Author(s): John Montes. Published on September 1, 2019.

You Don't Know NFPA 
Why all responders need to move beyond the myths of NFPA and learn how to get involved in the standards process
I will admit that, in my prior life in emergency medical services (EMS), I didn’t understand how NFPA standards were relevant to my work. Once, as I was researching an equipment purchase for my department, a colleague suggested I look up what NFPA recommended. “This has nothing to do with fire—why does NFPA care?” I shot back. Now that I work at NFPA, I hear people make the same mistake nearly every day.
This summer, when NFPA posted a statement on Facebook condemning shootings in Texas and Ohio and urged emergency agencies to work together to prepare for such incidents, it was met with vitriolic responses in the comments. “Stick to fire!” many posters replied, some using more colorful language. They were the kind of misconceptions that I’ve heard many times in my career, both before and after I started working here. For the good of NFPA, our nation’s responders, and the communities they serve, we must work to defeat these myths about the organization. The best way to change the narrative is to educate responders about our process and urge them to engage in it.


My own story is instructive. Like many EMS professionals, I often wondered, sometimes in frustration, what drove the bigger decisions in my workplace. Only later, when I assumed a leadership position, did I learn how much NFPA standards were involved. Suddenly, I was the one making decisions about what ambulances to buy. I designed incident command kits and fulfilled contracts and response data requirements. I needed something to consult, and NFPA had the guidance I needed.


I wish I had known more about NFPA and its inclusive standards development process sooner. I wish I had been told that input was welcomed and, in fact, that the technical committees responsible for creating and revising a standard must address all of the input they receive. For someone like me, who is passionate about advocating for myself and my fellow responders, it would have been a game changer.


Many non-fire responders have no idea how much NFPA documents matter to their work or how much they can influence those standards. That needs to change. Responders of all types, including EMS and law enforcement, must be educated about this early in their careers. I urge department leaders to share with their recruits how NFPA and other standards impact their work and, just as importantly, how these documents are created. Responder input is essential in ensuring the best possible standards and, by extension, a safer, better equipped, and more prepared workforce.


As it has for decades, NFPA continues to publish codes and standards that are essential to non-fire agencies, including several in the past two years that will be hugely important going forward. These include documents for active shooter/hostile event response programs; the use and maintenance of small, unmanned aerial systems; and a guide for EMS-based community health care programs. In addition, NFPA recently announced the formation of a new technical committee that will develop contamination control and occupational health standards for all responders. All of these documents are crafted by committees comprised of representatives from a range of response agencies, including police and EMS professionals.

NFPA documents aren’t just for fire. They aren’t written by a group of bureaucrats in secret. NFPA standards are crucial for all responders, and everyone can and should be part of the process. Getting that word out will improve the safety, health, and other standards NFPA publishes, as well as go a long way toward keeping all responders and the communities they serve well equipped, prepared, and ready. I hope you will join us. 



John Montes is specialist, emergency services public fire protection, at NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler