Enabling the Enforcers
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2012
One of the greatest strengths of the NFPA standards-development process is the effort that is put into ensuring broad participation. While our committees are always balanced to protect against any single interest dominating the process, we also work hard to attract enforcers to serve on those committees. Enforcers share their technical expertise when they participate in the development of codes and standards. They also provide an invaluable perspective on the practical application of NFPA codes and standards in the field.
These days, though, it’s getting tougher to make sure enforcers have a seat at the table. Government expenditures are being slashed at the local, state, and national levels; code enforcement agencies are consolidating and reducing personnel, which can constrain the time available for enforcers to participate in the activities of organizations such as NFPA. Travel expenses are always among the first things to go when budgets are cut, which further complicates the job of getting enforcer participation on our committees.
In 2010, when we developed NFPA’s new strategic plan, we agreed that finding ways to get more enforcement officials involved in our process should be a priority. I wish we could expect that these constraints on government spending were just a temporary phenomenon, but it looks as though those limitations will continue for the foreseeable future. Our goal is to increase the percentage of enforcement officials who serve on our technical committees from the current 12 percent of the total committee members to 20 percent, and to have enforcers serve on all of our 243 committees, which include 7,702 occupied seats.
After a lot of study, we concluded that if we were going to be serious about achieving this important goal, we would have to back it up with a substantial commitment of resources. As of January 2012, NFPA will reimburse 80 percent of the travel and lodging expenses for attendance at technical committee meetings for members of the committees who are code enforcers and are either full-time public employees or who act as enforcers in their capacity as members of the volunteer fire service. For more information, visit nfpa.org/enforcers.
In a perfect world, we would provide the same kind of support for every volunteer on our technical committees, because all of them make important contributions to the success of our codes and standards. We cannot do that, however, because the costs would be prohibitive. At the same time, we cannot allow enforcer participation to shrink, as we believe it inevitably will if NFPA does not step up to reverse this trend.
All of us at NFPA take our responsibilities as stewards of the organization very seriously. We have a responsibility to make sure that we have a sound financial footing so that in the decades ahead we will be able to continue our important work in good times and bad. But our success should never be measured by our balance sheet. We will continue to use the resources of NFPA to the maximum extent we can to fulfill our mission. That’s why we fund activities such as our public education programs and residential sprinkler campaign.
Keeping our codes and standards process strong is just as important, and it depends on making sure that we continue to have broad participation in our process. Finding enforcers to serve on our committees is an important measure to advance NFPA’s safety mission.