What the world can learn from NFPA, and what NFPA can learn from the world
BY DONALD P. BLISS
ALL OF US WHO ARE COMMITTED to making the world safe from fire and other hazards share an unbreakable bond, in part because fire and related threats are such a universal problem. As I travel to meetings and events throughout the world on behalf of NFPA, I’m continuously amazed at how political, geographic, and cultural differences fall to the wayside as the focus remains solely on working together in the pursuit of fire safety.
That was the case in September, when NFPA Central Regional Director Russ Sanders and I attended the International Fire and Rescue Services Association’s (CTIF) annual delegate assembly in Helsinki, Finland. Founded in Paris in 1900, just four years after NFPA, CTIF encourages and promotes cooperation among firefighters and other experts in fire and rescue throughout the world. Over a very busy and intense three days, we collaborated with fire officials from more than two-dozen nations, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Croatia, Sweden, Russia, Japan, and even Iran, CTIF’s newest member. We discussed a wide-ranging assortment of topics, including firefighter safety, the fire protection challenges of high-rise buildings, natural gas pipeline incidents, alternative fuel vehicles, community risk reduction, the need for better fire data, and the impact of the European immigration crisis on fire and rescue services.
Participating in these international conferences and engaging closely with other international fire safety and fire service organizations serve many positive purposes. For one, NFPA is able to offer many resources, such as our codes and standards, our fire safety education expertise, our research findings, and our knowledge—information and experience we have built through more than 120 years of commitment to fire safety. Just as important, these international relationships make us stronger by helping NFPA gain greater insight into the scope of the global fire problem and learn about successful strategies and best practices in other nations that could be applied in the U.S.
At the CTIF meeting in Helsinki, for instance, I was excited to learn about an applied research project in the European Union that is developing robotic technologies for disaster response. This initiative perfectly complements the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s work related to “smart” firefighting. In addition, NFPA and the Foundation are both ideally positioned not only to collaborate on these kinds of international research initiatives but to leverage and promote the work of other organizations for the benefit of all, anywhere in the world.
To take full advantage of these clear benefits, NFPA plays a significant role in the activities of a number of international fire service and fire safety associations. For example, we serve as the secretariat for the Confederation of Fire Protection Associations–International, a group of 27 national organizations focused on promoting fire safety through international fire protection and fire and loss prevention. NFPA also supports the work of Organización Bomberos Americanos, the leading fire service association in Latin America, which numbers more than 1 million firefighters spanning 17 countries.
Just as fire knows no geographical boundaries, neither does the commitment to solving the problem. Cooperation is essential and in no short supply. A firefighter can walk into any fire station in the world and be received with open arms. From Africa to Asia, South America to Europe, that has also been the case for NFPA. I think my colleague from the Tehran Fire Department said it best: “We don’t care what our governments think of each other. You have been a firefighter, which makes you my brother.”