Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on May 1, 2017.

Tight Connection

Events at this year’s conference & expo underscore the relationship between NFPA and the fire service

From its founding in 1896, NFPA and the fire service have worked closely. The first task we took on together shortly after our founding was to standardize the coupling threads on fire hose and building sprinkler systems fittings, ensuring that fire departments wouldn’t waste precious time fumbling with incompatible equipment. I’m nostalgic for a time when solutions were so simple.

Today the challenges confronting the fire service are much more numerous and complex, from cancer and other health issues to rapidly advancing technologies to a more dangerous and toxic fire environment. For those reasons, it’s more critical than ever that cooperation between NFPA and the fire service be maintained and strengthened. It’s why NFPA has doubled down on efforts to address key issues that the fire service has told us are a concern.


This year’s NFPA Conference & Expo in Boston is a great example of that commitment. For the first time, this year’s conference will host a First Responder Health Forum within the conference, which will take a close look at areas of major concern such as emerging technology, firefighter health and wellness, and occupational exposure to carcinogens. These will not be typical presentations on what NFPA standards have to say. Instead, each will provide real-world examples of what can be done to enhance firefighter health and wellness and make firefighting safer.

Among the events planned is a talk on June 6 by Chief Kevin Quinn of Rhode Island, who will tell how a medical screening designed for the fire service caught a serious cardiac issue and saved his life. Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn will share how he and the Boston Fire Department are attacking the high incidence of cancer among active and retired members.

Based on feedback from the fire service, NFPA has also developed a responder app, which will be unveiled at this year’s NFPA Conference & Expo. The tool will give members of the fire service instant access via their smart devices to a vast library of NFPA information, including public education resources, firefighter safety bulletins, and alternative-fuel vehicle responder safety tip sheets. The app will include interactive tools and knowledge challenges, allowing firefighters to test their expertise. It will also feature a fire service resource comparison data tool to allow departments to investigate how their departments compare with similar departments across the country, providing valuable information on staffing and equipment.

There’s a lot of NFPA activity happening outside of the conference, too. We have recently launched an ambitious initiative to develop the National Fire Data System, which will allow fire departments to analyze their own incident and operational data via a powerful analytics platform developed by NFPA. As part of the project and at the behest of the fire service, NFPA will also develop an incident and operational data collection system that is user friendly and interfaces with other data collection systems to minimize the hassle of duplicate data entries. These powerful tools will help departments manage the fire problem and increase their firefighters’ safety.

The challenges keep coming for NFPA and the fire service, and the urgency to address them has only increased. Instead of simple connection fixes to ensure that water can flow, today’s problems require the flow of knowledge and information. I’m happy to say that those connections are tight and growing stronger. I look forward to seeing you in Boston in June.

KEN WILLETTE is fire service segment director at NFPA.