an informed public would be more vocal and diligent in encouraging change in the name of safety. 

We are reminded that what we have seen with this incident in Bangladesh has happened elsewhere in the world:  In the U.S. in 2013, an ammonium nitrate fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 people; in China in 2016, a fire and explosions devastated a warehouse area storing chemicals and killing 170 people. In each of these incidents, the governments’ ill informed decisions related to zoning and compliance with existing fire and life safety codes and standards contributed to the devastating outcomes.  

So, what do the standards say about chemical storage and how they could have applied in Dhaka? NFPA standards, such as NFPA 1, NFPA 30, and NFPA 400, would approach these hazards by ensuring the following:

•    Identifying the hazard classification and characteristics

•    Identifying the types of containers used for storage

•    Limiting the quantities of the more volatile materials

•    Using construction to manage some of the storage (separate buildings or structures for certain materials to keep them segregated from incompatible materials) and enforcing separation distances from other structures, people and public areas

In the days to come, additional facts about this recent incident in Bangladesh will come to light. As we learn more, let it be a reminder that change can and should take root not just in Bangladesh but across the world. And while there is no single solution to fire and life safety, we believe that engaging in a full safety systems approach, as illustrated in the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem concept, will get us closer to solving the world’s fire problem.  

At NFPA, we continue our focus on the entire safety system, working with professionals around the globe in support of the development and use of the Ecosystem concept in their countries and according to local cultures. By working together, recommitting to, and promoting this full system of fire prevention, protection and education, we can help save lives and reduce loss.

Learn more about the Fire & Life Safety ecosystem at


Additional, related information:

February 21, 2019, New York Times, Scores Dead in Bangladesh Fire: ‘This Isn’t About Poverty, It’s About Greed

February 22, 2019 Wall Street Journal, Bangladesh Fire Points to Safety Shortfalls Despite Progress in Garment Industry


As the head of one of the world’s recognized standards developing organizations (SDOs), imagine my pure delight in reading an opinion piece in this Sunday’s New York Times entitled The Joy of Standards – Life is a lot easier when you can plug in to any socket. The work, written by Dr. Andrew Russell, the dean of arts and sciences at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, and Dr. Lee Vinsel, an assistant professor of science and technology studies at Virginia Tech, espouses the benefits of private, non-government organizations facilitating the development of standards that impact everything around us. The authors use modern examples of things impacted by standards such as electrical plugs fitting into any socket, smartphone connectivity to Bluetooth and the dimensions of a concrete block. Although there are many others they could have pointed to, I also liked their great example from an Arizona State University study that concluded a standard laptop incorporates more than 250 standards. 


SDOs provide hundreds of technical, industry and scientific standards that are useful not only to the public each year but also to federal, state and local government, supporting market standardization and business innovation, promoting health, safety and the environment, and saving time and money for governments at all levels. This consensus-based approach ensures that all stakeholders - including (depending on the subject) users, manufacturers, insurance providers, consumers, government regulatory agencies, enforcers, independent experts and academics - can participate and that no special interest can predominate.


To most of the public or policymakers, this work is often not known, not fully appreciated or taken for granted. The reality is SDOs serve the public through the creation of standards that promote reliability, interoperability and quality, bringing economic and other societal benefits and astronomical savings to government.


The savings comes from the fact independent SDOs hold copyright in their standards, and are able to fund their standards development activities from revenue generated from the sale of their standards publications. This allows SDOs to keep the barriers to participation low and to retain their independence and freedom from potential influence by any industry or group. For more than a century, this model has been highly successful and is probably one of the oldest public private partnership. Many SDOs including NFPA also make their standards available for free viewing on their websites.


While we who work in standards developing know the true value of this process, it was great to see it get some broader visibility. I may even hang this quote from the piece on my wall as a daily reminder of the importance of the work we do, “In an age of breathless enthusiasm for the new and 'disruptive,' it’s worth remembering the mundane agreements embodied in the things around us. It’s very ordinariness and settledness of standards that enable us to survive, and to move ahead.”





Our hearts are heavy as details emerge from Parkland, Florida about yet another active shooting incident in our country. While the refrain, “when will it end?” has been uttered by politicians, pundits, and the public since a 19-old pulled the fire alarm at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida school and killed 17 members of an unsuspecting community, NFPA has been focused on another question, “how can we help?”


NFPA can’t prevent these tragedies, but we do think there is more to be done in how they are responded to. NFPA has sped up its typical standards development process to develop the world’s first standard to help communities prepare, respond and rebound from hostile events. NFPA 3000™ Standard for Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events, slated to be available as early as this April, is being developed by a technical committee comprised of representatives from FEMA, DHS, the FBI, the fire service, law enforcement, emergency medicine, hospitals, facilities, the government, and public education.


While no standard or code in the world can prevent horrific attacks from occurring in the future, NFPA 3000™ is intended to make communities better-equipped to deal with such tragedies by providing guidelines for cooperative planning, integrated response, and whole community recovery. The document will hold policymakers and authorities accountable for cross-collaboration, enforcement, and public outreach; while emphasizing Run. Hide. Fight. and Stop the Bleed - key messages to minimize loss at the hands of perpetrators.


FBI statistics tell the story of the disproportionate number of active shooter and hostile events in the United States; and underscore the need for guidance for communities. NFPA 3000™ and efforts to make Active Shooter Hostile Event Response (ASHER™) programs mandatory will go a long way in helping cities, towns and jurisdictions establish safe infrastructures. But it’s going to take buy-in, practice, and coordination from policymakers, first responders, skilled professionals, code enforcers, and the general public. Without such an ecosystem, we will not only fail our citizens, but all those that have lost their lives in these tragedies.


The deadline to submit public input on NFPA 3000, Standard for Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events is this Friday, February 23 at 5:00p.m. (EST).


Last week NFPA introduced EFFECT™ (the Exterior Facade Fire Evaluation Comparison Tool) to help building owners and managers assess risk in their properties, and stem the tide of fires in high-rise structures with combustible cladding. Now, coming on the heels of that release, we see yet another harrowing example of a building with combustible exterior wall panels going up in flames in Malaysia.


At NFPA, we spend a lot of time peeling away layers so that we can better understand fires and the related hazards that often lead to loss of people and property. After 120 years, we know that when it comes to big fire events, it’s never just one thing that goes wrong. It’s often more than one factor so you have to look at fire and life safety more holistically – and you need a variety of stakeholders supporting and advocating for a solid safety infrastructure. We call this the fire protection and prevention ecosystem.


Epic blazes running up the sides of skyscrapers in cities from Dubai, to Shanghai, to Atlantic City, to Melbourne, were vivid examples of breakdowns in this ecosystem where the proper use and application of referenced codes were lacking. Then the world watched in horror as a similar fire ripped through the Grenfell Towers in West London, killing 71 last June.


In response to all of these, NFPA created a risk-based tool to help building owners, facility managers and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) evaluate their inventory of potential at-risk buildings from the convenience of their desktop.


Assessing risk is not easy work, but it is necessary. EFFECT™ helps time-crunched property managers and enforcers proactively assess the entire building – taking into account the facade, the building itself, fire protection systems and features, egress design, communications and notification systems, and any exterior ignition sources.


When the investigative commission in London releases their findings on Grenfell, the topic of fire safety will once again be thrust into the spotlight in a big way – and rightly so. In the meantime, governments have mandated risk assessment of buildings; communities have created cladding tasks groups; and building owners and registered design professionals are being held more accountable for the safety of exterior wall systems.


This is a great start, but we need more proactive measures to promote the full fire protection and prevention ecosystem. This means maintaining an effective policy and regulatory environment supporting fire and life safety; using the latest codes and standards; choosing safety over cost-cutting; applying the referenced standards within a code; promoting the development of skilled professionals who can apply the code; supporting effective code enforcement; educating the public and policymakers about the dangers posed by fire and other hazards; and providing effective response capabilities.


Without adherence to every piece of the system, we are destined to stall or reverse the reductions in fire loss that we have achieved by these very practices.


Last week, The Wall Street Journal featured an in-depth article on the Grenfell Tower fire and the exterior wall panels that escalated the fire’s devastating spread. According to the article, “… the more recent use of combustible-core panels to cover multistory buildings has created a hidden danger to legions of workers, students, hospital patients and hotel guests inside the structures. A loosening of the model U.S. building code could make matters worse.”

The article notes that the ICC building code was relaxed in 2009 to allow broader use of a particular type of exterior wall covering on high-rise structures. Unfortunately, this code change is no outlier. It reflects a broader undercurrent toward more relaxed codes and standards, and it’s a trend that can jeopardize public safety.

Technical committees that we have working on the development of codes and standards are a balanced cross-section of interests all driving towards the same goal – improved safety for people and property. We encourage committees to be thorough in their evaluations of proposed changes and to be sure they are asking the right questions so that they have the information to make the best decision possible. Our committees take this responsibility seriously and we take our process seriously to ensure that everyone that has an interest has had an opportunity to have their voice heard.

In addition to proposed modifications that allow less vigorous codes and standards, we’ve increasingly witnessed states and jurisdictions removing important safety related provisions of codes because they don’t understand the extensive process that was used to arrive at the requirement.  In effect, we have seen local amendment processes change from their original intent of ensuring appropriate administration of the requirements into a process where the main focus is on reducing the minimum safety requirements due to cost or outside influence. In fact, in the past, unlike today, jurisdictions that revised technical requirements did so almost exclusively to improve, not reduce, the level of safety included in their codes.
While I realize an argument for these actions around codes and standards is often cost, the reality is codes developed through the consensus process already represent the minimum level of safety. Weakening codes not only means jurisdictions miss out on the best knowledge available from research, collective wisdom and past learnings, but they compromise public safety.

All of us who diligently work each day to make the world safer from fire and other hazards must denounce these dangerous trends and vigorously support a full system of fire safety. This eco-system includes an effective policy and regulatory environment, use of latest versions of codes and referenced codes, a robust enforcement system, promoting the development of a skilled professionals to apply the codes, and educating the public and policymakers on the risks posed by fire and other hazards. The lives of those we help save in abiding by these principals is unarguably worth the effort.

Hawaii high-rise fire

Image via

Over the weekend, we were faced once again with another fire tragedy. A high rise condominium in Honolulu, Hawaii caught fire resulting in the death of three individuals and four serious injuries, including one firefighter. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims and and to the fire service as they continue to deal with the physiological impact that accompanies any fire tragedy.


Once again, we are all asking how this can happen in today’s modern times. I am convinced this is yet another example of how we have become complacent about the threat of fire. We have recognized the danger posed by unsprinklered high-rise buildings. Countless examples have taught us that over the years. NFPA 1 – Fire Code recognizes this through a requirement that all existing high-rise buildings be provided with sprinkler protection. The technical committees – committees made up of a wide range of interests including the fire service, engineers, installers, manufacturers, insurers, enforcers and owners - involved in writing this provision didn’t arrive at this requirement lightly. They looked at the expectation of protection of the public from fire in an environment where quick evacuation can be difficult.


However, this particular provision, which would require the retrofit of sprinklers, often gets deleted during the local adoption process – as it did in Hawaii. Though the provisions are usually supported by the fire service, the economic interests have been generally successful at convincing policy makers that the economics should outweigh the safety. Policy makers go along with the logic, right up until a tragedy happens. Then they ask, “How can this happen?” Fire safety isn’t free.


The NFPA standards system does a very good job at reviewing, analyzing and arriving at consensus around what technical requirements and at what cost make the most sense to provide an expected level of safety. It has strong public input and review, balanced committees where no single interest can dominate, and considers solid research to better understand the problem and solutions. The result is solid standards that reflect the broadest thinking.


These standards then need to be adopted and enforced to provide the public and first responders with the latest information and technical advances to reduce loss of life and property.


The job of government and policy makers is to create policy that will keep the public safe and meet the public expectation that their government is protecting them with sound policies. Substituting economic and political judgement to remove requirements that have been well thought out and vetted through a visible and public process abandons a time-tested system that works, leading to a breakdown in the safety system and ensuing tragedies. Hawaii is the latest example.

Grenfell Tower Fire in London

Getty Images


The Grenfell Tower fire in London has been a horrific fire tragedy.  With a loss of 79 lives thus far, it is one of the most tragic fires to occur in the UK in recent decades.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims as well to the first responders involved in the very difficult recovery operations.  We have reached out to the UK to offer NFPA’s support and assistance in any way needed.


News stories have talked about the flammability of exterior cladding, the lack of fire sprinklers and the notion of “shelter in place” amongst other subjects. On its own, it is a horrendous tragedy.  In combination with other recent events, some disturbing trends emerge which could set fire safety back for decades.


For example, in less than one year we saw 36 people perish in the Oakland Ghost Ship fire, a former warehouse being used as living and entertainment space. The fire raised questions about appropriate permitting for its use, code enforcement, lack of fire alarms and the role of occupants in understanding the impact of their surroundings on their own personal safety. We saw a fire at a packaging factory in Bangladesh that killed 23 in a building with woefully inadequate fire protection.  We saw a wildfire in Tennessee burn over 17,000 acres of land and kill 14 people, prompting questions about pre-planning, building in the urban interface to withstand wildfire, fire service ability to respond to an event of this magnitude and public awareness around this growing threat. Another raging wildfire in Portugal claimed the lives of 62 people, many burned in their cars as they attempted to flee, raising similar questions about planning and preparedness.  We saw a six-year-old girl die in Connecticut when a fire ripped through the recently constructed house that, if it had been built to meet the national codes, would have had a home fire sprinkler and likely a much different outcome.


Each of these incidents is an individual tragedy. Taken together, they depict a larger global problem warranting action. Looked at in their entirety, they are a collective example of how, either intentionally or accidentally, the fire prevention and protection system has been broken. A system that the public believes exists and counts on for their safety.  A system that, through complacency, bad policy and placing economics of construction over safety, has let the public down.


Where have we gone astray? In each of these scenarios as well as many more not mentioned we can point to one or more factors:


•    the use of outdated codes and standards
•    acceptance of reduced safety requirements to save money
•    ignoring referenced standards within a code
•    lack of education around the application of the codes and standards
•    reduced enforcement
•    a public unaware of the dangers of fire


When government and other entities don’t adopt or designers don’t use the latest versions of codes and standards, they lose the benefit of the latest technology, research and collective wisdom related to fire, electrical and life safety.  


When policy makers decide to remove life safety and property protection provisions from codes, they have substituted politics for technical requirements that were determined after extensive input from across the spectrum of knowledgeable people.


When users fail to review and follow standards that are referenced in the codes, they aren’t ensuring the right practices and products are used in the right situations, increasing vulnerability to disaster.  


When the professionals involved in design, installation, enforcement and maintenance have not kept up to date on the latest requirements they can end up applying products improperly leading to catastrophic results.  


When jurisdictions, under fiscal pressures or lack of understanding of the importance, reduce enforcement efforts, they place their communities at risk as buildings deteriorate, change ownership or type of use.  


And when the public takes safety for granted and is uneducated about fire risks, their improper or uneducated actions can place them in peril.


The system the public relies on for managing fire safety is broken and a single solution isn’t the answer.  It will take a systems approach to fix it.  At NFPA, we are focused on looking at the entire system and working with everyone involved to fill the gaps.


We may not be able to prevent every tragedy from occurring, but by recommitting to and promoting a full system of fire prevention, protection and education, we can help save lives and reduce loss. That is the story that should consume the news of the day.


Jim Pauley

President and CEO


NFPA copyright lawsuit, motion for summary judgment

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Hon. Tanya S. Chutkan) late last week issued a ruling that will support federal, state and local governments’ efforts to support public health and safety through the use of voluntary consensus codes and standards. On February 2, the court granted a motion for summary judgment filed by a number of standard development organizations (SDOs), including NFPA, ASTM International and ASHRAE. The court’s ruling permanently enjoins from its previous systematic infringement of numerous SDO copyrighted codes and standards. The ruling vindicates the longstanding public-private partnership pursuant to which government entities may, if they choose, incorporate by reference high quality safety codes and standards.


We are very pleased with the court’s thoughtful and well-reasoned decision, which recognizes the importance of a time-tested process that serves governments and individuals well and is vital to public health and safety.


The history of not-for-profit SDOs developing voluntary consensus standards goes back more than a century. Governments, businesses, and individuals across the country rely on a wide variety of works, from product specifications and installation methods to safety codes and standards.  SDOs, not resource-constrained governmental agencies, underwrite the substantial costs of developing standards.  

SDOs pay for the standard development process and invest in new standards with the money earned selling and licensing their copyrighted works.  This model allows SDOs to remain independent of special interests and to develop up-to-date, high-quality standards.  It also allows the U.S. government – and governments at all levels – the freedom to decide whether to incorporate these standards by reference without a drain on their limited resources.
NFPA has provided free access to all of its codes and standards for more than a decade. Many other SDOs also provide free online access to many standards as part of an overall commitment to safety.

The standards development process is an excellent example of a successful public-private partnership that benefits business, government and individual citizens. More information about the importance of codes and standards and how to get involved can be found on NFPA’s website.

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out from NFPA to the families, communities and first responders who are impacted by the number of recent fire tragedies filling the headlines. For those of us who devote our careers to making the world safer from fire, these stories shake us to our core.


As I read of the horrendous fire in Oakland this weekend where at least 36 people lost their lives, and then saw coverage of a 10 alarm fire outside Boston that left more than 100 homeless; a fire in a hotel in Pakistan that killed 11; and continuing coverage of the Tennessee wildfires where the death toll has reached 14, I couldn’t help but think about what they all had in common. As different as the scenarios are, they are a painful reminder that we have not solved the fire problem and we must remain ever vigilant on the things that have helped us dramatically reduce the amount of loss in recent decades.


Codes and standards, a robust enforcement system and public education have all combined to bring the number of deaths, injuries and dollar loss down. But with that success has come a level of complacency that we see in so many of today’s scenarios. No one thinks it’s an issue until it’s an issue. I’m sure for folks in Oakland, fire safety was not top of mind when they attended an event there or folks in Tennessee may not have seen wildfire as a major issue to the extent many people in California do.


These fires remind us that the threats and challenges facing the public and first responders continue to change. In Oakland, the changing occupancy of that building may have only been known to those who lived or worked there, not to the fire service or other officials. This is likely a scenario happening in other places around the country. The ability to attract large numbers of people to an unknown venue is easy through newer ways of social media. Couple that with the rate of speed things can go from bad to worse when there are blocked or not enough exits and lots of combustibles.


They remind us that our work is not done and we should make every effort to see the learnings from all of them are used in our codes and standards, enforcement and public education work just as we have throughout history. This is how we can ensure that we continue to reduce loss and avoid complacency.


More information on these incidents and NFPA resources can be found under breaking news at

MfcRecently, NFPA hosted the Urban Fire Forum, the annual gathering of 25 fire and emergency service leaders who are members of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs, a membership section of the NFPA and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. The Forum endorsed a position statement on Fire and Smoke as a Weapon. This six page document contains background on why those who would harm citizens around the globe consider fire and smoke as weapons. More importantly, drawing on the collective experience of the Metro Chiefs and guidance from the US Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation, provides detailed information on planning, training, and operational needs when responding to such an event.

September 11, 2001, catapulted NFPA into an era where we had to consider the intentional use of fire as a weapon to create harm and attack the structural integrity of building. We saw how this event overwhelmed the ability of any Code or Standard to protect occupants and responders from harm.

Today we see a world where some have gathered to harm others utilizing a horrific arsenal of tools, including fire. Through social media and slick magazines, their followers are instructed how to attack innocents and inflict great harm. Protecting America and those nations targeted will require more than Codes and Standards. As highlighted in Fire and Smoke as A Weapon, it will require preplanning, training, and operational deployment commensurate with the risk.

To assist Americas responders in their efforts to protect our Homeland from these threats, NFPA has created a web page with the Urban Fire Forum position paper and other resources. The Position Paper is a must read for all leaders of emergency response organizations. See the additional resources, including a DHS paper on terrorist interest in using fire as a weapon as well as the FDNY interagency response protocol, at

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