Author(s): James Pauley. Published on March 1, 2017.

The Right Attitude


I recently returned from a trip to Panama that was filled with meetings with people focused on safety. A common thread of those meetings was attitude. Every conversation focused on what Panama could do better to advance a solid safety system that would protect people and property well into the future. The Minister of Government asked me what we saw as their next steps in this emerging safety system, and my answer was simple: “You already have the key first step completed—you have an attitude toward safety that is critical in order to advance improvements. The rest are just tasks to help you get there.”

Panama has been a longtime user of NFPA standards. The relationship is influenced by not only the construction of the Panama Canal by the United States more than a century ago, but also by the incredible work that NFPA’s international team has conducted there over the last 20 years. That work has involved important organizations like the fire service, the Panamanian Society of Engineers and Architects, and the Technical Board of Engineering and Architecture. Panama has experienced incredible construction growth as a result of being a center of shipping logistics and because of increasing tourism, and that attitude of safety is intertwined with every project.

We visited both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Panama Canal and talked to the firefighters and engineers responsible for protecting the canal. A variety of cargo passes through the canal, from automobiles to liquefied natural gas, and the fire service must be prepared for a large number of scenarios and hazards. They train constantly and have an extensive fire inspection program. We met with officials in Panama City who expressed interest in expanding involvement with NFPA to ensure a high level of safety for residents. We visited the free trade zone in Colon, an area of nearly 2,000 acres of warehouses and logistics operations that support the flow of goods to and from the canal by rail, land, and sea.

Our visit was coordinated by the Panamanian Fire Service. The nation’s fire service is a dedicated group of career and volunteer professionals, and the fire chief is providing a strong vision to continue advancing the level of safety for visitors and residents of Panama. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding to support the nation’s fire service as it looks to adopt NFPA 1, Fire Code, as the fire code for Panama. During our visit, NFPA was training 40 of their inspection personnel on NFPA 1.

It’s an honor for NFPA to work with Panama to advance the nation’s safety vision.