Author(s): Kathleen Almand. Published on September 1, 2015.

AS PART OF NFPA'S NEW STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT, the organization has created a new vision statement: “We are the leading global advocate for the elimination of death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and related hazards.” The mention of “economic loss” may be new, but in some respects there’s nothing groundbreaking about the concept for NFPA. Our Fire Analysis and Research Division (FAR), for example, has for many years benchmarked the annual total cost of fire.

In other ways, that focus on cost is very timely. In the research we did to prepare us for our new strategy, it became apparent that cost—both of fire and fire protection—occupies a more prominent place in conversations around fire safety. It also became clear that the elements that go into that “cost” are more complex and far-reaching than we may have thought.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation first engaged in this topic with two research programs for the Fire Sprinkler Initiative, NFPA’s home fire sprinkler advocacy program. We commissioned a study to provide solid information on the cost of installing home fire sprinklers (and repeated that study last year to see what had changed and why). In addition, FAR conducted a study to investigate the impact of home fire sprinklers in reducing the cost of fire injuries, a complex topic involving not only short-term cost assessment but longer-term costs related to burn treatment and care. Both topics are relatively new to NFPA and recognize that solid, independent information on cost is necessary to understand the role that fire protection plays in society.

This year we met with members of the fire service for their input on our strategy, and we learned of their need to better convey the value they bring to their communities with the services they provide. One way that value can be measured is through the positive benefit of fire intervention to reduce loss of economic activity in the community, a measurement shaped in part by recent work conducted by the University of Phoenix.

Finally, we are coming to grips with the environmental cost of fire, a new and important dimension of the cost conversation. The featured presentation at this year’s NFPA Conference & Expo was on the rail derailment and ignition of crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013 (pictured above).

Lessons learned in Lac-Megantic railway disaster - Featured Presentation NFPA C&E 2015

During that presentation, I was struck by the huge, and largely unmeasured, environmental impact of that event, in addition to the loss of life, destruction of property, and the tremendous disruption to a small community. Spurred by this incident and others, the Foundation has taken a first step by completing a report, “The Environmental Impact of Fire,” online. The report takes a comprehensive look at the existing (and surprisingly sparse) literature on this topic, and describes a variety of environmental impacts related to fire. The report calls for the development and application of decision support tools for designers and first responders so that these impacts can be assessed. We will soon move forward with the next phase of this program, reaching out to the global organizations who are taking the lead in the development of these tools.

In the end, that’s what it’s all about: making sound decisions that balance the cost of fire—in all its dimensions—to best meet the needs of society.

KATHLEEN H. ALMAND, P.E., FSFPE, is vice president for Research at NFPA.