Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on July 1, 2017.

A conversation with the chief of the São Paulo State Fire Department.



In April 2015, a fire broke out at a petrochemical terminal in Santos, Brazil, a coastal city in the state of São Paulo. Nine days and 132 million gallons of water later, the blaze was under control. Over 1,300 firefighters responded. Cassio Armani, chief of the São Paulo State Fire Department, spoke about the incident—in which, astonishingly, nobody was hurt or killed—during an education session at the NFPA Conference & Expo last month.

His talk came on the heels of NFPA and the São Paulo State Fire Department signing a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, in June, which aims to improve fire and life safety in the state of nearly 45 million people. (The metro-area population of the city of São Paulo alone is 21 million, making it the fifth-largest in the world.) The MOU formalizes a partnership that has existed between the two organizations for years. NFPA Journal recently sat down with Armani to discuss the aftermath of the 2015 terminal fire, the challenges his department faces, and how he thinks NFPA can help.

You’ve recently formalized your partnership with NFPA. What are some challenges your department faces, and how can NFPA help?

We don’t have enough firefighters. We need to find different ways to get them. We don’t have any municipal or local fire departments in São Paulo. We just have the state department, which employs about 9,800 firefighters, and the government isn’t able to pay to hire more. In São Paulo State, we have about 645 cities. We have stations in about 174.

What happens if there’s a fire in one of the other 470 or so cities?

The closest city that has a fire station would respond. But it could take 30, 40 minutes. Forty minutes in a fire or a heart attack is a long time, you know.

It is. And that’s why you need to grow the fire service in São Paulo?

Yes, and I think NFPA can help. We are receiving help from NFPA in studying the volunteer fire departments here in the USA. If we’re successful, I think other states in Brazil will follow us. Other states might sign an MOU with NFPA. We hope to have a better country, a safer country. We hope to lead the way.

In your education session, you discussed the 2015 petrochemical terminal fire. What’s changed for your department since then?

We have better mutual aid plans now. In the past, the plans existed but they just existed on paper; we didn’t practice them. Now we also have a lot of companies and fire engineers and safety engineers in Brazil who are closer to the fire department and conduct fire drills with us and pre-plan for emergencies. We’re trying to invest in more equipment, too.

Has São Paulo adopted any NFPA codes or standards?

Yes. Sometimes we adopt NFPA codes and standards, and sometimes we use them in conjunction with Brazilian standards. So we mix them. There are about 60 Brazilian standards. Right now, at least 17 of São Paulo State’s 43 standards have references to NFPA codes and standards.

What stops you from adopting more?

The process to write technical standards in Brazil is too slow. It’s very different from NFPA. I think we need to learn from NFPA how to write standards better, and make the process quicker.

You’ve attended the NFPA conference before. What do you take away from it?

We get to talk to peers here. In the USA, you have many, many research centers and so many universities that have fire safety courses. We don’t have that much in our universities in Brazil. When we come here, we have the opportunity to learn a lot from other professionals, researchers, teachers. Every day is a new opportunity to learn more.

Have you noticed an increase in NFPA’s efforts to connect with fire service members outside of the U.S. in recent years?

Absolutely. And I congratulate NFPA President Jim Pauley for that. Twenty years ago, NFPA was more focused on the American people, the American standards, the American codes. Nowadays, we observe NFPA all over the world. It’s a very different approach and a different way of thinking. Fire is universal everywhere in the world. So if everybody gets together to study, to research, to learn, to discuss, we’re going to have a better world for everybody.

Portugal and South Africa

Deadly wildfires underscore NFPA president’s remarks on global fire threat

Dozens of people died in wildfires that ripped through central Portugal and coastal South Africa in June.

The Portugal wildfire, which was sparked by dry weather and thunderstorms, was the deadliest the country has ever seen. As of June 20, the death toll stood at 64, and officials feared it would rise. Photos from the incident show walls of flames racing toward neighborhoods, charring everything in their paths. Officials told CNN that many of the victims burned to death in their cars as they tried to escape. They described the blaze as “the greatest wildfire tragedy of recent years.”

Earlier in the month, wildfires fanned by high winds in South Africa killed nine people, burned over 25,000 acres, and destroyed hundreds of homes. Knysna, a scenic coastal town of about 77,000 people, was hit the hardest. BBC News reported that 10,000 people were evacuated from Knysna alone, and thousands more were evacuated from neighboring towns as the fires spread. “We’ve never seen fires of this nature,” a government official told CNN. “This is significant. [It’s] unprecedented.”

Burnt out car sits abandoned on a road with multiple burnt cars after a massive wildfire in Portugal torn through town.

No Way Out Many died in their vehicles as they tried to escape a massive wildfire that tore through Portugal in June. Photograph: Getty Images

The deadly wildfires underscore the importance of wildfire preparedness for communities around the world. In May, NFPA President Jim Pauley spoke about the growing global wildfire problem, and how NFPA is committed to addressing it, at the Fire Australia 17 Conference & Tradeshow in Sydney.

“Rising temperatures have increased the problem of [wildfires] dramatically,” Pauley told a crowd of more than 1,500 fire and life safety professionals. “The situation is getting worse. Every year we’re seeing a longer wildfire season, with much bigger fires and many more of them. … Wildland fires could and probably will become the greatest fire threat to many countries during this century. We’re working to play a bigger part in shaping wildland fire policy and programs to meet that threat.”

For more information, visit the NFPA webpage on wildfire.

South Korea

NFPA, South Korean fire safety organization sign MOU

In June, NFPA leaders and the Korea Fire Institute (KFI) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish an official partnership between the two organizations.

KFI is South Korea’s national safety authority overseeing the fire service and related businesses, such as manufacturers of fire protection equipment. The MOU gives KFI access to NFPA’s extensive resources, with which the organization hopes to implement new training programs and best practices based on NFPA codes and standards.

The agreement was signed at NFPA’s Conference & Expo in Boston, which attracted hundreds of attendees from more than 20 countries outside of the United States. Several international attendees led education sessions on topics ranging from wildfire to fire safety at large international airports.

Xuzhou, China

Chinese blast illustrates global need to prepare for attacks

An explosion outside a kindergarten in the eastern Chinese city of Xuzhou killed several people and injured dozens more on June 16. The town’s mayor told reporters that no school children were hurt in the incident. The victims were mainly parents and guardians who were waiting to pick up students.

Early news reports suggested the blast was an intentional attack by a man in his 20s whose home was found to contain explosive materials and violent writings. The attack recalls a 2012 incident in which a man with a meat cleaver wounded 23 children at a school in the central Chinese province of Henan. The explosion also comes on the heels of three incidents in London that involved terrorists ramming vehicles into crowds.

NFPA is in the early stages of developing NFPA 3000, Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events, designed to coordinate communications and other elements of emergency response to such incidents. John Montes, the NFPA staff liaison to the standard’s technical committee, said the intent is for the standard to have global appeal. “I think most of where this will go is applicable internationally,” he said. “We have representation [on the technical committee] from Canada already and anticipate more international interest as the project grows.”

For more information on the development of NFPA 300, see "Threat Prep".

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Getty Images