Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on July 1, 2017.

The São Paulo Connection

How NFPA is helping improve fire protection in the world’s fifth largest city

São Paulo, Brazil, is a remarkable place. The largest city in South America, its metropolitan area population of 21 million is the fifth largest in the world. It is a vibrant financial center, a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures with a rich history. It has the largest number of Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, and Lebanese people outside of their native lands. It also has enormous fire protection challenges.

Every time I visit São Paulo, I’m in awe of the challenges faced by the city’s public safety agencies. The São Paulo fire department provides fire protection and emergency medical services for the city as well as the entire state of São Paulo (population 45 million), with some 9,000 career firefighter/EMTs assigned to 256 fire stations. The regional emergency call center handles 8,000 fire and EMS calls daily. Sadly, an average of 600 fire deaths occur every year.

The city’s urban sprawl includes massive traffic jams and residential high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see. Growth in the region is constant, as evidenced by the 1,800 construction plans that are reviewed every month by the fire prevention division. However, nearly a fifth of the inner-city population lives in the substandard housing in the favelas, or slum neighborhoods. The municipal water supply doesn’t always provide the needed fire flow, so the fire department uses water tankers that are more common for rural firefighting in the United States.

NFPA has a long history of collaborating with São Paulo to meet these challenges, and recently we extended those efforts. In April, I visited São Paulo with Jim Pauley, NFPA’s president, and Olga Caledonia, international executive director, where we signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the São Paulo Fire Department, formally known as Corpo de Bombeiros da Polícia Militar do Estado de São Paulo.

The collaboration benefits both sides. By further supporting São Paulo’s efforts, NFPA moves a step closer to fulfilling its global vision to eliminate death, injury, and property and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and related hazards. For the São Paulo fire department, partnering with NFPA and taking advantage of our resources, information, and knowledge will go a long way toward helping it keep millions of people safe.

The MOU formalizes collaboration between NFPA and the São Paulo Fire Department in a number of ways, including public education, sharing research and best practices, and the adoption and use of the latest NFPA codes and standards. NFPA will provide assistance and guidance by increasing the number of NFPA standards translated into Portuguese, offering our code training programs to design professionals, facility managers, and contractors/installers, and supporting the department with strategies to reduce fire deaths and community risk. We will also increase our collaboration with the state of Rio de Janeiro, where we supported the fire department’s efforts to adopt NFPA 1, Fire Code.

All of this adds to the immense presence NFPA already has in São Paulo. The state fire code references numerous NFPA codes and standards, and for fire operations, the department supplements Brazilian standards with the guidance of NFPA’s standards for professional qualifications, health and safety, training, and equipment. The department also uses NFPA standards when it procures new equipment, ensuring all new purchases meet NFPA requirements. Several years ago, NFPA provided guidance to the department on supplementing emergency response capacity with volunteers as mandated by the state government.

While the fire protection challenges in São Paulo may seem overwhelming, I feel gratified knowing that well-trained, highly qualified, and extremely dedicated fire service professionals are committed to improving the health and safety of the citizens they serve. It’s equally gratifying that NFPA has the expertise and the trust to assist fire departments around the world, no matter how unique or challenging their needs.

DONALD BLISS is vice president of Field Operations for NFPA.