No Time for Indifference
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2013
In this issue of Journal we reflect on the 40th anniversary of the historic America Burning report. Issued by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control in May of 1973, America Burning came about because our nation’s leaders were finally willing to admit that the country’s record on fire safety was appalling, a national embarrassment, compared to other industrialized nations.
While much has changed since then — we have far fewer fire deaths and injuries than we did in the 1970s, though we still compare unfavorably with many other countries — there remain problems that have resisted solutions. One of those problems is the apparent indifference in this country to the costs of fire. The first paragraph of America Burning is as true now as it was then: “The striking aspect of the Nation’s fire problem is the indifference with which Americans confront the subject. Destructive fire takes a huge toll in lives, injuries, and property losses, yet there is no need to accept those losses with resignation. There are many measures — often very simple precautions — that can be taken to reduce those losses significantly.”
NFPA members come from diverse backgrounds and career paths, but one characteristic they share is that none of them are indifferent. Some are experts in fire alarm or sprinkler systems who got here because of their technical curiosity, knowledge, and training. Others found careers in the fire service and see the human and financial costs of fire every day.
Yet others are health care providers who deal with the horrific burn injuries caused by preventable fires. And we are thankful to have so many teachers who work with us to get the right fire safety messages to our kids. No matter what they do or how they got here, our members are not willing to accept the status quo, especially when they know that simple measures can make such a difference.
It is not our job to try to move fire prevention to the top of the public’s list of concerns. Our job is to be the ones who are not indifferent to fire and its costs, and who never quit in our efforts to reduce its tragic effects. Every code adoption we achieve makes the world safer. Every time someone installs a smoke alarm in a home, it is far less likely that the family that lives in that home will perish in a fire. Every child who experiences the important lessons of fire safety from Sparky in the classroom stands a better chance of avoiding fire’s often devastating impacts. Efforts like our residential fire sprinkler initiative might take years to achieve, but NFPA is in it for the long haul because we know how effective sprinklers are in saving lives.
Even if America Burning never fully became the call to arms for the nation that many in the fire protection community hoped, it has nevertheless helped shape our responses to an array of fire and life safety challenges over the past four decades. It has also helped generations of safety professionals understand how devastating fire is for those it touches. With the continued dedication of NFPA members and our allies, we will continue our progress toward preventing unnecessary deaths, injuries, and loss of property by fire. It is no time for indifference.