Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on July 1, 2015.

NFPA ESTABLISHED ITS RELATIONSHIP with the fire service in 1896 through its work on fire sprinkler systems and electrical safety. Now it’s taking that relationship to a new level.

This fall, NFPA will host the first NFPA Responder Forum, an annual event designed to expose the fire service to emerging technologies, research, and standards development. The event will be held October 26–28 in Indianapolis and will include two days of panel discussions, presentations, and small-group meetings. Participants will be sponsored by the nine major fire organizations, and attendance will be capped to ensure good discussion and the development of action plans to address the issues presented at the event. We look forward to expanding attendance in years to come.

The vision for the Forum is to help build a bridge from research to practice by highlighting emerging technologies that the fire service must understand. The event can achieve this by providing a venue for researchers to share their findings, and by providing a forum for discussions on the pathways research can follow to inform NFPA codes and standards. A public record of those discussions will be created for use by our technical committees and other stakeholders.

This is a critical moment in NFPA’s engagement with the fire service and first responders, and it didn’t arrive overnight. For many years, NFPA has partnered with the fire service to meet the evolving fire and life safety protection needs of society, as well as the changing role of firefighters, through codes that promote safety in the built environment and standards that provide a safety net for firefighters in their daily operations. Today, it is the norm for firefighters to be trained to a curriculum, wear personal protective equipment, and respond on apparatus that are all compliant with NFPA standards. Where the fire service and first responders go, NFPA goes.

The fire service has taken on some significant challenges over the past decade. New building methods and technologies have led to new fire ground tactics, fire departments have become primary providers of emergency medical services, and economic and political factors have affected fire department operations, to name a few. It all contributes to a very different climate than the one that existed back in 1896, or even 20 years ago.

It has become clear that NFPA’s engagement with the fire service needed to be refreshed, and that our commitment to it should be carved in the bedrock of our mission. An important step toward that goal was our formation of the Emergency Responder Advisory Committee (ERAC), created to provide insight into the needs of the fire service and to offer strategic advice in addressing those needs. The group, which is currently comprised of representatives of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters, National Volunteer Fire Council, Metro Chiefs, U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Academy, and the NFPA Fire Service Section, will also support the NFPA Responder Forum.

By forming the Emergency Responder Advisory Committee to bring the collective voice of the fire service and first responders into the organization, and by creating the NFPA Responder Forum to chart a path of action, we are developing powerful tools to help us navigate the future of safety.

KEN WILLETTE is division manager for Public Fire Protection at NFPA.