Challenge, opportunity, and progress
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2010
As we head into the New Year, many of us are breathing a little easier just to have survived 2009. The collapse of the financial markets at the end of 2008 left countless businesses and other organizations in financial shambles, wondering how they could continue. Programs that had been announced with great fanfare by many nonprofit organizations were abruptly cancelled. Hope of progress was replaced by hope of living to fight another day. We saw it in safety organizations, universities, hospitals, and other charities. I would be less than honest if I did not admit that a year ago I had some of the same concerns for our organization’s big, new initiatives, even though we were strong going into this economic downturn.
At NFPA, our Board of Directors and our staff take very seriously our responsibility as stewards of this great organization. We understand that the public, both in North America and around the world, depends on us. NFPA must have the resources to fulfill its safety mission in perpetuity, and we manage our finances with that in mind.
At the same time, we have launched several new and vital initiatives in recent years, and we are committed to moving them forward aggressively because they are central to our mission of protecting lives and property.
I am happy to report that my early concerns were not necessary. In 2009, we were able to move ahead on those initiatives with no pulling back whatsoever. In fact, we will be doing much more in 2010 in several key areas, thanks both to our strong financial position going into 2009 and our surprisingly strong results this past year.
One of the most visible efforts that NFPA has undertaken is the Fire Safe Cigarette campaign. In 2009, the 49th state passed legislation—Wyoming is the only holdout—so in effect we have achieved our goal of creating a national fire-safe-cigarette standard. We have great hope that as the effective dates of more and more states kick in over the next couple of years, we will see a significant measurable decrease in deaths, injuries, and property losses from fires caused by smoking materials.
Of course, our job does not end with the passage of the legislation. In the fall, we hosted our second conference for enforcers of the fire-safe-cigarette laws. This was a great opportunity to discuss strategies for the strongest possible enforcement, for states to learn from each other about implementation challenges, and to explore how we might better work with state fire marshals’ offices to collect statistical information to measure the efficacy of the new standard.
As that campaign moved into a new phase, we asked ourselves what might be the next big challenge NFPA could take on as the principle advocate of fire safety in the United States. When we spoke to our partners in the fire service, their advice was clear: they wanted us to lead a full-scale campaign for greater use of fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes. The time for this campaign had clearly come. Residential sprinkler requirements for newly constructed one- and two-family homes were included first in NFPA’s codes and then in the ICC’s International Residential Code.
We launched the Fire Sprinkler Initiative (www.firesprinklerinitiative.org) early in 2009, and we are already seeing results. Dozens of jurisdictions, including some states, are considering adopting sprinkler requirements, and there is movement all over the country by the fire service and other groups to get the ball rolling for further adoption activity in 2010.
The red-herring arguments by opponents are giving way to the compelling evidence supporting the use of home fire sprinklers. A key event in 2009 was the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s publication of a study showing that the average costs of sprinklers in 10 communities that require them for newly constructed homes was just $1.61 per square foot (0.09 square meters). That is a pretty small price when weighed against the fact that there has never been a multiple-fatality fire in a one- or two-family dwelling with an operational sprinkler system.
We found in 2009 that NFPA’s mission as it relates to global environmental concerns has required us to be more creative in how we fulfill our mission. NFPA was the only fire-related organization to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy when the stimulus funds were allocated last year. The grant was to train emergency responders in how to respond safely to accidents involving electric vehicles.
With this grant, we will continue our long-term commitment to protecting emergency responders’ safety. It will also complement the efforts being undertaken to help the nation address its energy problem, which will be of great assistance to the struggling automobile industry and the economy. This grant is a small but significant first step for us, and I can envision much more activity by NFPA and the Fire Protection Research Foundation involving electric vehicles and other alternative energy sources in the years ahead.
Another area where it is clear we and the fire service around the world will be committing exponentially greater resources in coming years is in protecting the public from wildfires. Climate conditions and other factors are making this ancient phenomenon far more threatening to public safety. Warmer temperatures have meant more and bigger fires threatening people living in the wildland/urban interface. This is not just an issue in the western United States; areas such as the southeastern United States are also experiencing large fires, and over the past year we witnessed huge wildland fires around the globe, from Australia to Southern Europe. What are the best strategies to protect the public? What resources will those strategies require? How do we protect those living in the wildland/urban interface who are less mobile, such as the disabled? These and many other questions will have to be answered.
Building on the success of our Firewise® program, we will put a lot more focus on wildfires because it will be one of the major fire problems in the world for the foreseeable future. We have recently reorganized our staff dealing with wildfires and elevated our own commitment to the wildfire problem. We will work closely with federal, state, and local officials, along with our international partners, to sharpen our strategies and bring more visibility to this key issue.
As we push these important initiatives ahead, we have not lost sight of the things we have done very well for generations, and we are always looking for ways we can do them better.
The core of our activities is the codes- and standards-development process, and keeping that process strong is always on our minds. We are reviewing that process this year to make sure it is taking full advantage of what current communications technology allows, so that we have maximum access, transparency, and participation as we develop all of our codes and standards.
Of course, 2010 is an “NEC® year” for NFPA, and the revision of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®, is of particular importance because it is our most widely applied code and contributes so much to creating a safer world. We are grateful to the hundreds of people who serve on NEC panels and to the thousands who serve on the rest of our committees for being the backbone of our codes and standards process.
Communication with the public, as well as with the participants in our codes and standards process, is key as we work to achieve our mission. We redesigned our website, www.nfpa.org, in 2009 to streamline and simplify it. As anyone who has been involved with the process of design or redesign of a website knows, it is a huge undertaking. The relaunch of the website has been very well received, and we are reaching more people with more information in more ways than ever before.
In all of our programs, we are working to ensure that we reach the people who are most likely to become the victims of fire or who are most vulnerable to its dangers. We have refocused our public education program so that our important safety messages are getting to those who are hardest to reach. NFPA’s Public Education Division has been working closely with fire departments on the Urban Fire Safety Project, a project that has taken on added importance because of the spike in abandoned properties due to the collapse in real estate values.
Because of all these activities and the hard work of our volunteers, our staff, and our members, we can look back on 2009 as a year when NFPA not only survived but made tremendous progress in its mission to make the world safer. We go into 2010 with confidence that we will accomplish even more in the year ahead.