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8 Posts authored by: mhousewright Employee

With Friday’s passage of the CARE Act, over $150 billion will soon be available to help states and municipalities with immediate needs related to the coronavirus. Of these needs, one of the most acute is for personal protective equipment (PPE), like N95 masks, and related supplies. In a recent survey of over 231 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, over 91.5% reported not having enough face masks for both first responders and medical workers; 88.2% reported a shortage in other types of PPE for these same personnel; and 92.1% reported a shortage of test kits.


As more resources become available, authorities are urged to provide access to all of these supplies to first responders, as well as medical workers. Currently, the U.S. Public Health Service has classified fire service and EMS personnel as Tier 2 or Tier 3 as they prioritize access to testing.


Today, NFPA came together with the nation’s leading response organizations to implore that Vice President Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar provide first responders with the same access to PPE and testing, as healthcare workers.


Why is this so critical right now? Experience from Bergamo, Italy reveals the role of these workers in disease transmission, and their particular vulnerability to sickness. In an Op-Ed sent to the New England Journal of Medicine, Italian doctors wrote, “We are learning that hospitals might be the main Covid-19 carriers, as they are rapidly populated by infected patients, facilitating transmission to uninfected patients. Patients are transported by our regional system, which also contributes to spreading the disease as its ambulances and personnel rapidly become vectors. Health workers are asymptomatic carriers or sick without surveillance; some might die, including young people, which increases the stress of those on the front line.”


For American first responders, that lesson now has a face. On Wednesday, the family of 34-year-old FDNY EMT Christell Cadet reported she is now on a ventilator after contracting the virus and becoming sick. This as the New York Post reports that the city’s emergency medical calls are the busiest since 9/11.


Between fires and calls for medical aid, it is the worst time for fire departments to be forced to quarantine personnel, or worse, endanger the health of responders on the job. If communities do not ensure that firefighters, EMS and law enforcement have access to the PPE they need to protect themselves they cannot expect that they will have access to first responders when safety is on the line – as illustrated within the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem.


Learn more about how the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute and NFPA are responding to the coronavirus pandemic by visiting


(Meghan Housewright is Director of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute, which supports policymakers around the globe in protecting people and property from fire and other hazards with best practice recommendations and approaches to develop and sustain a strong fire prevention and protection system.)


(Meghan Housewright is Director of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute, which supports policymakers around the globe in protecting people and property from fire and other hazards with best practice recommendations and approaches to develop and sustain a strong fire prevention and protection system.)


As doctors across the U.S. face the crush of COVID-19 cases, some are turning to social media and #GetMePPE to deal with the critical shortage of N95 respirator masks, gowns, facial shields, and other personal protective equipment (PPE). Repeated reuse of single use items, meant to protect patients and medical staff alike, is now routine, as is seeking community donations of unused or homemade gear.


Add to the doctors, nurses, and other hospital employees who desperately need these supplies: America’s first responders. Firefighters and paramedics are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, transporting sick patients and responding to calls out in the community. Unsurprisingly, some are becoming infected, or forced into isolation after interacting with those who have tested positive. In Washington, DC, 141 firefighters and paramedics are in self-quarantine after three members of the department tested positive for the virus. Last week, the San Jose Fire Department reported that around 10 percent of the city’s department is self-quarantined, while 13 responders have tested positive. This is happening to departments all over the country.


As first responders burn through their PPE supplies to reduce their risk, departments face shortages that will only grow with the pandemic. Action is needed now to help all workers on the front lines stay safe. But in the face of sky-rocketing global demand, what does that action look like?


A growing chorus, including the medical establishment, the mayor of New York City, Congressional Democrats, and the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank have called for the federal government to step into the breach. Under the powers of the Defense Production Act (DPA), the government could require U.S. businesses to accept government contracts for needed goods and services and oversee the distribution of that matériel to states and localities based on need, among other measures. While President Trump has signed orders allowing the DPA to be used to address coronavirus, he has not followed through by invoking its authority for specific actions. Instead, the president has argued the country is not yet on a supply precipice and that the voluntary efforts of U.S. industry will be able to meet the demand.


U.S. manufacturers, like 3M, are indeed moving swiftly to supply as much of the demand as they can. But as states, localities, and hospitals alike hunt for PPE in a crisis that is not just nationwide, but worldwide, the eruption of inevitable bidding wars have pushed prices well past the point of most public safety agencies. And while some in Congress have proposed more stimulus funding to directly aid the medical effort, that money won’t address the scarcity. The certainty of large government contracts will help manufacturers who can.


When the virus made landfall in the U.S., the national strategic stockpile, with 12 million N95 masks on hand (and another 30 million surgical masks), had roughly 1% of the PPE supply the Department of Health and Human Services estimated the crisis could demand: 3.5 billion masks. In the face of such staggering demand, the World Health Organization has called for a 40% increase in the production of PPE and other supplies. As firms consider how they can bring new production on-line, experts note it will likely take three to five months to actually begin production. The sooner they start, the closer we come to ending the shortage.


Need today is dependent on existing capacity, most of which occurs overseas. Much of that is in China, which until recently, has prioritized its own epidemic needs. As they gradually pivot toward meeting worldwide demand, cooperation between countries is now essential to workers on the front lines of the virus.


In the U.S., every 24 seconds, a fire department responds to a fire. Well before this crisis, every 1.3. seconds, a fire department responded to a call for medical aid. Our nation’s first responders were 24-7 well before this national emergency. Now, just as doctors and nurses still must treat other patients despite an ER full of coronavirus, firefighters will still need to respond, no matter the emergency. The U.S. is fortunate that its responders are such a strong part of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem. These are the people who make sure a house fire does not become a fatal fire or that a hazardous material spill does not become an environmental catastrophe. These are the same people who cut victims from car wrecks and bring them to the hospital. Their health is critical to the everyday safety of the community.


And while first responders may be at capacity now, the coming months could be worse. Land managers and fire officials are keenly aware of the challenge posed by virus-caused attrition to wildfire season. In Los Angeles, the crews that normally clear brush to lower fire risk have been delayed; in Washington state, they’ve been forced to cancel training for new firefighting personnel. All of this while the Western U.S. is under drought conditions from historically low snow and rain.


As a nation, we’re failing the first responder who today is responding to patients without proper PPE. If we let this continue into tomorrow, we are most certainly failing ourselves. Given the scale of the crisis, the U.S. needs every tool available pressed into service to meet this towering need.


For additional NFPA content and insights, visit


As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, we remain 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.

Camp Fire


With Australia’s devastating wildfires grabbing headlines, it’s a propitious time to educate people—especially elected officials—that while wildfires are inevitable, wildfire disasters need not be.


This is the message highlighted by NFPA President Jim Pauley in a recent piece in the UPenn Regulatory Review, a publication of the University of Pennsylvania’s Program on Regulation. The piece acknowledges that the conditions that have produced the recent destructive wildfires, like poor forest health and climate change, will likely continue. However, while politicians fret about the “new normal,” the piece points out that they have had little appetite for enacting the types of changes that will help keep communities safe. Instead, the impetus to fight the fires remains the norm.


But fighting the fires isn’t enough. Or at least, relying on fire fighting isn’t a sustainable, or effective, solution to the problem of protecting communities in areas prone to wildfires. Years of research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Forest Service, and others, has revealed that it is the embers falling on wood shake roofs, wooden decks, debris-filled gutters, and encroached vegetation that make homes vulnerable to fire during a wildfire event—not the heat from the forest burning nearby. Standards from NFPA and programs like Firewise USA can help communities mitigate those risks, but only if they’re actually followed.


As noted by Mr. Pauley in the piece, there are many towns like Payson, Arizona, high on wildfire risk and home to local leaders that debate stricter code requirements, but who then retreat to making modest changes that do little to lower the overall danger level of the community. Without greater political will to require safer construction (including excluding development from some high risk areas) and to enforce risk reduction practices among existing homeowners, thousands of communities in the U.S. will remain in danger from wildfires.   


Few people would entertain the idea of fighting a hurricane or an earthquake. Yet, instead of preparing for wildfires, we fight them. This mentality obscures the reality that people have the most power to protect their homes well before the forest goes up in flames.


As we look into a future with more wildfire on our North American landscape, it would be instructive to remember the past. Throughout the nineteenth century, and into the twentieth, entire cities were destroyed in blazes that began in a single home. But, as we learned more about fire prevention, cities mandated stricter standards, and over time, the threat of urban conflagrations became exceedingly rare. We can apply this lesson to communities in wildfire prone areas, but not without leaders willing to force a change in the direction of fire safety.


Read the piece in The Regulatory Review.


For additional, related information, visit the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute webpage where you can download a free fact sheet that provides guidance to policymakers on how to help keep (their) communities safer from wildfire.  


Photo: Burned out homes from California's Camp Fire

Getty Images

Rio de Janeiro and Nowata County, Oklahoma—worlds away but not that far apart.  One a city of over six million people, the other, a rural county of less than ten thousand people northeast of Tulsa.  Two places, worlds apart, but ultimately caught in the same net: Under investment in safety and neglect of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem.

As was reported recently, it was likely a faulty air conditioning unit that sparked the devastating fire in Brazil’s National Museum that destroyed objects “beyond value”—irreplaceable artifacts of thousands of years of Latin American history.  But before that spark, the continued neglect of maintenance and lack of investment in any fire safety systems enabled a catastrophe for the people of Brazil.            

Nowata County has not yet had its spark but officials there seem to be lying in wait for a rhyming tragedy, though here, the irreplaceables are people, not objects.  In March, county Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett made national headlines when she resigned in protest.  The county jail, which was under evacuation after elevated carbon monoxide levels sent four people to the hospital, is in such a state of disrepair that Sheriff Barnett felt she could not conscionably obey a judge’s order to return the inmates to the facility.  In her resignation letter, which was joined by a number of her colleagues, the sheriff provided a list of dangerous conditions faced by inmates and staff, including that the cause of the CO leak had not yet been identified, the fire alarm system does not work, there are exposed wires throughout the facility and reports of inmates receiving electric shocks in the showers.  

Hopefully, Sheriff Barnett stopped a tragedy in its tracks, but the inmates may yet be moved back into the facility despite the fact Nowata County has offered no money to address the glaring life safety risks.  

While both fires and acts of defiance like Sheriff Barnett’s attract media attention, the public has few tools to proactively assess how strong fire and safety protections are in their communities and little sustained visibility into where the next accidents might be waiting to happen.  NFPA's Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem could be used to fill that gap.  The Ecosystem illustrates all of the interdependent components necessary for minimizing safety risks and preventing loss, injuries, and deaths from fire, electrical, and other hazards. This Ecosystem framework could help identify the policies and resources needed to support safety in a community.  And this framework could enable policymakers and safety advocates to gauge the performance of their community.    

The Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem gives us a tool to exercise foresight. It is now up to all of us to exercise it. For information about the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, please visit

fire in building under construction

March was a rough month for fires in buildings under construction, wreaking millions of dollars in damage and undoubtedly causing major headaches for public officials.  Thankfully, no one was killed or seriously hurt in these fires, but their toll can be added to the over 6,310 fires in buildings either under construction, demolition, or major renovation between 2010 and 2014, which caused 9 deaths and $280 million in direct property damage.  Add to that at least $210 million in losses—and 2 fatalities--from construction site fires in 2017 and 2018, and it’s clear that a lot of construction sites have neglected fire safety.

Last month, fires included:

To help prevent these fires from happening, local officials must insist fire safety is a high priority for construction site owners, managers, and workers. To do this, they can take three critical steps:

  • Require the use of NFPA 241 Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition through the fire code.  Make sure your community enforces the most recent one to keep up to date as construction practices change;
  • Follow the standard and make sure your community requires written fire prevention plans as part of the construction permit process; and
  • Talk to your community’s fire officials to go beyond the minimum requirements—consider extra security, a higher trained workforce, and more fire suppression and detection measures.

To raise awareness of this issue and offer steps policymakers should take to reduce risk in their communities, the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute developed this policy brief.  Download it today to learn more. Find additional information and resources on the Policy Institute’s webpage.

Just last week the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute released a report on Wide Variations in State Adoption of the NEC® Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety. Rather than “neglect” though, perhaps “actively opposing” would be a better way to state it. Or, at least, this might better capture the statements and actions of some in the Kentucky legislature which recently passed a bill to open the gates to removing safety requirements from the state adopted National Electrical Code® (NEC). 
“[There’s] nothing in this bill that’s going to be a detriment to somebody’s safety,” stated Senator Jared Carpenter during a floor debate right after he offered that when a GFCI tripped in the bathroom of a tenant using a curling iron in one of his apartment buildings, he had electricians remove the device to make things “more efficient.” With this bill, rather than ensure the Kentucky Electrical Code protects people from shocks caused by faulty appliances through adhering to the NEC, Senator Carpenter and the other backers of HB 100 in the Kentucky legislature, are opening the door to potentially deadly shortcuts. Advances like GFCIs, which in 2003 the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission found could address nearly half of all home electrocutions in the U.S., are exactly the types of provisions that should remain in the code. (Hear Senator Carpenter address the Kentucky legislature in this short video clip below.)
This is a perfect, and unfortunate, example of politicians’ lack of education on codes leading to decisions with real safety consequences. It’s also examples like these that motivated the Policy Institute to look at state NEC adoption across the U.S. After reviewing the length of time it takes states to adopt the latest version of each NEC update and the practices used to promulgate those adoptions, as well as commissioning surveys and interviews with individuals recently responsible for NEC adoptions, several findings emerged:
  • Observers reported that the adoption process is under heavier political scrutiny, leading to delays and decisions motivated by factors other than safety concerns. In addition, members of promulgating boards worry increasingly about the political influence on such boards and board members.
  • Electrical regulatory boards tend to promote more prompt and consistent adoptions. States without such boards were twice as likely to skip a cycle of the NEC. States with electrical boards adopted each update cycle in about half the time.
  • Prioritizing the NEC is important. States that adopt all construction-related codes at once tend to take twice as long to adopt the latest NEC updates, leaving residents of their states well behind the national standard for safe electrical design, installation, and maintenance.
  • The cost of compliance is often considered in isolation, without any consideration of the benefits of advancing safety, and enabling new technology, and is often the sole driver in code adoption discussions.
The NEC is an important tool to help states advance electrical safety. In addition to educating policymakers on the role of the NEC in promoting electrical safety and on the independent, expert-driven process under which it is developed, the report offers several recommendations to policymakers. High among these recommendations is to steer special interests seeking changes to the NEC to the national-level development process, which is open to anyone to participate rather than making decisions to amend out important safety provisions. The report also encourages states to establish or maintain an electrical board, relying on further expertise for technical matters, and to adopt new updates to the NEC as soon as each one is available, rather than waiting to adopt the NEC with other construction codes.
The legislators in Kentucky should know that 65 percent of U.S. residents trust their policymakers not to remove code requirements, according to an independent survey commissioned by the Policy Institute last summer. They should also know that 81 percent feel policymakers should view keeping fire and electrical safety codes up-to-date as a priority. Data analyzed by NFPA reveals that each year, there are over 61,000 fires of electrical origin that kill roughly 432 people and cause over $2 billion in damage. Policymakers should move to embrace the safety advances available in new versions of the NEC rather than neglecting—or opposing—them. 
To learn more, check out (and download for free) the full Wide Variations in State Adoption of the NEC® Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety report, a report summary, and an infographic highlighting the making of the 2017 NEC, by visiting .
policy institute
American consumers expect safety to be a high priority for their government leaders. This is something the Policy Institute learned this summer by commissioning an independent telephone survey of over 1000 U.S. residents to learn their views and expectations on adopting fire and electrical safety codes and keeping those codes up-to-date. Overwhelmingly, people expressed the opinion that they trust and expect that government at all levels is keeping these safety codes current with the latest safety advances and is not removing requirements that weaken those codes. To see the results of the survey and related information, check out our new, free downloadable fact sheet.    policy institute
If citizens feel that keeping codes up-to-date is a government responsibility, they likely feel similarly about other parts of the safety ecosystem. The safety ecosystem--all of the functions that support safety, like enforcement of codes, oversight of professionals responsible for the design and construction of the built environment, and raising awareness of risks posed by hazards both natural and man-made— depends on the support and attention of policymakers. None of these functions should be taken for granted.
As we learned from our survey, 86 percent of consumers believe that if they purchased a new home today, it would meet the most up-to-date code. And, 81 percent expect policymakers to view keeping electrical and fire safety codes up-to-date with new information and research a high priority. Decisions to remove safety requirements or delay the adoption of updated codes contravene this public trust.    
These results should be an invitation to learn more about the entire safety ecosystem, as well as the role of organizations like NFPA within it. The resources available to support safety are expert-driven, extensive, and waiting to be put to good use by policymakers.    
For more information about the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute, visit our website:              

policy institute

I’m excited to tell you about the launch of NFPA’s new Fire and Life Safety Policy Institute. NFPA established the Policy Institute to develop an arms-length view on policy issues that impact fire, life and electrical safety. Policymakers, elected officials and other government leaders play a critical role in the development and maintenance of a strong fire prevention and protection system including using the most current fire and building codes to diligent code enforcement. The Policy Institute will develop proposals and best practice recommendations to guide policymakers toward decision making that best protects citizens. Hear how NFPA president, Jim Pauley, describes the Policy Institute in our short video below:



Right now, our work includes investigating what U.S. consumers expect of their government when it comes to safety and codes. We’ll also take a look at the electrical code adoption process across the country to understand the pain points and provide suggestions to make the process more efficient. Going forward, we’ll look at the safety infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad and how government decision-making can help or hinder hazard mitigation. Ultimately, our goal is to provide key analysis and ideas that can help governments meet one of their core responsibilities—protecting public safety.  


So stay tuned for more Policy Institute announcements, including current and upcoming projects. Download for free our Policy Institute one-page fact sheet to get the overview (hyperlink one-pager). You can find this along with other great information and resources about the Policy Institute by visiting our webpage at

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