Author(s): James Pauley. Published on March 1, 2018.

Losing Sight of the System


I was considering a number of topics for this edition’s First Word, until a few headlines crossed my desk.

In Florida: “A Bill Delaying Fire Protection Requirements Once Again Gets Approval.”

In New York: “Schenectady Inspector Faces Trial in Fatal Fire.”

In Delaware: “Mandatory Fire Sprinklers Could Hurt Housing Market, Builders Say.”

They painfully reminded me of how far we have to go in getting our policymakers and the public to understand that fire safety exists in an ecosystem of interdependent parts.

The first headline reveals how out of touch policymakers are around fire safety. A Florida law has required for a number of years that certain condominium buildings have fire sprinklers by 2019. Last year, Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have extended that timeline. His decision was a direct result of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. Yet a House panel in the Florida legislature has shown its lack of interest in fire safety by passing yet another bill to extend the deadline for compliance.

The second involves four people who died in a large apartment fire. Criminal charges have been filed against a city inspector, and civil lawsuits have been filed against the city itself. This points out the critical role of an effective code enforcement system.

The third headline reinforces the fact that the code adoption system has been turned upside down. National model building codes have required sprinklers in one- and two-family homes since 2009. Historically, jurisdictions amended model codes to make them more stringent, create the right administrative rules for implementation, or make modifications unique to a particular jurisdiction. In recent years, this process has been co-opted as a way for local political power players such as the home builders to remove requirements they don’t like, weakening safety provisions. This also damages the ecosystem, undermining the level of safety expected by the public.

This all matters because the public counts on the system to help keep it safe, and to keep its property safe. The safety ecosystem has been constructed successfully over decades, yet we allow individual actions to negatively impact the level of safety we assume and expect.

It is incumbent on all of us who are part of this system to ensure we are promoting the full system. At NFPA, we will be talking more about this ecosystem and how it can be improved and executed more efficiently.

It’s a big world. Let’s protect it together.