AUTHOR: Cathy Longley

Research Foundation endowment

Fire Protection Research Foundation celebrates 40 years of reducing risk in the world by collaborating with industry experts and informing audiences

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 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 to keep apprised of new content.
Press conference about the Bronx fire

NFPA resources speak to fire and life safety issues as the nation grapples with catastrophic residential fires in Philly and the Bronx

Sunday's fire in the Bronx, N.Y. represents the second most deadly U.S. home fire in nearly 40 years. The tragedy comes on the heels of another harrowing incident in Philadelphia just four days before. Approximately 100 miles away from each other, the two fires and the tragic death tolls incurred place them both in the top 10 residential fires since 1980. The incidents present a stark contrast to the fire progress that has been documented in recent decades and is reflected in last year’s Fire Safety in the United States report. These incidents, once again, underscore that safety is a system as outlined in the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™. NFPA has been responding to a high volume of media inquiries and pointing reporters to the Association’s breaking news box at Policy makers, professionals, practitioners, and the public will also find great value in these resources. US home fires involving multiple fatalities The full list of home fires involving 10 or more fatalities can be found in NFPA research related to catastrophic multiple-death fires. US home heating equipment fires Late today, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) confirmed that a space heater was responsible for the start of yesterday’s tragic fire. Heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths and injuries. Overall, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 48,530 fires involving heating equipment per year in 2014-2018, accounting for 14 percent of all reported home fires and 19 percent of home fire deaths. These fires resulted in an annual average of 500 civilian deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. Space heaters are the type of heating equipment most often involved in home heating fires. Between 2014 and 2018, space heaters annually accounted for more than two out of five heating fires and the majority of heating fire deaths (81 percent) and injuries (80 percent). The NFPA U.S. Home Heating Fires report provides more data on when, where, and how home heating fires happen, while the NFPA home heating safety tip sheet offers guidelines for safely heating homes during the winter months. Here are some of the key takeaways on the tip sheet: Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater. Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters. Never use your oven to heat your home. Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions. Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional. Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed. Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters. Other safety considerations We also feature several other related resources that may be of interest as other factors for both these catastrophic fires are considered. They include: Closed door safety messaging – Open doors can intensify the spread of fire, smoke, and toxic gases.  Smoke alarms – The importance of having working smoke alarms and to respond immediately to them is critical to fire safety. Fire sprinklers – Fire sprinklers significantly reduce the number of deaths, injuries, and property loss in a fire. Our US Experience with Sprinklers report underscores their effectiveness. NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code® – Benchmark guidance within NFPA 101 addresses requirements for high-rise buildings, doors, exits, stairways, fire protection systems, and the role of the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).
Atwood Hose Fire Department

Recent report highlights promising trend for volunteer firefighting recruitment

There’s nothing like a good stat or trend to make you pause and think. So, when I looked at NFPA CEO Jim Pauley’s recent blog on Google Trends earlier this week and noticed deep in the report that “how to become a volunteer firefighter” hit breakout search engine status in the U.S. in November, my interest was piqued. At NFPA, we generate a lot of standards, content, data, and research related to the fire service. We also collaborate with the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) regularly on engagement efforts, so I know that recruiting and retention within the volunteer fire community has been incredibly tough for several years now – a concern that has only been compounded during COVID for myriad reasons. But seeing that Google trend on my first day in the office in 2022 was promising. On further review, I learned that Google Trends uses the term “breakout status” when they see specific words being searched more than 5000% than usual during a short period of time - and that’s exactly what happened with “how to become a volunteer firefighter” in the 11th month of 2021. Google attributes the interest to the historic wildfires of late that tore through California during the summer and fall, including the Dixie Fire that began in July and raged for three months. That disaster now ranks in the top 20 most destructive fires in California in terms of loss and deaths since 1991, and in the California top 20 for acres burned since the 1930s. And on the heels of that fire came the Caldor Fire in September which also is listed among the state’s leading fires in terms of land burned. The Google search uptick begs several questions. For example, did people explore the web in November, not necessarily because wildfires were raging that month but more so because California experienced historically significant fires from June to September? Did they take a breath in November and wonder how they could respond or take an active role in helping? Is it a case of people having more time now because they have left their jobs or because remote work allows career-minded professionals to pursue a passion they may have had for years? Hard to say on the rationale behind the buzz, but wouldn’t the Google shift be an excellent upside to all the wildfire destruction we have been witnessing or a global pandemic making us all rethink things? We don’t know the reason for the searching activity, but the vocation of volunteer firefighting does offer altruistic and high impact benefits. Perhaps this is why Google tells us that Californians were among the top internet surfers back in November looking to learn more about the role. We’ve seen this type of action before. After 9/11, there was a huge influx of men and women interested in becoming first responders. The California wildfires may have spurred heightened interest. If that logic follows, maybe the December 30 Marshall Fire in Colorado that destroyed more than 6,000 acres and nearly 1,000 homes, and forced tens of thousands to evacuate, could also drive more activity on Google.   Any way you look at it, interest in volunteer firefighting opportunities is good news for eighty-two percent of the nation’s more than 29,000 fire departments that are volunteer or combination units (some career members). And I’d venture to guess that the more than 745,000 volunteer firefighters in the U.S., nearly half of whom have been members for at least 10 years, would welcome a recruiting frenzy as we near the two-year mark of COVID-19. Take advantage of fire service learning opportunities in 2022! NFPA is hosting a FREE Leadership for Emergency Responders conference on January 25. REGISTER for the online, one-day program or to access the educational content in the coming year. The timing of the trend is ideal as volunteer fire chiefs begin to plan out their 2022 strategies for community outreach, training, and their own professional growth. NFPA can help those leaders - and anyone else in the responder community who is interested in inspiring and informing existing members, the next generation of firefighters, or themselves. On January 25, the Association will host a FREE Leadership for Emergency Responders online conference. More than 1,600 forward-thinking fire service officers and up-and-comers have already signed up for this timely one-day learning event (with on-demand access for up to one year). The complimentary program will cover topics such as transformational leadership, firefighting tactics, responder safety, occupational health issues including suicide, community risk reduction, diversity, inclusion strategies, and more. Whether you’re in the volunteer, combination, or career firefighting space and inspired by the Google data or simply looking to take things to a different level this year – take advantage of these opportunities. The nation’s firefighters, and the communities that they serve, deserve the very best in 2022.     
Firefighters at a catastrophic fire in Philadelphia

Tragic Philly home fire kills 13, underscoring the dangers of fire and importance of working smoke alarms*

*After this was published, local authorities updated the death toll from what was reported earlier in the day by media to 12 casualties and eight children. It’s never a good day when you get an email like this. “Hello, we have had a tragic day in Philadelphia. Thirteen people, including seven children, died in a row home fire. Twenty-one people were living in two apartments in the building and the fire department says there were smoke alarms, but they were not working. Is anyone from NFPA interested/available to speak with us about this type of situation?” And yet on so many days, year after year, this is common correspondence between NFPA and the media. While we don’t know all the details of today’s devastating incident yet or the circumstances that may have impacted this morning’s harrowing outcome, our hearts go out to the people of Philadelphia and particularly to the eight reported survivors, the victims’ loved ones, and the first responders who undoubtedly have been affected by this tragic incident. What we do know is that WPVI-TV in Philadelphia reports that fire broke out after 6:00 a.m. in a three story rowhouse in the Fairmount section of the city where 18 people lived in a second floor apartment and eight more resided on the first floor. Despite quick response from the fire department and suppression of the fire within 50 minutes of arriving, news reports indicate that there was a lack of working smoke alarms in the crowded units, despite the city testing and replenishing the units in the spring of 2021. Today’s heartbreaking incident is tied for the fifth most deadly home fire in the United States since 1980. The tragedy underscores the importance of working smoke alarms in homes – whether they are in one and two-family residences, rowhouses, or any other occupancy setting. From years of conducting research on the effectiveness of smoke alarms, we know the following: Smoke alarms were present in three-quarters (74 percent) of reported home fires in 2014–2018. Almost three out of five home fire deaths were caused by fires in properties with no smoke alarms (41 percent) or smoke alarms that failed to operate (16 percent). The risk of dying in reported home structure fires is 55 percent lower in homes with working smoke alarms than in homes with no alarms or none that worked. When present, hardwired smoke alarms operated in 94 percent of the fires considered large enough to trigger a smoke alarm. Battery-powered alarms operated 82 percent of the time. Power source issues were the most common factors when smoke alarms failed to operate. Additional insights gleaned from the landmark NFPA Fire Safety in the US report that was released last year shows that the biggest single factor contributing to fire safety progress in recent decades has been the use of smoke alarms, as mandated by fire and building codes, as well as continued public education about their significance. That same report shows that the largest share of reported structure fires and most of the civilian fire deaths and injuries today consistently occur in homes, where people tend to feel safest. In fact, if a home fire is reported these days, occupants are more likely to die than they were 40 years ago due to flammable contents and more open design plans, which have greatly increased the speed at which fire grows. And yet, sadly, even with this research and ongoing efforts to educate audiences on the changing fire dynamics due to modern day building materials and contents, there are still nearly 3,000 home fire deaths annually in the U.S. – far too many. We must vigilantly remind the public about the importance of installing, testing, and replacing smoke alarms – and emphasize that tampering with these life-saving units presents grave risks to safety. Furthermore, we will reduce home fire death and destruction by increasing the numbers of new one- and two-family homes built with fire sprinklers. Fire sprinklers control 97 percent of the fires in which they operate, and more specifically, the risk of dying in a reported home fire is 85 percent lower if sprinklers are present. This blog posted in 2018 by the City of Philadelphia shows that officials there recognized the value of home fire sprinklers. At that time, nearly 5,000 one- and two-family dwellings in Philadelphia were outfitted with home fire sprinklers – a number that the Philadelphia Fire Department and Licenses & Inspections Department hoped would grow as the public learned more about the lifesaving benefits of these critical fire suppression systems. As we mourn the loss of these lives today, we have to use this tragedy to continue efforts to ensure the public and communities prioritize fire safety – in particular the use of smoke alarms, escape planning, and building with home fire sprinklers.

Longtime fire service leader Greg Cade set to retire after 50 years of working in influential life safety roles

NFPA will soon say goodbye to long-time fire service veteran Greg Cade who will retire from his role as a regional director for the Association by year end after 50-plus years of life safety leadership roles including time spent as the U.S. Fire Administrator. A lot has changed in the world since Cade became a firefighter in Prince George’s County in Maryland back in 1968. When he started out, neighborhood firehouses were largely responding to fires in home and other occupancies, often with large losses of life and property – despite responders’ best efforts. Over time, as reported in the recent Fire Safety in the U.S. report, there has been a reduction in fire loss in the country. Today, the nation’s estimated 1.1 million firefighters fulfill an all-hazards role – frequently dealing with medical calls, civil unrest issues, hostile events response, motor vehicle accidents, and a growing number of new hazards associated with emerging technologies. Cade, a Virginia native, rose through the ranks of Prince George’s Fire during his 24-year tenure there, ultimately becoming bureau chief. He then transitioned to similar roles in Virginia fire departments, spending six years as chief of the Hampton Division of Fire/Rescue Department and nine more years leading the City of Virginia Beach Fire Department. In 2007, Cade was appointed United States Fire Administrator (USFA) and served effectively and passionately in that capacity until January 2009 before moving on to manage national programs for the International Association of Fire Chiefs NFPA hired Cade in 2010 to serve as government affairs division director in the organization’s Washington, D.C. office, a position he held for six years. He took on a new role in 2016 as an NFPA regional director working with fire service leaders, code enforcers, policy makers, and others in the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. A wide range of safety-focused professionals in these states now have a better handle on NFPA tools and resources such as codes and standards, trainings and certification, public education materials, home fire sprinkler information, membership benefits, and research reports because of Cade’s outreach. Working in any career for more than 50 years is quite an accomplishment, but to spend more than five decades working in the fire service and with those focused on life safety is quite a feat.   Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement, Greg Cade, and thank you for your service.
A raging house fire

NFPA begins exclusive safety-focused content collaboration with vipHomeLink

NFPA and vipHomeLink have joined forces so that NFPA’s vast array of fire and electrical safety information is shared via vipHomeLink’s digital home management platform. vipHomeLink provides a customized digital home engagement and claims prevention platform so that homeowners are informed about potential risks to their investment. The audience engagement and claims prevention platform is available directly to consumers and through other entities who have a vested interest in empowering homeowners to make their homes safer and more financially viable. NFPA, the world’s foremost expert on fire, electrical, building, and life safety, recently forged the new alliance which calls for sharing of NFPA fire safety, wildfire protection, home fire prevention, electrical and safety messages, as well as tips for dealing with emerging hazards. The intent is to improve homeowner loss ratios over time. vipHomeLink will curate and design original content based on trusted NFPA subject matter expertise. The actionable, tailored insights will be shared directly with its homeowner members on the company’s home application platform, as well as via the vipHomeLink website, blog, podcasts, and social media channels. NFPA has been working for 125 years to protect people and property from harm. The Association delivers information and knowledge through 325-plus consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy, and by working with others, like vipHomeLink, who share an interest in eliminating loss in the world. Virtually every building, process, service, design, and installation is affected by NFPA codes and standards, thus the reason NFPA has become synonymous with safety. “Fire departments in the U.S. respond to nearly 350,000 home fires per year, and most of those fires could have been prevented by following a few simple safety tips,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “The information we will provide through the vipHomeLink platform directly to homeowners will help increase awareness of fire risks, how they can be avoided, and ultimately save lives.” vipHomeLink helps homeowners maintain, organize, and improve their homes by facilitating home maintenance work and educating customers through multi-channel digital content, tailored home recommendations with an interactive in-app experience, personalized home reminders, and an annual “Virtual Home Checkup” service.
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