FOR THE PAST 18 MONTHS, I’ve traveled the world as NFPA’s global ambassador. I have presented at conferences, visited fire academies and firehouses, met with other standards developers, engaged with NFPA’s international chapter members, and shared ideas with fire safety leaders on five continents.
I have seen a remarkable similarity in the issues challenging the fire service worldwide, whether in Belgrade or Boston, Dubai or Denver, Rio or Raleigh. High-rise fires, wildland/urban interface issues, “smart” firefighter technology, green building designs, terrorism, natural disasters, alternative fuel vehicles, firefighter safety and health, public education, code enforcement, and the need for up-to-date fire safety codes and standards are issues shared across borders and across cultures.
NFPA continues to make a significant investment in its mission to “reduce the worldwide burden of fire.” NFPA standards are in use around the world and exist in at least 12 languages. We support participation in the NFPA standards development process with an online platform that can be accessed from anywhere. The Fire Protection Research Foundation shares research activities and findings with a global network of academic and research organizations. And we are active participants in numerous conferences and symposia, as well as international fire safety organizations such as the Confederation of Fire Protection Associations–International, the International Association of Fire and Rescue Service, Metro Fire Chiefs, and the Organizacion de Bomberos Americanos.
There are important lessons to be learned from our international partners. The Singapore Civil Defense Training Academy, for example, is using state-of-the-art simulators to train fire incident commanders in real-life scenarios and provides training to firefighters in a number of developing nations. The Frankfurt-am-Main Fire Brigade in Germany collects and bags personal protective equipment after a fire, but before firefighters return to the station, in order to minimize their exposure to carcinogenic chemicals. SP Technical Research Institute in Sweden has conducted full-scale tests of fires in road and rail tunnels, and this research has resulted in changes to NFPA 502, Road Tunnels, Bridges, and Other Limited Access Highways. The Australian fire services have played a key role in developing new tactics and strategies for handling major wildland fires. These are just a few examples of initiatives that can be shared, adapted, and implemented the world over.
Much more needs to be done to engage the global fire protection community in collaborative efforts to reduce fire deaths and property loss. NFPA is currently re-assessing its international strategy, with a vision of being the worldwide authority on fire, electrical, and building safety. We will continue to strengthen our global partnerships with the fire service, fire protection associations, standards developers, and other non-governmental organizations.
Most importantly, we have the capability—and a moral and professional obligation—to assist developing nations in building a culture of fire safety. With more than a century of experience, NFPA is in an ideal position to share its codes and standards, research, educational resources, and experience in the adoption and enforcement of fire safety standards with nations facing high rates of fire death and property loss. In this age of an increasingly interconnected world, those are burdens we all share.