Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on November 1, 2017.

Growing Pains

As China tries to manage an extraordinary economic transformation, it turns to NFPA to help it address associated fire safety challenges

In September, I traveled to China with NFPA President Jim Pauley to attend the China Fire Expo, one of the largest fire protection trade shows in the world. Our week was packed full of events and meetings with leaders from the Chinese fire service, members of the China Fire Protection Association (CFPA), government officials, and researchers. One of the highlights of the trip was the renewal of a longstanding memorandum of understanding between CFPA and NFPA, which for years has led to productive collaboration and information sharing between our organizations on a wide range of fire protection issues. The agreement demonstrates CFPA’s high regard for NFPA and is another milestone in our growing relationship with the world’s most populous nation.

NFPA’s role in China has evolved and expanded since former NFPA president George Miller first visited the country more than 20 years ago. Back then, few in China had heard of NFPA, much less used our material. Today, our codes and standards are used widely by the fire service, manufacturers, and the petrochemical industry, including the largest oil refiner in Asia. The relationship is mutually beneficial, helping China mitigate the fire safety risks of its expanding economy while increasing NFPA’s global presence.

It has been a gradual but steady march to get to where we are today. NFPA’s first forays into China in the 1990s focused on promoting global collaboration and establishing relationships with CFPA and the Chinese fire service. As NFPA became better known in China, we began promoting our codes and standards there; translation licenses paved the way for Chinese-language editions of numerous NFPA standards, including water-based fire protection systems, fire alarm systems, and industrial hazards.

Today, NFPA is well known across China. In the past four years, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the country’s interest in NFPA’s work—not just in our codes and standards, but also in our research, public education materials, and expertise in fire service operations. We have strong relationships with each of the national fire research institutes in Shanghai, Sichuan, Shenyang, and Tianjin. NFPA experts frequently lecture on fire department operations and firefighter occupational safety at China’s national fire officer professional development conference. NFPA has also hosted a visiting scholar from the Shanghai Research Institute, and will host a researcher from Shenyang in 2018.

We’ve come far, but there are opportunities to do more. China’s economy and industries are changing rapidly, the result of reforms that are driving more privatization and moving the nation closer toward becoming a market economy. The results of these changes, including a construction boom, can come with serious fire safety challenges that Chinese leaders are looking to NFPA to help solve. Several newly formed companies in China have approached us to help them establish fire protection training centers with curricula aligned with NFPA standards. A new initiative is underway to improve workplace safety for millions of construction workers, and a number of our standards, including NFPA 70E®, Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, and NFPA 241, Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, could be the basis for future regulations and best practices throughout China. As I have seen in other parts of the world, there is great demand in China for training programs and professional credentials that are sanctioned by NFPA.

All of this shows conclusively that two decades of outreach in China have us well positioned in the world’s most populous country and one of its largest economies. NFPA will continue to make inroads as a valuable knowledge and information resource both in China and across the world as we pursue our vision as the global advocate for fire and electrical safety.

DONALD P. BLISS is vice president of Field Operations for NFPA.