AUTHOR: Jim Pauley

NFPA continues to meet the needs of today’s skilled workforce

The official NFPA mission is to help save lives and reduce loss with information, knowledge and passion. We take this role seriously, working tirelessly to understand the work all those who rely on us do every day so that we can develop and deliver the tools and resources that support their work. It means we must stay on top of fire and life safety professionals’ current challenges and needs, particularly as things continue to shift and change in today’s ever-evolving world, and as the expectation to do more with less has increasingly become the norm. With that understanding, NFPA conducted an industry trends survey last fall to identify the needs of skilled trade workers in 2023, focusing on employee sentiment toward training, labor shortages, use of technology on the job site, and how technology supports their top priorities. Key findings from the survey include the following: Nearly half of respondents (45 percent) said a shortage of qualified workers would be their biggest challenge at work in 2023. Forty-two percent said they anticipate their budgets will focus on increased hiring to replace or add jobs in 2023. Sixty-eight percent of respondents felt a desire to work with innovative, non-traditional tools on a jobsite, while 17 percent found that the lack of job-enabling technology was one of their biggest challenges on the jobsite in 2022. While 32 percent of respondents currently use technology on the jobsite on a day-to-day basis, nearly one-third (28 percent) of trade workers anticipate their organizations’ 2023 budgets will be focused on updating manual or outdated equipment. Twenty-five percent of respondents believe technology implemented in their day-to-day job functions would improve accuracy and safety. In sum, this data tells us that skilled workers need greater access to innovative technologies, enabling them to do their jobs more nimbly and efficiently. This is increasingly important as hiring across many industries has lagged, existing tools and resources have become outdated over time, and codes and standards contain updated requirements. We will capitalize on this survey data to help inform our efforts in the year to come as we continue to develop resources that best support fire and life safety professionals across multiple fields, including electrical, manufacturing, construction, engineering, architect/design, facility maintenance, fire service, and insurance/risk management. At the same time, I was encouraged to see that the digital platforms, trainings, and resources we’ve launched over the past few years accurately reflect many of the trends and preferences expressed in the survey findings. For example, NFPA’s digital codes and standards platform, LiNK®, provides dynamic access to our codes and standards, making it easier than ever to access needed information. We’ve also continued to build and offer online trainings across multiple industries, helping ensure that workers can execute with maximum proficiency. As NFPA continues its mission of delivering that latest information and knowledge, I encourage everyone to continue providing us your feedback on how we can help you do your jobs better. Understanding these professional needs helps drive success for all of us in 2023 and beyond.

2022: A Year of Challenges and Progress in Fire Safety

With the holiday season upon us and we near the end of the year, I can’t help but think about the tragedies that ushered us into 2022. The tragic fires in Philadelphia and the Bronx in early January, coupled with the barrage of wildfires, made national headlines. Throughout the year, there were many other incidents that received less mass attention yet take their tolls. Each and every one underscore the safety challenges we face in our communities and our calls to action. Reflecting on the year, 2022 was also a year of events that were central to our efforts to answer those calls and pave the way forward. They reflect the core of what NFPA does so well – bring together a wide range of people and organizations to solve problems. Throughout the year, there was also no shortage of insightful innovation. This particularly holds true for those who attended the Outthink Wildfire™ summit in May. This two-day event in Sacramento, California brought together more than 50 representatives from across the US to focus on the complex problem of wildfire risk to existing properties and communities. Participants collaboratively worked to identify the most critically important areas needing national focus and the recommendations for addressing them. A recently released summit report summarizes next steps that dozens of experts agree will help overcome the challenges the nation faces in ending wildfire disasters. I’m pleased to say work is already underway on these tasks. We saw first-hand at NFPA’s Conference & Expo in June what happens when fire, life, and electrical safety professionals gather in person. Nearly 7,000 of them, including more than 280 exhibitors attended, all engaging in thought-provoking discussions, sharing viewpoints, solutions, and services with one another. After a bit of a hiatus from in-person meetings, it was inspiring to hear participants agreed, telling me they came away from this event with a renewed sense of purpose and energy and returned to their communities armed with the kind of information and knowledge they needed to help them succeed. The growing number of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries that power e-bikes and e-scooters prompted the FDNY Foundation, UL, and NFPA to co-sponsor a symposium in September to address these challenges. Visual demonstrations highlight the need for more public education associated with these devices and how people can protect themselves and their property. In response, NFPA launched an educational campaign, creating free resources for stakeholders to use and share with consumers. This project is a real-life example of how new technologies not only demand we be vigilant in how we respond to these emerging issues but how we collectively address risk to first responders, workers, and the public. In October, NFPA celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fire Prevention Week™. The century milestone of the longest running public health observance in the country takes on new urgency for prevention as today’s fire problem lays squarely in homes. According to NFPA research, you are more likely to die in a home fire now than you were in 1980 driven by modern construction and contents in houses. Together with thousands of fire departments, safety advocates, and business groups, NFPA promoted this year’s theme, “Fire Won’t Wait. Plan Your Escape.™,” reinforcing the critical importance of developing a home escape plan with all members of the household and practicing it regularly. Through hard work, enthusiasm, and creativity, the campaign came to life and actively engaged thousands of communities in home fire safety and prevention. As part of the 100th anniversary of FPW recognition, we also joined with the US Fire Administration and the entire fire service community for the first of its kind US Fire Administration Fire Prevention and Control Summit. Undoubtedly, this historic event will continue to be a catalyst for progress against the most pressing fire issues of the times. With the calendar turning to the new year, I’m counting on all of you to harness the energy and excitement that was evident at all these events. We must turn great insights into great action. We must continue to work together to connect the dots on safety. Together is how we can further our work to help save lives and reduce loss. Thank you for the significant role you play by joining with us to make the world safer from fire and other hazards. On behalf of NFPA, I wish you and your family a safe holiday season and a happy new year.

The road to EV safety requires a robust infrastructure

Few would argue that emerging technologies like electric vehicles (EVs) and electric micromobility devices (more commonly known as e-bikes and e-scooters) are transforming today’s modes of transportation. Today, there are reportedly more than one million electrified vehicles on U.S. roadways; that number is expected to reach more than 18 million by 2030. Meanwhile, travel to just about any urban setting and you’ll surely see people on e-bikes and e-scooters nimbly navigating city streets. With the increasing ubiquity of these lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles and devices, the appropriate infrastructure of safety must be in place to support their presence and growth. On the fire service side, this includes ensuring that first responders receive the training needed to safely and effectively handle associated incidents. For consumers, it means educating them about how to properly charge and store EVs, e-bikes, and e-scooters. NFPA has been committed to addressing potential fire hazards posed by EVs for some time, offering in-person and online trainings that teach first responders how to safely and effectively mitigate EV incidents. These trainings and related resources were developed in coordination with several major safety organizations and numerous national laboratories that share our commitment to EV safety. We’ve also received grants to help deliver these trainings to as many fire departments as possible. To date, NFPA has helped educate more than 300,000 first responders on this emerging hazard. Currently, as part of a three-year project funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), NFPA and the U.S. Clean Cities Coalition (CCC) have teamed up to develop a series of online courses and workshops that help prepare communities for the growing presence of electric vehicles (EVs) on U.S. roadways. Called “NFPA Spurs the Safe Adoption of Electric Vehicles Through Education and Outreach,” the program works to help communities prepare for electrical vehicle growth in the US, assisting cities and towns with an evaluation of their EV infrastructure, training programs, incentives, and code compliance readiness. This September, NFPA co-hosted a symposium with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) to address fire safety hazards associated with improper storage and charging of e-bikes and e-scooters as well as other devices powered by lithium-ion batteries. In follow-up to the symposium, NFPA created new webpage and tip sheet for public educators, building and store owners, the fire service, and other professionals, highlighting why e-bikes and e-scooters catch fire, what some jurisdictions are doing to better regulate that risk, and what people can do to stay safe if they use, store, or charge e-bikes, e-scooters, and other products that use lithium-ion batteries. Our overall goal has been to ensure that as EVs and other lithium-ion powered devices like e-bikes and e-scooters become more widely used, potential safety threats are addressed as appropriate in a timely manner. But the work that NFPA has done in collaboration with other committed organizations is only part of the solution. Truly reducing the fire safety risks associated with EVs and other lithium-ion battery powered devices requires a robust ecosystem of safety that includes active, ongoing support and participation from local government, utilities, electrical code officials, manufacturers/dealerships, fleet owners, garages/maintenance facilities, insurance companies, the fire service, EMS, law enforcement, and consumers. All these stakeholder groups must be fully engaged in doing their part to truly help minimize associated safety risks. As things stand, a sizeable gap remains between this ideal infrastructure and existing levels of preparedness and planning. More widespread public education about EV systems themselves; more guidance around charging installation safety practices; strengthened code compliance; and training for more emergency responders are just a few of the many ways we can begin to close that gap. If all of us with a vested interest in these issues do our part, we will be vastly more effective at mitigating these types of fires in the years to come. Otherwise, we will continue to see more preventable tragedies occurring more frequently, particularly as the use of EVs continues to grow. It’s up to all of us to decide which road we choose to take.
Tape blocking an area off

Rising Fire Death Rates Underscore Need for Fire Prevention Week Focus

Anniversaries are an important part of life. Whether personal, professional, or of historical importance, celebrating a milestone in our lives reminds us of the things that matter most to us. For NFPA, the 100th anniversary of Fire Prevention Week™ (FPW™) this year is particularly significant and gives us pause for reflection on the work we have done over the last century to help educate people about the leading risks to home fires and ways they can better protect themselves and those they love. Since 1922, FPW has been observed annually during the week of October 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire. Every U.S. president since 1925 has signed a proclamation for Fire Prevention Week, making it the longest running public health observance on record. At the heart of this annual week-long campaign are the thousands of fire departments, fire and life safety educators, teachers, and other safety advocates who lead the effort to help prevent loss from fire. NFPA statistics show a significant decline in the number of fires occurring in U.S. homes over the past few decades and there is no doubt the work done in support of FPW and throughout the year has played a large part in this progress. But while the numbers tell us we have made great strides in teaching people how to prevent home fires from happening, we must also view this 100-year milestone as a key opportunity to be forthcoming and pragmatic about what more we can and must do to help save lives in the current fire environment. The Fire Prevention Week 2022 theme, “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape.™”, was chosen with this philosophy in mind. It is a true reflection of where we are today and the challenges we still face. Yes, we are seeing fewer fires in the U.S., but a troubling fact has emerged. According to the newly released NFPA “Fire Loss in the U.S.” report, we are witnessing the highest number of home fire deaths in the U.S. since 2007. The statistics tell us that if a fire is reported in your home, you are more likely to die today than you were 40 years ago. The way homes are built, and the make-up of the contents inside our residences contribute to hotter, fast-moving fires. Occupants today have as little as two minutes to escape once the smoke alarm sounds, compared to seven to 10 minutes decades earlier. Home is where we all feel safest, yet 74 percent of all U.S. fire deaths occur in households. Imagine if one day soon we could turn this statement on its head and say, “Home is where we are the safest.” I know this is what we all aspire to achieve. But to do so requires expanded collaboration and more actionable education if we want to close the gap on the fire problem. So, in honor of the centennial of FPW let us rededicate ourselves to impactful fire safety education, combat complacency, and help make the world a safer place. We encourage you to share critical home fire safety messages with your communities the week of October 9 – 15 and take advantage of the many materials and resources available on our FPW website. It’s a Big World. Let’s Protect it Together.®

Gambling on natural disasters is a losing strategy

As all of us in the world of fire and life safety know, being well prepared for fire and other emergencies plays a key role in reducing associated risks and losses. But when it comes to actually putting preparedness policies and systems into place, doing what’s needed doesn’t always happen. There are many reasons why: A lack of buy-in from the necessary groups and individuals to create plans and procedures; limited staffing and resources; and inadequate budgeting are just a few of the many shortfalls that contribute to inaction. Unfortunately, gambling on the likelihood of a disaster in the hopes that it might not occur is a bet most communities will eventually lose. And the outcomes that result from not preparing adequately can be devastating. Some of the unprecedented storms, hurricanes, flooding, extreme heat, and wildfires we’ve witnessed in recent years and the tragic losses they’ve incurred underscore this reality. These past incidents also highlight the fact that much work remains to truly ensure a full ecosystem of safety, incorporating all the elements needed to keep citizens safe and protected. Of course, no one individual can take on and implement this system of safety on their own. It requires robust coordination among a diverse team of safety advocates, fire and life safety officials, local business owners, organizations, and policymakers, among others, who come together to support these efforts and put them into motion. In fact, I firmly believe that fully utilizing the interdependencies of others helps strengthen the work and impact each of us delivers. National Preparedness Month, the annual campaign sponsored by FEMA each September, represents a timely opportunity for everyone who plays a safety role in their community to work collaboratively with appropriate partners to secure preparedness plans before incidents happen, so that the proper systems and procedures are in place to effectively mitigate and recover from them. While Preparedness Month focuses on natural disasters that most likely occur in the months ahead, any event that can cause catastrophe within a community year-round should be included in these plans as well. And while disasters impact all of us when they do occur, underserved regions tend to bear the brunt more than others. With the focus of this year’s Preparedness Month campaign on vulnerable populations, making sure those areas have the support and resources needed to remain protected and safe is critical. Community risk reduction (CRR), which works to identify the leading risks with a given community, can play a significant role in meeting these preparedness objectives. Access to data helps safety officials pinpoint where the greatest risks lie and among which neighborhoods, ensuring that the proper resources and guidance are directed at the groups and individuals who need the most assistance. In addition, there are countless tools and resources that can guide community and safety officials’ efforts, making preparedness planning more manageable and less daunting. Our CRR digital tool CRAIG 1300® serves as a powerful platform for identifying leading risks within a given area. NFPA also offers a wealth of natural disaster preparedness resources and information, including safety tips and checklists that can help reduce the risk of electrical fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other threats posed during thunderstorms, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other emergencies, which can be distributed directly to the public. At the end of the day, natural disasters are an inevitability in all our worlds. It’s not if they’re going to happen but when and we need to prepare in lock step with one another to be as ready for them as reasonably possible. The time to do this is now. Yes, the process can feel overwhelming, particularly with so many immediate day-to-day demands and priorities to tackle, but alternatively pushing aside natural disasters and other crises in the hope that they don’t happen is a losing strategy and risk none of us can afford to take. 
wildfire behind houses

Increasing the Pace and Scale of Community Wildfire Mitigation

As we head into one of the hottest months of the year, daily news reports continue to broadcast stories of record high temperatures and severe drought conditions, both contributing factors to the increased wildfire activity spreading across the U.S. and Europe. France, Spain, Italy, and Greece are just a few of the many countries battling forest fires today. Here in the U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that nearly three million acres have burned from current fires. While wildfires may be a natural phenomenon, incidents like April’s McBride Fire in New Mexico, which killed two people and burned more than 200 homes and structures, demonstrate the danger they pose to communities. As president of an organization that has worked tirelessly over the last 20 years on ways to reduce loss of life and property from wildfire, this latest news only reinforces NFPA’s strong conviction that more decisive policy action must be taken on all levels if we want to reduce losses from these events. In May, NFPA hosted an Outthink Wildfire® summit in Sacramento, California that brought together 50 professionals to discuss steps to better prepare communities to avoid wildfire losses. Outthink Wildfire is a comprehensive NFPA policy initiative launched with the aim of fostering collaboration, promoting policy change, and to help communities better withstand the impact of wildfires. At the summit, representatives from the fire service, real estate and insurance industries, research and education, government agencies, engineering, and building organizations shared their knowledge to develop recommendations for the critical task of increasing the pace and scale of home retrofitting and other mitigation actions to reduce wildfire losses. The summit participants’ discussions and recommendations will be summarized and shared in a report to be issued later this month. Bringing together stakeholders to tackle the world’s leading fire safety challenges is at the heart of NFPA’s mission. Participants came to the table ready to identify topic areas in need of the most attention including more prevalent use of codes and standards in wildland/urban interface areas, clear, actionable educational messaging for residents, ease of accessing available funding, better alignment and coordination for mitigation policies and programs, workforce development, and closing knowledge gaps with research and data sharing efforts. Convening these experts was a key step in developing an overarching strategy to spread mitigation throughout the millions of homes and thousands of communities in wildfire-prone areas of the U.S. Moving forward, NFPA will continue to pursue strong stakeholder engagement toward building education campaigns, analyzing funding mechanisms, promoting coordination, investing in workforce training, and other necessary endeavors to reduce wildfire risk to people, homes, and communities. I am encouraged to see the federal government recently stepping up to increase the attention and resources not just for wildfire suppression, but also for catastrophic wildfire prevention. The increased funding for hazardous fuel in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Forest Service’s recent commitment to significantly increase the pace and scale of that treatment, and the newly created Wildfire Mitigation and Management Commission, on which NFPA Wildfire Division Director, Michele Steinberg, has been invited to serve, gives me renewed hope that the country is moving in the right direction. We know that given the size and scope of the U.S. wildfire challenge, reaching our goals will take time, but with continued investment and effort, will save lives and homes, and spare more communities from the devastating losses wildfires can bring. For more information about our policy initiative, Outthink Wildfire, visit nfpa.org/outthinkwildfire.
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