Author(s): James Pauley. Published on July 1, 2014.

As I penned my first “First Word” column for NFPA Journal, I thought about how excited I am to have made the journey to NFPA as the association’s new president. After almost 30 years in the electrical industry, some of you may be asking why I chose to make this career change. The answer is simple: the mission and the people at NFPA are second to none.

Throughout my career I have been involved in many organizations and societies, served on many different boards, and worked with a wide variety of people. I can say without a doubt that what NFPA does to tackle the burden of fire on people and property is head and shoulders above all others. I came here because the mission results in saving lives. I came here because the employees at NFPA are dedicated to that mission, and I came here because the volunteers are passionate about tackling tough issues and creating better codes, standards, programs, and initiatives.

I also come to NFPA with my own personal story about how fire impacts our lives. My mother was a wonderful person and inspiration. When she was eight, she was badly burned when her nightgown caught fire, the result of a cigarette that had been discarded in a couch. Throughout her life she had to endure the pain left by the burns, and she underwent many surgeries in later years to deal with the scars. I lost my mom in 2011 to cancer that ultimately manifested itself in those burn scars from decades earlier. I think about how far we have come; children’s clothing is now more flame-retardant, and fire safe cigarettes help avoid the hazard my mother experienced. Had those been in place when she was a child, my mother’s life might have been much different.

NFPA has helped society make great strides in so many areas, but we still have a lot of work to do. We should never be satisfied as long as we lose people and property to fire and related hazards. Each day when I come to work I think about two simple things. First, everybody comes home: our first responders, our electrical workers, and the general public. Have we done all we can to make sure they can do their jobs safely and that the buildings they work in are safe? Second, that everybody has a home to go back to. Are we making people safer at home? Have we educated them about the devastating impact of fire and how to prevent it? And if they do have a fire, have we educated them about how to increase their chances of surviving? These thoughts are powerful motivators for us to keep moving forward in our quest to make a better and safer society.

My “First Word” wouldn’t be complete without a few words about Jim Shannon. I have known Jim for many years and have seen first-hand the tremendous positive impact he has had on NFPA and its mission. Many have told me I have big shoes to fill, and I would be the first to agree. But they are shoes that I am proud to follow. Jim leaves NFPA knowing that he helped advance the mission and made the world safer. Thanks, Jim, for what you have done for all of us.

Looking ahead, I am eager to work with all of you, our members. We still have much to do, and together we can continue to make a difference.