I’m excited about the roll-out of the NFPA community XChange which might be used in
the future to answer technical questions. For now NFPA’s technical questions service—also
commonly referred to as “advisory services”— will continue to use its
established platform. The service provides association members and authorities
having jurisdiction (AHJs) access to NFPA technical staff. Users of the service
can ask questions by phone or via online submission about any NFPA code or
standard, and NFPA technical staff will answer them.
I encourage members and AHJs to make more use of the technical questions service. Members
and AHJs who don’t know about the service, or may be unclear about the method
and guidelines for submitting questions, could be missing out on an important
tool to help them do their jobs better. NFPA makes it clear that this is not a
consultation service, but rather an effective way of better understanding the
intent, scope, and detail of NFPA codes and standards.
Some members prefer to submit written
questions rather than rely on a telephone conversation. Each method of
interacting with staff has its benefits. A telephone conversation permits for follow-up questions to
be posed immediately or for staff to provide the answer in a different way if the
caller has difficulty grasping the concept. A written inquiry and its answer,
on the other hand, can sometimes present less room for misunderstanding and the
answer lives on for future reference.
In posting written inquiries, members should include, to the best of their
abilities, the information that NFPA technical staff needs to understand the
question. For example, an inquiry on NFPA 101 will seldom be complete if the
occupancy classification is omitted; a question applicable to a health care
occupancy might elicit a different response than an identical question
applicable to an industrial occupancy. Plans and figures are not allowed to be
submitted with members’ inquiries, as questions need to be kept generic to
avoid falling into the category of consulting services. Carefully chosen words
can substitute for visual elements and still keep the question generic. Where
necessary information is missing, the e-mail reply from staff may ask for additional
detail, lengthening the time it takes to provide a useful answer.
A question frequently heard by NFPA technical staff during a telephone
conversation with a member or AHJ is, “Can I get that in writing?” Staff reply
that they will answer, by e-mail, questions submitted via the “Technical
Questions” tab at the applicable document information page, such as
nfpa.org/101. I usually ask callers who want an answer in writing whether I’ve
adequately answered their question or whether they have follow-up questions—I’m
trying to learn why they want or think they need an answer in writing. Members
typically reply that they want or need to take the “answer from NFPA” to the
AHJ. I explain that all written responses carry a disclaimer advising that any
opinion expressed is the personal opinion of NFPA staff and does not
necessarily represent the official position of NFPA or its technical
committees. The disclaimer also advises that the response is neither intended, nor
should be relied upon, to provide professional consultation or services.
The technical questions service is well supported by customer relationship
management (CRM) software. Permanent, searchable records are kept of all
activity to help ensure that inquiries are directed to the appropriate staff
member and do not go unanswered. The advisory program is labor intensive, and
an answer prepared for one member might be useful to others; with that in mind,
written questions and answers can be scrubbed of identifiers and used as the
bases for handbook commentary and online pages of frequently asked questions.
To submit a question by phone, call 800/344-3555, option 3, from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Eastern
time, Monday through Friday. To submit questions online, visit the document
information page for the code or standard you have questions about and click the
“Technical Questions” tab.