Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on November 2, 2015.

The Thin Purple Line

How the fire service is increasingly partnering with law enforcement. BY KEN WILLETTE

RECENTLY, A NUMBER OF SHOOTINGS of police officers have underscored the dangers of serving in law enforcement. As with firefighting, unforeseen events can turn an incident from routine to deadly. In their aftermath, we are reminded of the critical role played by law enforcement, the thin blue line standing between society and those who would do it harm.

Increasingly, that barrier is becoming a thin purple line, as the blue of law enforcement is joined by the red of the fire service in a variety of incident responses. Firefighting, emergency medical care, and technical rescue activities are being performed under the armed protection of police—a practice highlighted by instances where firefighters responding to fires have been targeted by shooters and, in some cases, killed or wounded.

NFPA has always had a strong bond with the fire service and has supported it through an extensive library of standards focused on equipment, training, and health and safety. But considering the risks all responders face today—as well as that necessary blurring of the blue line into purple, where fire and law enforcement work together as a unified resource—NFPA is seeking to better serve the needs of law enforcement and reduce the risk of line-of-duty deaths and injuries.
We’re doing this in a variety of ways. NFPA is an active member of the Interagency Board, a federal advisory board comprised of a variety of first responders, including law enforcement. For several years, there has been a law enforcement presence on NFPA’s technical committees, notably the Technical Committee on Hazardous Materials Response. Law enforcement members have also assisted as technical advisors to our Alternative Fuel Vehicle Responder Safety Program.

Two years ago, NFPA approved a new standard addressing utilization of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) for non-firefighting activities, such as tactical response teams and response to drug lab incidents. A new technical committee with strong law enforcement representation was established, and today the proposed document NFPA 1986, Respiratory Protection Equipment for Technical and Tactical Operations, is accepting public comments until February.

NFPA’s Standards Council recently approved a new project to develop a standard for dual-purpose breathing apparatus. This equipment can provide the respiratory protection of SCBA when required, but can also function as a purifying air-powered respirator when operating in a less hazardous atmosphere. This was requested by the law enforcement community to address its needs for sustained respiratory protection during events where the level of risk can change. The Standards Council has also approved a new technical committee to develop selection, care, and maintenance criteria for tactical cameras and video equipment (think body and helmet cameras).

Lastly, a request to develop a standard for the training of canine arson accelerant detection dogs has been under extensive review to determine if there is a need to expand beyond the language found in NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations.

NFPA is ready and able to draw on its areas of proven expertise to assist law enforcement. Where responders go, NFPA goes, strengthening that thin purple line.

KEN WILLETTE is division manager for Public Fire Protection at NFPA. Top Photograph: Shutterstock