Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on July 1, 2017.

Making NFPA work for You

How rural departments can adopt and adapt NFPA codes and standards

BY ANGELO VERZONI

WHEN JOE MARUCA, fire chief in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, a Cape Cod town of 3,500 people, got up in front of a crowd of about 40 volunteer fire chiefs from New England at a National Volunteer Fire Council conference in New Hampshire in March, he pulled no punches in explaining that the prevailing perception of NFPA within the rural fire service is that it’s disconnected from reality. “The people who write these staandards don’t have a clue what goes on in small-town New England,” Maruca said. “Do you agree with me on that?” Attendees did, expressing it through a series of muttered yeahs.

At that point, Ken Willette, first responder segment director at NFPA, interjected. He asked the crowd if any of them had ever served on an NFPA technical committee. A handful of people raised their hands. “While the perception may be that your voice isn’t heard on technical committees, I assure you, you do have representation,” Willette said.

The problem, Maruca explained, is when rural departments look at an NFPA standard and think they have to either follow it verbatim or not follow it all. In reality, the standards are meant to be adjusted to reflect the communities where they’re used. “There’s nothing that says we can’t adopt [a standard] and amend it based on local needs,” Maruca said.

That’s precisely what his department has done. In West Barnstable, there’s a seaside stretch of town that six firefighters can’t conceivably get to in 14 minutes or less—as required by NFPA 1720, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments. So, while adopting NFPA 1720, the department has at the same time made the community aware that response times for that area will lag behind the standard by about two minutes. To account for the delay, an engine from a nearby community also responds to calls from that area.

Similarly, although NFPA 1582, Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, requires annual physical exams for firefighters, Maruca requires his firefighters to get a physical every other year. Given the community’s low number of structure fires—when Maruca spoke in March, it had been nearly three years since its last—the amended requirement doesn’t put West Barnstable firefighters at unusually high risk compared to urban firefighters who might get physicals every year but are also exposed to far more toxins. “It’s about risk management,” Maruca said.

For online information on any NFPA code or standard, type in its number after nfpa.org/.
For example, information on NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, can be found at nfpa.org/101.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal.