Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on January 4, 2016.

World View

A new column on how NFPA is addressing the global fire problem.

WHEN JIM PAULEY, NFPA'S PRESIDENT, unveiled the organization’s new vision and mission at the annual conference last summer, he emphasized that NFPA is “the leading global advocate for the elimination of death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.” Through this column, I will describe NFPA’s work around the world to help save lives and reduce loss with information, knowledge, and passion. We are doing a lot of great work with our partners and stakeholders, and there are many stories worth telling.

NFPA has many reasons to expand its global influence. New fire protection challenges are constantly evolving, from tall wooden buildings and stored energy systems to alternative fuel vehicles, climate change, and terrorism—challenges shared by societies around the world, including the United States.
Fire is a particularly urgent problem in the developing world. Last December, I traveled to Bangladesh and saw firsthand why so many garment workers have died in factory fires and collapses in the past few years. An NFPA team of experts visited Bangladesh in August to support the work of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety to improve basic safety conditions and worker awareness. Our overarching goal is to learn how we can help create a sustainable culture of safety in Bangladesh, and apply those lessons in other developing nations. This will not be easy, but NFPA can apply many capabilities and resources to this effort, including our standards, public education programs, research, and technical publications, as well as the expertise of our staff, technical committees, and member stakeholders.

It’s hard to estimate the size of the global fire problem. In partnership with the International Fire and Rescue Services Association, NFPA publishes an annual report on world fire statistics, but this effort is hampered by limited or non-existent national fire data collection systems in many countries. We track large-loss-of-life fires, such as the Bucharest nightclub fire last October and the Tianjin, China explosion in August, through news reports and social media.

But much more needs to be done through the use of big data and other resources to fully understand where the greatest needs and vulnerabilities exist. NFPA recently collaborated with its membership chapter in Argentina to establish a national fire incident data registry that is managed by the volunteer fire service council. It’s a great example of how NFPA’s resources can be leveraged by local stakeholders to reduce the impact of fire, and we hope to expand this pilot project to other nations throughout Latin America. Our new strategic initiative on data will further explore ways to better understand the global fire problem.

In my travels around the world, I have learned that NFPA’s reputation and brand are readily recognized and highly regarded. Our standards are in use in more than 50 countries and in 14 languages, and there is no shortage of requests for training and technical guidance from the international fire service, our members, industry, and governmental (and non-governmental) organizations. Developing nations can face huge challenges with population growth, urbanization, substandard building construction, and overwhelmed fire services. NFPA has an inherent social responsibility to share our 119 years of experience and knowledge to help solve these problems and make the world a safer place.

​DONALD BLISS is vice president of Field Operations for NFPA. Top Photograph: CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Newscom