Celebrating four decades of investing in safety
Last week, the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF or Foundation), the research affiliate of NFPA, marked its 40th year of managing projects that summarize best practices, identify gaps, and further the development of technologies that reduce risk in our world.
When the Foundation was established in 1982, the objective was to protect people and property by improving fire protection systems and life safety messaging for practitioners, policy makers, and the public. The scope of the FPRF’s work has increased significantly over the decades given the all-hazards role of responders, new and persistent building and life safety challenges, evolving outreach needs, and emerging issues domestically and abroad.
Like NFPA, the Foundation is an independent, nongovernmental, self-funded organization. It has its own separate board of trustees and a small but effective team that manages dozens of projects at any given time. These efforts cover everything from fire suppression systems, emergency response, public education, detection and signaling, industrial hazards, wildfire, electrical services, and the built environment.
Collaboration is key to the Foundation’s 40-year success. Working with NFPA staff, FPRF trustees, professionals, and organizations around the globe, the team plans, facilitates, and releases research that helps to inform diverse audiences. In fact, FPRF research has been downloaded in more than 160 countries because of the valuable insights found within. A primary responsibility of the FPRF is to support the NFPA mission of eliminating loss in the world, and they can’t do that in a vacuum. The team relies on project sponsors to fund efforts; contractors to do the research; and advisory panels to provide subject matter expertise.
To shed further light on the 40-year FPRF milestone and the important work being done, with the help of so many others, we asked a couple of Foundation trustees to share their thoughts on efforts to make the world safer from harm.
First responder skills and safety
Gavin Horn, a research engineer with Underwriters Laboratories Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), recently concluded two terms as an FPRF trustee. During that time, he watched executive director Amanda Kimball and her predecessor Casey Grant oversee forward-thinking research that will have long-lasting safety benefits.
Horn explains, “Research is important for first responders and firefighters, in particular, because it helps to provide a deeper understanding of risks that are faced on today’s emergency response calls and those that might be faced in the future. The world that firefighters respond to is continuously evolving, and sometimes those changes can have important impacts on how emergencies might unfold and how they might be resolved. Research – along with on-the-job experience – is important as we strive to learn about risks and help first responders to understand how to mitigate an emergency effectively and safely.”
Horn has been involved in several NFPA standards committees over the years including the Special Operations Protective Clothing & Equipment technical committee as well as the relatively new committees that developed NFPA 1700, Guide for Structural Firefighting (Fundamentals of Fire Control within a Structure Utilizing Fire Dynamics). He is also involved in work underway now for NFPA 1585, Standard on Contamination Control (Emergency Responder Occupational Health). Both NFPA 1700 and NFPA 1585 have a strong basis in fire service research and have benefited from FPRF projects. The former FPRF trustee also shares that Fire Fighter Equipment Operational Environment: Evaluation of Thermal Conditions and Fireground Exposure of Firefighters: A Literature Review are two key documents that help to frame the typical environments in which firefighters work. These reports, per Horn, provide insights for firefighter training, PPE specification and selection, and help manufacturers with design. FPRF findings also provide a foundation for researchers to work from.
Scientific research and engineering expertise
“Research provides the knowledge needed to ensure a safe, secure, and prosperous society. Timely knowledge from technically sound research is more important than ever as the world changes at an unprecedented rate, producing new and more complex risks. The ability to make informed decisions for policy and practice relies on scientific research to understand risks and produce practical solutions to manage them,” Lou Gritzo, Ph.D. explains.
Gritzo is one of nine current FPRF trustees. The vice president of Research for FM Global became familiar with the Foundation 16 years ago when he was invited to get to know the organization by then NFPA president Jim Shannon. He has been a FPRF trustee for a year and served on the Foundation’s research advisory board for five years prior to taking on the trustee role. He also serves as the FM Global management contact for the Property Insurance Research Group and the Energy Storage Research Consortium – two advisory groups that are part of the respected FPRF consensus-building process. In other words, he has had a front row seat to how the Foundation works and makes an impact. Gritzo points to the Foundation’s work on Li-Ion batteries as a perfect example of a series of projects, performed in partnership with the right stakeholders and technical communities, that resulted in an understanding of risks and the development of viable solutions.
He hopes that audiences understand that the Fire Protection Research Foundation serves an indispensable purpose of bringing stakeholders together to develop new knowledge in a credible and timely manner. “Innovation moves faster than standards and the codes that adopt them, and the risks of today include problems that are almost always too complex for any single entity to solve at a sufficient pace. Moving forward, the ability to see these emerging risks and assemble the right talent base and stakeholders to address them in partnership, will be key to keeping pace,” he said.
More on FPRF funding and deliverables
With an eye toward the future, the self-sufficient FPRF works to raise the necessary funds for research in a couple of ways. The Foundation derives its funding from management fees from consortia projects; direct labor rates for grant-funded projects; attendance fees at FPRF-hosted symposiums; sponsorship of their popular online webinars; and occasional projects that are handled directly by FPRF staff. The Foundation also hosts the Suppression, Detection and Signaling Symposium (SUPDET®), which every three years becomes a joint conference with the International Conference on Automatic Fire Detection (AUBE) hosted by the University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany).
To learn more about SUPDET, how the Fire Protection Research Foundation works, current FPRF projects, research reports, recent RFPs, upcoming webinars, and more, visit www.nfpa.org/foundation.
In addition to regular blogs about upcoming and recent FPRF webinars, Foundation staff will be blogging about important research efforts underway in its 40th year. Be sure to check out the NFPA Today blogs regularly and bookmark www.nfpa.org/foundation to keep apprised of new content.