First_Responder header for NFPA Journal
. Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on July 1, 2014.

THE WORD "FIRE" MAY BE PROMINENT in the name of this association, but that doesn’t mean we can only develop codes and standards that are directly fire related.

While the “F” speaks to the work we do on behalf of fire safety across the globe, we have never felt limited to the sole focus of fire; our mission statement, after all, addresses “fire and other hazards.” One of our original standards, crafted in the late 1800s, addressed the threads on hose couplings used to supply water to sprinkler systems. Since then, we have developed hundreds of standards that make recommendations for safe practices in industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential settings. Widely used documents such as NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®, and NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code® are all NFPA supported codes, but there isn’t an “F” word in any of their titles.

Our process allows us to develop codes and standards across a range of industries and practices. That process is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and every code and standard we develop is considered an American National Standard because of our close adherence to ANSI guidelines, which require transparency, stakeholder collaboration, public review, and an appeals process. Despite this strict adherence, and in spite of our track record of standards development, there remain people who question our ability to develop standards in certain areas—they just can’t get past the “F” word.

Several years ago, NFPA’s Standards Council approved the establishment of a Technical Committee on Ambulances, with a diverse membership that included a representative of the National Association of State Emergency Medical Service Officials, or NASEMSO. Despite that representation—and NFPA’s experience developing more than 30 standards addressing EMS issues—some officials resisted the idea of NFPA developing this standard, in part because a lot of those officials are oriented more toward public health than they are fire.

Some of those officials, who license ambulance vehicles in their states, had concerns with the new document, NFPA 1917, Automotive Ambulances. Recognizing the critical role played by these officials, NFPA worked to ensure that state EMS directors were heard during the revision process. We reached out to NASEMSO, made presentations to boost awareness of the NFPA code process, and distributed complimentary copies of NFPA 1917 to all 50 state EMS directors. The chair of the NFPA 1917 technical committee established a task group of state EMS stakeholders to create public inputs on the First Draft of the 2015 edition of NFPA 1917.

The experience taught us that the role of the fire service has evolved to the point where the provision of emergency medical services is a major responsibility for most fire departments. NFPA must develop relationships with those regulators, users, enforcers, and researchers engaged with EMS issues addressed by our codes and standards. We will seek their perspective when we receive requests for new EMS-related standards, and we will continue to invite them to participate in our process.

That participation will certainly be a measure of our success. So will the directors’ use of NFPA 1917 at the state level as acceptable criteria are developed for the design and construction of ambulances that comply with state licensing.

Having the word “fire” in our name connects us to our lifesaving mission, as well as to the values of emergency responders: compassion and a willingness to protect all citizens, including the most vulnerable. We’re proud to be the National Fire Protection Association and to accommodate the changing needs of America’s responders.

KEN WILLETTE is division manager for Public Fire Protection at NFPA.