Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on March 1, 2017.

Hands on in Boston

Four big reasons to attend this year's Conference & Expo


IN JUNE, ROUGHLY 5,000 DEDICATED fire and life safety professionals, including electricians, firefighters, facility managers, architects, fire marshals, government officials, and many more, will gather in Boston for the 2017 NFPA Conference & Expo. The educational component of this year’s conference has been reimagined and strengthened, organizers say. The four-day event is 11 months in the making.

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Preview: Hot Education Sessions:

A Chronic Problem

This presentation focuses on marijuana grow facilities and uses case studies to look at common issues faced during the plan review and approval process. Topics will include NFPA 72 notification appliance coverage, NFPA 30 flammable gas extraction processes, and NFPA 101 egress concerns.
Tuesday, June 6, 8 a.m.

Reducing Cancer in Firefighters

Discover how toxic and carcinogen-contaminated materials are transported with the crew back to the firehouse, and how departmental culture may be the single greatest obstacle to reducing the escalating occurrences of cancer within the fire service. Also learn how fire station design can be improved to limit exposures.
Sunday, June 4, 8:30 a.m.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

Learn about UAS and their applications for emergency rescue, fire, and law enforcement. NFPA has responded with the creation of a technical standard committee to assist its members worldwide in the proper application of this technology. A member of that committee will discuss the applications of use and requirements in implementing UAS equipment within the U.S. National Airspace System.
Tuesday, June 6, 11 a.m.

Energy Storage Systems

Energy storage systems are popping up everywhere, but currently there are few fire safety requirements in place that ensure safe design and installation. The presentation will look at this emerging technology, identify key system components, current installation practices, and fire safety techniques for installers and responders.
Monday, June 5, 8 a.m.

Why Some Homes Survived

The wildfire disaster that struck Fort McMurray, Alberta in May 2016 destroyed more than 2,400 structures and created insured losses of more than $3.5 billion. Canada’s Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction sought to discover why some homes survived the fire while others were vulnerable to ignition. Their findings may inform more effective approaches to wildfire risk mitigation and more resilient communities that can be used by fire and public safety agencies, homeowners, planners, policymakers, and municipal leaders.
Tuesday, June 6, 9:30 a.m.

Last July, a month after the 2016 NFPA Conference & Expo wrapped up in Las Vegas, a team of NFPA staff began sifting through a stack of survey responses, comments, and general reactions from thousands of conference attendees. While 92 percent of attendees rated the Las Vegas conference “good” to “excellent,” several themes emerged in the responses that attendees and conference organizers agreed would enhance the experience and strengthen the learning opportunities for the professionals in attendance. Several meaningful tweaks have been made in 2017 that organizers say will add value to attendees’ experience both during and after the conference. In no particular order, here are the four biggest and most impactful changes you’ll notice at the 2017 NFPA Conference & Expo in Boston:


A significant effort has been made in 2017 to ensure attendees have more tangible, concrete takeaways from their conference experience. The concept permeates this year’s conference, from more hands-on learning experiences, to smaller custom sessions and a simplified, easier-to-follow schedule.

“People consistently told us last year that the education presentations were good, but a lot of people said they walked out of the sessions saying, ‘Ok, what do I do next?’” says Guy Colonna, a division director at NFPA and part of the NFPA Conference executive committee. “If stakeholders are saying we’ve got great information but they don’t know what to do with it, there is obviously a disconnect. What we’ve been trying to do is select education sessions where that connection can be made more strongly. We applied that thinking while reviewing the almost 400 education session proposals we received, and we landed on sessions in different topic areas that spell out clearly ‘here’s what I’m describing, here’s what I want the audience to take away, and here’s how to apply that.’”


A much greater emphasis has been placed in 2017 on creating education sessions and events tailored for specific audiences—think of them as “mini-conferences within a conference” for an array of stakeholder groups.

“The presentations are more stakeholder based instead of topic based, so whatever your role is in the safety world—if you run a facility, if you’re a contractor, an inspector, an electrician, a first responder—it will be clear which sessions will be most relevant based on your job,” says Matt Klaus, NFPA’s technical lead for fire protection engineering.

Helping further, the number of education session tracks has been slashed from 12 to seven in an effort to make the vast number of offerings more navigable and to help attendees find their way based on their job titles and what information is important to them.


To really hammer home the concept of “concrete takeaways,” a number of the educational sessions in 2017 will be coupled with hands-on experience with actual equipment and products immediately following the presentations.

“We don’t just want people to come sit in a room for an hour listening to someone talk—we want to give attendees a unique opportunity,” Klaus says. “We’re going to have live sprinkler training, teaching people to manipulate valves and run sprinklers. One manufacturer is bringing in live rigs, and we’ll have three classes, one for authorities having jurisdiction, one for facility managers, and one for contractors. You can flow water, take apart valves, see how the whole thing works and ask questions of the experts on site.”

In addition to sprinkler training sessions, there will be a fire door inspection training and demonstration led by industry experts—a big topic of interest now that annual fire door inspection is being mandated for the first time after the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services adopted the 2012 edition of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®.

“Attendees will be able to see and touch full-scale fire doors and go through an inspection using the 13 steps you learned in the education session,” Colonna said. “It’s an example of trying to extend that experience and make that connection so you walk away knowing what to do with the presentation you just heard.”

Responders will have a dedicated track focused on many key areas impacting the fire service, most notably occupational exposure and cancer, the impact of emerging technologies, and general health and wellness issues. “We will address those three topics in real ways, with storytelling and hands-on experiences that maybe we haven’t been able to do previously,” said Ken Willette, NFPA’s first responder segment director.

The NFPA booth on the expo floor will be at the center of the hands-on experiences, with scheduled presentations, and a number of interactive and engaging activities for attendees.

Conference & Expo by the numbers graphic.


Learning and making connections with peers are the hallmarks of NFPA’s annual conference. The 2017 edition is hyper-focused on these aspects, which are infused throughout the conference experience.

“It’s going to be a bigger experience with information everywhere,” says Stacey Moriarty, a project manager at NFPA and member of the conference committee. “The idea is, in addition to the formal 60–90 minute education presentations, there will be other smaller bits of education provided throughout the event through more informal interactive conversations, hands-on experiences, and more.”

It starts with the education sessions, which by design will foster and promote more interaction between the presenter and audience in 2017 than in years past, “so the audience can get to their specific needs as much as possible,” Colonna said. In addition, a presentation space at NFPA’s booth will offer multiple 10–15 minute programs throughout the conference on emerging issues and hot topics, facilitated by subject matter experts.

But as anyone who has attended the conference knows, it’s not only the structured learning opportunities inside the classroom or the hands-on possibilities on the expo floor that make the event worthwhile. In survey after survey, attendees cite the connections they make and the chance to interact with peers as two of the most valuable aspects of the NFPA Conference & Expo experience. To facilitate those meaningful interactions, designated networking areas will be set up in key areas throughout the conference, where attendees can meet each other as well as session presenters following education presentations.

“This conference brings together the best engineering minds, the best thinkers, the best companies, and you’re putting yourself in a position to be one of those people by attending,” Klaus says, when asked to describe the value of the conference for attendees. “Engineering is really about solving problems, and it’s amazing to see what people are doing to solve fire protection problems. These are all the elite people in their fields.”

JESSE ROMAN is associate editor for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Thinkstock