Emergency responder panel

Recent catastrophic fires may have a silver lining, if they prompt more awareness and action, particularly among policymakers and the public

A few weeks ago, top tier fire and life safety leaders had a virtual discussion about the nation’s fire problem. The deaths of three Baltimore firefighters in an abandoned Baltimore house fire the day before and 29 more dying in two high-profile residential fires during the first two weeks of the new year served as the catalyst for the forum – and hopefully for some much-needed changes in our communities and among elected officials.

NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley facilitated the timely exchange with U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell; Fire Commissioner for the City of Philadelphia Adam Thiel; and Joseph Jardin, an assistant chief with the New York City Fire Department who leads FDNY’s fire prevention efforts.  The recording of that live session, along with nine other thought-provoking education tracks that were part of the FREE NFPA Leadership for Emergency Responders conference, can be accessed here until January 2023. If you did not attend the conference on the January event date, you will simply need to register to access the session recordings.

We need to talk

Tragic fires in Philadelphia and the Bronx this month grabbed people’s attention and heightened interest in fire safety,” NFPA’s Pauley said at the outset of the recent discussion. “That may, in fact, have a silver lining if it prompts more awareness and needed action, particularly among policymakers and the public. Our conversation this morning will center around the proactive steps we and you as leaders can take to connect the dots and enhance safety.”

In less than 50-minutes, the dialogue proceeded effortlessly with participants touching on everything from fire prevention strategies, emergency response funding, home fire sprinklers, community risk reduction, new safety threats, code compliance, housing inequities, public and policymaker accountability, and the all-hazards roles that firefighters play today. Rather than recap the robust conversation in writing, let me highlight a few soundbites and encourage you to access the full recording to hear what these four safety bellwethers had to say.

Resourcing and outreach



USFA’s Moore-Merrell touched on fire department challenges saying, in part, “When budgets are hit, we have to maintain our capability to respond.” In that same section of the program, the new U.S. Fire Administrator reminded the audience that, “We can communicate as much as we like, but if it is not received and heeded, communication has not taken place.”

Code enforcement and housing disparity



Commissioner Thiel highlighted code enforcement woes and housing inequities. “Until the built environment is safer because the entire system has been uplifted, because folks have what they need to get safe and affordable housing - equity is an important component that’s often forgotten including by those of us in the fire service - we’re going to continue to need a robust fire service,” Thiel said.

Addressing emerging hazards



Culling questions from the audience, Pauley saw a thread about lithium-ion batteries and e-bikes and asked Fire Prevention Chief Jardin his thoughts. Jardin explained that that there will always be fire challenges, but work can still be done to reduce loss. He then said, “I add to that list of hazards, lithium-ion battery powered devices. In New York City, we see this as a tidal wave that’s coming. We documented 100-plus incidents last year involving lithium battery devices in structures, 79 injuries, and four deaths.”

Call to action



Closing out the program, Pauley said, “I think we can all agree that there is a fire problem in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, despite the progress we’ve seen in recent decades.” He then posed two simple strategic questions to the three fire leaders and the more than 1400 that were listening in at the time.

“Ask yourself, what can I do and who do I need to work with to do it?”

Visit the FREE NFPA Leadership for Emergency Responders conference site to see the entire conversation.

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Cathy Longley
Communications Manager, informing stakeholders about NFPA thought leadership, subject matter expertise, resources, initiatives & research.

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