Where the Foundation is acing it, and where we have room for improvement
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2012
In 2007, the Fire Protection Research Foundation undertook a comprehensive assessment of the emerging technical, societal, and environmental issues likely to affect fire safety, and thus NFPA codes and standards, over the next 25 years. The context was our 25th birthday, as well as our interest in developing a strategic research agenda to guide our activities over the next five years. The result of that exercise was a seven-point agenda to help us focus on research related to new fire protection technologies, new hazards, and the restraints that an aging population and an increasingly fragile natural environment will place on our fire safety solutions.
YOUTUBE VIDEO INTERVIEW
Foundation director Casey Grant gives an overview of the last five years and highlights the achievements of NFPA Code Fund projects.
It’s now nearly five years later, and we’re benchmarking how far we’ve come in helping NFPA technical committees confront these emerging issues. We’ve completed more than 60 projects during that time, and I’d say we get a B+ for real progress in many areas of our agenda. Over half of those projects focused on helping NFPA’s codes and standards grapple with new fire protection technologies, new firefighter personal protective equipment, and emerging hazards in buildings. We also made somewhat surprising progress on the fire safety challenges presented by new energy-saving technologies, including our recent work on lithium-ion battery hazard mitigation. The Foundation is currently considering the performance of aging fire protection systems as we look at reliability-based methods of determining inspection and testing frequencies for this equipment.
However, our research program has only scratched the surface of two key issues we identified five years ago. There are good reasons for this: each represents a non-traditional challenge for fire safety professionals, and each requires a deeper and more strategic look at what its future effect on fire safety may be.
The first is a demographic challenge: How will NFPA’s standards adapt to a rapidly aging population? At present, we are addressing this issue piecemeal through projects related to emergency notification for at-risk groups, such as the hearing and visually impaired, and through egress studies designed to account for an aging, and thus slower-moving, population. But there are many other aspects of fire safety, such as the movement toward making long-term care facilities more “homelike” in design and feel, that will be, and are being, affected by changes in the way older Americans are living.
The second is the sustainability challenge. I was reviewing the column I wrote for NFPA Journal three years ago in which I posed this challenge: “To enter into the sustainability dialogue with scientifically based, system-wide assessments of the influence of fire and fire protection systems, so that in the end fire safety is not compromised in our movement toward a more sustainable environment.” I am unsatisfied with the progress we have made on this issue. The sustainability issue and green rating systems are growing slowly in influence, and almost absent from that sphere is a meaningful assessment of the contribution of fire safety to a sustainable planet.
In Chicago on November 7, the Foundation, together with NFPA, will address a piece of this puzzle by holding a discussion with the architectural community on the inter-section of fire and sustainable building design. We must understand the forces driving changes in the built infrastructure so that we can adapt our fire safety solutions to them. I invite you to join us in Chicago for the beginning of this important conversation. To learn more, visit nfpa.org/foundation and click on “symposia.”
Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSFPE, is the executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.