Bronx and Philly Tragic Fires Remind Us that the Onus is on Us All to Make the World a Safer Place
A few weeks ago, I came back from the holiday break feeling refreshed, and even had a couple of ideas around electrical safety that I planned to write about in this blog. Then January 5th in Philly happened, followed four days later by the Bronx fire on January 9. Suddenly, I didn’t want to write about electrical safety. My voice needs to speak to bigger, more pressing issues right now.
My heart aches for every single person that has been impacted by these tragedies. Not only the 29 total victims of the fires, including 17 children, but their family members, other displaced tenants, and the first responders who will all live with these events for the rest of their lives. Grappling mentally with the horrific images from the scene, they will likely ask themselves countless times if there was something more they could have done. While it is no doubt human nature to ask that question, I don’t think it’s a fair one. In truth, the problem starts well before the response to the emergency. What should be asked is: What could we have done?
When I joined NFPA nearly two years ago, after more than 25 years in the electrical contracting industry, I was introduced to the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™, which features eight key components that are interdependent on one another to achieve safety and prevent tragedies like the ones we just witnessed. When disaster does strike, it is common that at least one of the eight components has broken down. In the cases of Philly and the Bronx, there were likely several components that faltered. As I learned more about the recent events and started analyzing what may have been missing from the ecosystem, I realized that I personally was failing in my application. I was viewing the ecosystem solely through the lens of the electrical world that I have been a part of for so long. But it is so much more than that.
Over the past week, my NFPA Technical Services department colleagues and I have had discussions at length about these tragedies. Our group is made up of subject matter experts (SME’s) that specialize in areas such as building and life safety, emergency response, fire protection, and electrical. As our discussions unfolded, I could see the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem come into focus. Conversations centered around current codes, preparedness, and how we could better inform the public to make a difference. Specific to the events, we had much discussion around chocking, or propping open, of fire doors. We talked about why fire doors were such a critical component in preventing the spread of fire and that they played a significant role in how the fire was able to spread in Philly and the Bronx. One teammate, with years of experience as a firefighter, told us how he and his department would go on calls and come back to the fire station with a pile of wooden wedges that were being used to prop open fire doors. And then it hit me. Through the years, I had spent countless hours working within apartment complexes and multifamily buildings where I walked through those very same fire doors that were propped open with wooden wedges. In full transparency, there were likely times that I may have even grabbed the wooden wedge sitting next to the door, propped the door open to get tools or materials through, and then likely forgot to take it back out. I was guilty of living in my personal, electrical-only world with blinders on as to the hazards that were being created right in front of me, even by me, that could result in the loss of life.
In hindsight, I should have been more aware of what was going on around me and more vocal to others to ensure they were aware of the safety issues as well. Maybe a similar experience and reflection from someone else could have prevented one or both of the recent tragedies in Philly and the Bronx. We will never know. What we do know is that to truly accomplish safety at the highest possible level, we can’t just look through our own personal lens.
“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” – Leo Tolstoy
For all of our differences highlighted daily within our world, commonplace is that we all genuinely want to be safe; that yearning to survival is innate among all of us. But so is the onus to keep one another safe.
If the true goal is to make this great big world a safer place, there is only one way that will happen – together. That means recognizing where potential risks exist and taking the steps to minimize them. For me, I will never passively note a fire door propped open again. I encourage everyone to think about potential risks they may have overlooked at one time or another, and consider how to respond more proactively moving forward. You never know, taking a simple step like removing a wooden wedge from a fire door might prevent an incident in which many people long after question what more they could have done.
Learn how you can keep yourself and your communities safer through the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™.