Mission, vision, & commitment
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2011
With a new year comes new goals and a renewed commitment to fire safety efforts worldwide. Scott Sutherland, NFPA Journal editor, recently spoke with NFPA President James M. Shannon about the organization’s goals and new initiatives for 2011.
What are NFPA’s key goals for 2011?
We’re going to expand our advocacy efforts, specifically the residential sprinkler campaign. We believe it’s time to push hard for states to adopt mandatory sprinkler requirements for new one- and two-family homes. California has already taken that step, and that law will take effect at the beginning of 2011. Other states are moving in that direction, and with NFPA’s support, we’re going to get as many states to act in 2011 as we can.
We’ll also take advantage of technology that’s available for code development. The Internet and the electronic technology available to virtually everybody will allow our system to be even more transparent, to get more input from more sources than ever, and to conduct meetings more efficiently.
We’ll concentrate more on wildland fires, which are not just a North American problem but an international one. Across southern Europe, Australia, Canada, the United States, these fires are becoming more frequent, they’re getting bigger, and they’re taking up more resources. More research is needed to figure out how best to address this problem.
A final area of importance is the development of new energy technology, specifically electric vehicles. We have a Department of Energy grant to train emergency responders to respond to incidents involving these cars. The work we’re doing will be essential if electric vehicles take hold in a large-scale way in the United States and around the world.
What’s happening with home builder opposition to residential sprinklers?
I think there’s been a shift in attitude on the part of some people who’ve traditionally opposed residential sprinklers. The National Association of Home Builders opposes residential sprinkler requirements, yet we’re seeing more home builders around the country saying they can live with them. The California law requiring sprinklers in all new homes took effect on January 1, so essentially all the home builders in the state are now dealing with the question of residential sprinklers. It’s going to have a tremendous effect on the rest of the country.
In states like Maryland, where most of the population is already covered by residential sprinkler requirements, home builders have survived and thrived. Individual home builders are talking to us, asking questions about this. We think it’s vitally important to work with home builders if this is going to work properly.
The new Faces of Fire campaign was recently launched in support of the residential sprinkler effort. What is that campaign about?
NFPA provides the tools and connections necessary for people to make changes that result in greater fire safety. Faces of Fire tells in a compelling way, with real stories by people whose lives have been impacted by fire, what needs to be done in the area of residential sprinklers, and illustrates the vast array of individuals who are interested in helping us get the job done. It provides a road map for people who want to advocate for residential sprinklers in their communities.
That’s what NFPA does better than anything else: bring together the right people with the right messages and the right tools to effect change in their own communities. That’s worked for us in the past, and that’s what we’ll do over the next few years with residential sprinklers, wildland fires, and alternative energy sources.
How will code development change?
The changes we’re putting in place are going to make it easier for people to participate without having to devote as much time as they have before. It will be easier to get input from a broader range of sources because people, wherever they are, will be able to follow the documents as they’re developed, with real transparency throughout the entire process. I think it’s going to broaden international participation. It’s going to make for a much better, more efficient and more economical process overall.
How will NFPA increase its global involvement with wildland fires?
We’re developing a new strategy for wildland fires, and international involvement is a big piece of that. There was a period where wildland fires were considered acts of god that you really couldn’t do much about. But as these fires become bigger and more frequent, and as more people move into areas threatened by wildland fires, issues like the kind of resources you devote to the problem, the kind of preventive measures you take, and the kind of education you put into place will become more important. So will NFPA’s research on the nature of the wildland fire problem, our efforts to bring together the fire service to talk about strategies to fight the problem, and our efforts to educate policymakers as to the magnitude of the problem.
What are some of the other research areas of interest to NFPA?
Alternative fuels involve NFPA because they all pose fire-related questions. One area we’re very involved in is photovoltaics, such as solar energy equipment, and how emergency responders respond to fires involving such equipment.
As for electric vehicles, it isn’t just the question of emergency responders’ safety. It’s also the question of how you store batteries safely. What kind of fire protection is needed in a warehouse with hundreds or thousands of these new EV batteries? How do you transport them along the highways and the rails? This is another area where we’re going to have international involvement. China’s made a huge investment in electric vehicles, as has the United States. It’s fine for our companies to compete for market share, but on questions of safety, we should try to collaborate. Chinese fire service officials are interested in working with us on this, because they face the same safety issues we do.
Briefly describe NFPA’s new strategic plan.
The plan came from a realization over the last few years that NFPA could play a bigger role in fulfilling its mission. Over the years, we’ve been principally involved in codes and standards, public education, and professional development, but we thought we could have more success if we were willing to be more aggressive in developing strategies to address the fire problem in a regulatory way. The success of the fire-safe cigarette initiative really got us looking at things differently — the fact that NFPA played a significant role in getting the fire-safe cigarette initiative moving led us to ask ourselves how we could use our resources in other areas. And that led to our home fire sprinkler campaign. It also changed our view of how we might attack the wildland fire problem. We’ve identified some pragmatic steps to take that have the potential of dramatically reducing deaths, injuries, and property losses from fire in the next few years.
The strategic plan is really about our mission. It isn’t about becoming a bigger business, although it will take greater resources to do the things we want to do, but it’s about being more ambitious, and taking risks we haven’t been willing to take before. It’s a great opportunity for us to live up to our potential.
How can members help NFPA achieve these goals?
The members’ involvement is crucial to our achieving any of these things. We have a broad-based membership we’ve never really been able to harness as a resource as effectively as we’d like, but now we can. We can communicate regularly with members, let them know what’s going on with our campaigns, and get their input. We did that with the fire-safe cigarette campaign, we’re doing it now with the home fire sprinkler campaign, and we’re beginning to do it with our wildland fire initiatives. Membership today is more interactive than ever, and it’s easier to be involved at a local level in supporting these initiatives.
Across the board, we’re more aggressive, we’re involved in more areas, and we’re more forward-looking than we’ve ever been. It’s a very exciting time at NFPA.