AUTHOR: James Pauley

Fire truck responding to a call

Research shows progress and problems since "America Burning"

"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.” Nearly 50 years ago, these salient words were reflected in the opening pages of America Burning, the historic report written in 1973 and revisited in 1980. Over the decades since the landmark account was published, I have heard countless people cite America Burning findings, point to the recommendations within, and talk about what the findings did for fire protection, fire prevention, and responder safety. I whole-heartedly agree that America Burning was a groundbreaking tool in our arsenal and yet, today, in arguably the most advanced nation in the world – nearly 3,000 people still succumb to house fires, not to mention in other occupancies. On the same page of that report, the authors wrote, “These statistics are impressive in their size, though perhaps not scary enough to jar the average American from his confidence that “It will never happen to me.” And therein lies the problem. Complacency. It’s a killer of people, of property, of perspective, and of progress. But as has often been said, knowledge is power. NFPA has spent the last 125 years, believing this tenet to be true and furthering understanding in the interest of safety. Our vision of eliminating death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and related hazards is not merely a cliché, it is at the core of everything we do, everything that the America Burning report touched on back in the 70s and 80s, and served as the impetus for a new seminal report from NFPA and the Fire Protection Research Foundation, our research affiliate. The Fire in the United States Since 1980, Through the Lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem Report shows the progress we have achieved in reducing loss in certain structures; the strides we’ve made with fire protection technologies such as smoke alarms and sprinklers; the success that we have achieved through public education; and the positive effect that mandated codes and standards have played in altering the fire experience in our country. Today, we rarely see people perish in healthcare settings or hotels. Children are less likely to die from playing with fire. Fires in apartment buildings and hi-rise buildings have decreased. Our schools and the children, educators, and staff that occupy them are significantly safer. These are all positives that, in many ways, point to the components of the Ecosystem that we have been talking about for three years now. Yes, at NFPA, we look at safety through the lens of the Ecosystem – not because we developed this framework a few years back but - because after more than a century of championing safety, two America Burning studies and this new research from NFPA – it is abundantly clear that fire safety requires a holistic, purposeful approach, and unwavering accountability. That holistic, purposeful approach and unwavering accountability is what it’s going to take for us to move the needle on the most pressing fire safety issues of today. The new research reminds us: We need all the elements of the Ecosystem working together on Community Risk Reduction (CRR) strategies so that we can decrease the number of elderly dying in home fires. With roughly one of every three fatal home fire victims being 65 or older, more research and resources are needed to protect our most vulnerable citizens. That’s why our Data, Analytics and Research team and the Research Foundation work to inform our Remembering When program which educates communities on older adult fire and fall prevention. States with higher fire death rates have larger percentages of people who have a disability; have incomes below the poverty line; live in rural areas; or are populated by African Americans, Blacks, Native Americans, or Alaskan Natives. There is more work to do to reach those at greatest risk. We must stem the trend of wildfire-caused human and property losses. Wildfire is becoming the dominant type of fire that causes catastrophic multiple deaths and property destruction in our country. In fact, 7 of the 10 costliest fires in the US were fires in the wildland/urban interface. We launched our new Outthink Wildfire™ policy campaign to advocate change around where and how we build and to bring together policy-makers, the fire service, and the public to work with all elements of the Ecosystem, so that we can redraft history and change the narrative. “Each one of us must become aware – not for a single time, but for all the year – of what he or she can do to prevent fires,” President Richard Nixon said in 1972. (The quote can be heard in the latest NFPA Learn Something New video about the new research.)   I urge you to use the knowledge in this new report to power your fire prevention and protection steps so, together, we can rewrite history.
A house on fire

Post new year fires show that we still have much work to do in 2021 and beyond to reduce home fire deaths

This article initially appeared in the January issue of the NFPA Network newsletter. After a nice holiday break, I returned to work on January 4th and was immediately struck by stories from around the globe about home fires and civilian loss of life. The news feed that day and since has led me to wonder if, after years of having nearly 3,000 home fire deaths, if 2021 will be the year that we all commit to and realize a decrease in tragedies. With New Year’s Day barely in the rearview, I learned about fatal residential fires in Connecticut, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Those harrowing incidents were followed by residential fires in Rhode Island and Maryland that claimed the lives of parents trying to save their own children. I was equally saddened to read that a 6-year old autistic boy perished in a fire on Chicago’s Far South Side when a mother left him and his 13-year old brother unattended. Then there were two separate fires in East Texas and Melbourne, Australia where mothers and their three children died. And if those incidents weren’t hard enough to fathom, six people succumbed to a blaze in DeKalb, Georgia while on the other side of the world eight people died (and 90 residents were evacuated) when fire broke out in an apartment block fire in Russia. All these recent misfortunes, and I’m sure some additional ones, took place before we even hit the two-week mark of 2021 and beg the question, why are we still seeing thousands dying annually in home fires? NFPA has been gathering fire death statistics and insights via our annual fire experience survey since 1977 and began to incorporate National Fire Incident Reporting System data in 1980. We actually began collecting information on fires with 10 or more deaths long before that – we have records back to the origins of NFPA in 1896 and our first archival fire incident record is from 63 A.D.  Today’s most recent report on home fires shows that, on average, more than 353,000 home fires and 2,620 civilian deaths occur per year. As the incidents noted above and research shows, January is the top month for home fires and deaths. Despite the 2019 fire loss estimates being 43 percent lower in one- or two-family homes and 63 percent lower in apartments than they were in 1980, we have plateaued at nearly 3,000 deaths annually for far too long. We can and must do better. NFPA can help. Our public education team has an abundance of resources, in a variety of languages, that are designed to help educate audiences about fire hazards and safety tips during community outreach and via social media. Please take advantage of these tools, and recommit the time and energy needed to sharing fire prevention strategies that will help us to move the home fire death needle downward.    Be inspired by Massachusetts which reported last week that, for the first time on record, no children died in home fires in the Bay State in 2020. State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said, “To have no children, no one under the age of 18, die in a fire in Massachusetts is an amazing accomplishment. Through the 26 years of the Student Awareness of Fire Education Program (S.AF.E.), firefighters and classroom teachers have been helping to raise a fire safe generation of children. Historically, children and seniors have been most at risk of dying in fires. Ultimately, responsibility for home fire safety rests with the adults in the home, but the S.A.F.E Program has brought key safety information on maintaining smoke alarms, practicing home fire drills, cooking, heating, candle and match and lighter safety home to those adults. Goodness knows there’s nothing like being nagged by a 3rd grader to test your smoke alarm.” I hope you will indulge me and embrace some well-intentioned “nagging” from NFPA so that we can reduce the number of home fire deaths in 2021.

Ruminating About Research

I recently sat in on an information-sharing session called Coffee Time at NFPA. Coffee Times are conducted (internally, but virtually these days) by staff looking to apprise colleagues about projects underway, efforts completed, or issues bubbling up for NFPA audiences. This particular day, a trio of young researchers (engineers by trade) from the Fire Protection Research Foundation, NFPA's research affiliate, spoke about the role of the Research Foundation and some of the projects currently underway. True to both the NFPA and Research Foundation missions, the laundry list of projects touched on every corner of life safety. Newer employees were impressed to hear that more than 50-plus efforts are being managed right now by a small team of five, but for those of us who have worked with or watched the Research Foundation take on challenge after challenge, we were not surprised by the work they quietly do in the interest of safety. Since 1982, the Research Foundation has been bringing people from diverse backgrounds to the table in much the same spirit as the NFPA standards development consensus process. They delve into issues, incidents, and insights that not only inform the standards development process, but more importantly - inform stakeholders like you. Our Association is largely known around the world for our standards development work, but there is also a similarly important contribution we make through the work we collaboratively do to produce meaningful research that is used across the globe. The Research Foundation investigates emerging fire safety hazards, and works closely with our equally impressive Data and Analytics and Applied Research departments which are focused on generating information, metrics, tools, and analytics related to the fire problem, building and life safety, fire protection, electrical, responder safety, wildland fires and hazardous materials.  The research arms of NFPA add tremendous value in a world that is never short on threats or hazards. When I speak with groups, I always point to the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem as the framework to facilitate important safety conversations today – to connect the dots on safety. Chances are you have heard me speak about the eight-component system that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss. One of those components is an investment in safety, which I often describe along two lines. We invest in safety by prioritizing the decisions being made. Choosing to protect people and property, and refusing to pander to politics, budgets or aesthetics is essential. The second way that we invest in safety is with research that addresses the new problems we are facing. While progress can be exhilarating and is certainly needed in our world, we must make sure innovation works alongside safety. We need research, testing, and benchmarks to fully understand issues and opportunities. Prior to being the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong flew X-15 rocket planes. He was once asked to honor his test pilot colleagues that were among those who flew nearly 200 radical missions in the 50s and 60s. “In much of society, research means to investigate something you do not know about or do not understand,” Armstrong said. “Research is exploration and discovery. It's investigating (something that) no one knows or understands. Research is creating new knowledge.” The dozens of projects being juggled right now by the Research Foundation will create new knowledge for the built environment, detection and signaling, suppression, emerging technologies, wildfire, first responders, and so many other topics. It will provide you with information you may not even know you need yet. This is the “exploration and discovery” that Armstrong spoke of; that has become synonymous with NFPA. The Research Foundation exists to discover – just last week they received two new grants for research, bringing the total number of grants or subawards to 40 since 2005. Now, I realize I may be biased about the fantastic research being done by the Research Foundation and our Data and Analytics and Applied Research teams but if you need further proof about the value of research, consider the words of wisdom from a man famously known for taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". Or better yet, visit www.nfpa.org/foundation or www.nfpa.org/research so you can be well on your way to the understanding that Armstrong spoke about. This blog originally appeared in the NFPA Network Newsletter. If you find this content insightful, subscribe to the newsletter for monthly personalized content related to the world of fire, electrical, building, and life safety.
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19 Years Later: What Lessons Have We Learned from 9/11?

Every year on this day, I am overwhelmed with a sense of sadness that almost seems as raw as it did on that beautiful September morn in 2001. Tears flow. Memories flood. And I wonder, what have we learned in the aftermath of 9/11?   Nineteen years ago, we said we'd never forget.   At NFPA, we have not forgotten 9/11 nor will our nearly 125-year old organization ever forsake first responders. As I often say, “NFPA goes where first responders go.”   NFPA's purview extends beyond the response community, and our Association continuously remembers the lessons learned from 9/11 by working with individuals and organizations across a wide spectrum of safety to usher in the critical changes needed to ensure that people, property, and first responders are protected to the utmost.   Looking back at NFPA Journal articles, NFPA blogs, and interviews on YouTube, there have been at least a dozen NFPA codes and standards that have been altered or influenced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy. Our global advocacy efforts have also driven change. Some of the advancements include:   In 2005 and 2008, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released landmark reports on the investigation of three buildings — the 110-story towers and Building 7. The 2005 report outlined 30 recommendations for NFPA and other standards development organizations to address. NFPA immediately got to work addressing these recommendations in its codes and standards by gathering a team of engineers, architects, fire service officials, and public advocacy groups to form the High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee (HRBSAC) in 2004. The committee prepared recommendations in the form of proposed code changes primarily for NFPA 1 Fire Code; NFPA 101 Life Safety Code; and NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Codeand other NFPA projects, as applicable. Details related to a building's means of egress design in NFPA 101 were revisited, including width of exits and use of elevators by occupants and first responders. Mass notification systems per NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code were revised. Before 9/11, the code did not permit other signals to override the fire alarm signal. NFPA 72 now allows another emergency signal to take precedence over a fire alarm signal. The construction, location and practices surrounding building security were adjusted in NFPA 730 Guide for Premises Security as well as the placement, performance and testing of these systems as defined in NFPA 731 Standard for Installation of Premises Security Systems. The need to prepare for other manmade or natural catastrophes was made evident in the 9/11 Commission Reportwhich encouraged the private sector to adopt NFPA 1600 Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management. NFPA 1600 is widely used by public, not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and private entities on a local, regional, national, international and global basis. It has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness. Fire service agencies and related organizations, including NFPA, began to underscore the all-hazards role that emergency responders play in society. In the aftermath of 9/11, NFPA conducted the 1st Needs Assessment Survey of the U.S. Fire Service in 2001 to identify where fire departments are meeting the needs of their communities and where there are gaps in the service they provide. Insights from 9/11 and the Needs Assessment have led to changes over the years— specifically, technology used by firefighters and personal protective equipment—but certain gaps still exist, due in part to monetary shortfalls. The Needs Assessment Survey of the U.S. Fire Service deploys every five years; the 5th edition of the survey will be sent to every fire department in the U.S. late next week. Additionally, programs such as the Assistance for Firefighter Grants and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants have provided extensive funds annually for community preparedness—particularly for fire department staffing, equipment, vehicles, and training but as we are seeing yet again during COVID times, common thinking is that firefighters only fight fires. New types of communication, including wireless systems dedicated to emergency responder use, are now designed so that firefighters and other emergency personnel can more easily communicate with each other. Since 9/11, NFPA committees have worked on a range of code provisions that address this all-hazards approach. Communications capabilities or specifically what's known as "interoperability," the ability to send and receive urgent messages during an emergency incident as quickly as possible, was widely discussed in the wake of 9/11. In 2011, former NFPA fire service segment director Ken Willette told NFPA Journal, "Giving everybody a portable radio isn't the answer to interoperability post 9/11. You need to have good standard operating procedures in addition to a well-developed infrastructure to support this technology.” NFPA 1561 Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System and Command Safety now provides requirements for using "clear text" terminology during an incident rather than radio codes, with the intent of providing a more accurate picture of what's actually happening at the scene. Protecting responders from various respiratory hazards was also addressed in NFPA 1981 Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services. Provisions for the cleaning and decontamination of personal protective equipment soiled by the threats noted above are also part of the current edition of NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting. And changes to both NFPA 472 Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents and NFPA 1026 Standard for Incident Management Personnel Professional Qualifications ensure that emergency responders, specialized personnel, and incident command competencies are prioritized. Responders and fire service leaders, faced with the unthinkable, now have better training, insights, and authority as a result of the World Trade Center attacks.   At NFPA, our more than 300 employees come to work each day to help save lives and reduce loss with information, knowledge, and passion. Like so many others, we will never forget 911, and will continue to incorporate the lessons learned in Manhattan many years ago by delivering information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering our mission.  
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With COVID-19 Gripping the Globe, NFPA Offers Resources for Emergency Planning, First Responder Precautions, and Fire, Life and Electrical Safety

As the world grapples with the unprecedented health crisis known as COVID-19 or the coronavirus, NFPA, like many organizations, is monitoring the U.S. Centers for Disease Controland Prevention and other governmental sources for COVID-19 updates and adjusting business practices as recommended.   We know that the information available through NFPA is of paramount importance to safety in both ordinary times and extraordinary ones. NFPA is fully operational and providing our tools and resources to those who depend on them to continue to do their jobs safely and protect their communities. Over the past couple of weeks, we've put out a number of communications related to the pandemic.  For your convenience, here's an overview of them and some additional information in one single post.   Emergency Planning In a blog earlier this month, our Emergency Services Specialist John Montes wrote a blog entitled, Organizational Planning Tips for Pandemic Preparedness. While many may not immediately think of NFPA as the first place to go for resources in a medical emergency, Montes points to NFPA 1600, Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management  which was recognized as the US National Preparedness Standard by the 9/11 Commission. Widely used by public, not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and private entities on a local, regional, national, and global basis, NFPA 1600 has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness. The standard is available on the NFPA website for free viewing, and offers key information for entities who want to conduct a risk assessment, business impact analysis, capabilities and needs assessments, and develop emergency and recovery plans.   He also references NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code which provides critical safety information and requirements for isolation spaces, emergency planning, IT and data infrastructure, and more. An additional resource is the NFPA Emergency Preparedness Checklist.   Responder Safety During Pandemics When tragic events unfold, it is our first responders that are on the frontline, risking their own safety to help others. Staff Writer Angelo Verzoni speaks to a number of fire service professionals in the latest NFPA Journal Podcast. The timely podcast looks at the additional precautions that can be put in place to enhance the well-being of first responders.   Fire Doors and Life Safety Kristin Bigda, the NFPA technical lead on building and life safety posted a blog - Don't Compromise Fire Safety While Responding to Coronavirus: Keep Fire Doors Operable – after hearing that  facilities had begun propping fire doors open so that people didn't have to touch handles for egress. While she recognizes the logic in terms of germ spread prevention, Bigda stresses that propping fire doors open presents significant hazards and risks in the event of a fire.  “It is imperative that we not forfeit institutional elements of safety while working to address others. In this case, we need to balance the risk of the coronavirus against other real hazards that have the potential to harm multiple people in a very short window of time,” the popular NFPA 101 blogger said.   NFPA codes and standards such as NFPA 1, Fire Code, NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, govern the installation, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire doors.  Fire doors and other opening protectives such as shutters and windows must be operable at all times.    Trainings and Certifications Amidst travel bans and cancellations of face-to-face gatherings, we understand that individuals are not able to participate in live training programs or conferences aimed at keeping them up to date on the latest learnings for their professions or meeting various certification requirements. NFPA offers a full array of online training and certification programs to help meet those needs.   During this time, we are all focused on responding appropriately and continuing our efforts to enhance safety. Thank you for the work you all do. For the latest from NFPA, please visit our website.
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With COVID-19 Gripping the Globe, NFPA Offers Resources for Emergency Planning, First Responder Precautions, and Fire, Life, and Electrical Safety

As the world grapples with the unprecedented health crisis known as COVID-19 or the coronavirus, NFPA, like many organizations, is monitoring the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other governmental sources for COVID-19 updates and adjusting business practices as recommended. We know that the information available through NFPA is of paramount importance to safety in both ordinary times and extraordinary ones. NFPA is fully operational and providing our tools and resources to those who depend on them to continue to do their jobs safely and protect their communities. Over the past couple of weeks, we've put out a number of communications related to the pandemic.  For your convenience, here's an overview of them and some additional information in one single post. Emergency Planning In a blog earlier this month, our Emergency Services Specialist John Montes wrote a blog entitled, Organizational Planning Tips for Pandemic Preparedness. While many may not immediately think of NFPA as the first place to go for resources in a medical emergency, Montes points to NFPA 1600, Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management which was recognized as the US National Preparedness Standard by the 9/11 Commission. Widely used by public, not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and private entities on a local, regional, national, and global basis, NFPA 1600 has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness. The standard is available on the NFPA website for free viewing, and offers key information for entities who want to conduct a risk assessment, business impact analysis, capabilities and needs assessments, and develop emergency and recovery plans. He also references NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Codewhich provides critical safety information and requirements for isolation spaces, emergency planning, IT and data infrastructure, and more. An additional resource is the NFPA Emergency Preparedness Checklist. Responder Safety During Pandemics When tragic events unfold, it is our first responders that are on the frontline, risking their own safety to help others. Staff Writer Angelo Verzoni speaks to a number of fire service professionals in the latest NFPA Journal Podcast. The timely podcast looks at the additional precautions that can be put in place to enhance the well-being of first responders. Fire Doors and Life Safety Kristin Bigda, the NFPA technical lead on building and life safety posted a blog - Don't Compromise Fire Safety While Responding to Coronavirus: Keep Fire Doors Operable – after hearing that  facilities had begun propping fire doors open so that people didn't have to touch handles for egress. While she recognizes the logic in terms of germ spread prevention, Bigda stresses that propping fire doors open presents significant hazards and risks in the event of a fire.  “It is imperative that we not forfeit institutional elements of safety while working to address others. In this case, we need to balance the risk of the coronavirus against other real hazards that have the potential to harm multiple people in a very short window of time,” the popular NFPA 101 blogger said. NFPA codes and standards such as NFPA 1, Fire Code, NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, govern the installation, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire doors.  Fire doors and other opening protectives such as shutters and windows must be operable at all times.  Trainings and Certifications Amidst travel bans and cancellations of face-to-face gatherings, we understand that individuals are not able to participate in live training programs or conferences aimed at keeping them up to date on the latest learnings for their professions or meeting various certification requirements. NFPA offers a full array of online training and certification programs to help meet those needs. During this time, we are all focused on responding appropriately and continuing our efforts to enhance safety. Thank you for the work you all do. For the latest from NFPA, please visit our website.

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