Published on September 1, 2019.

Beyond Fire

How a social media post on a recent series of mass shootings revealed a decades-old misconception about NFPA


Over 10 days in July and August, the country endured a series of mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio that took the lives of 34 people and injured dozens more.

As is often the case in the aftermath of such incidents, debate swirled over who or what was to blame, as well as what to do moving forward. Some observers said guns were the problem, and made the case for stricter gun control laws. Others pointed instead to a mix of societal issues—a lack of mental health care, violence in film, TV, and video games, and so on.

NFPA entered the conversation on August 6, in the form of a blog by Jim Pauley, NFPA president and CEO, on the critical need for communities to prepare for such incidents. Oddly, the post ignited a furor on social media, especially Facebook, with some participants accusing NFPA of overreaching. “Might be a good idea to stick to fire protection,” read one response. “Off topic?” another asked, while yet another offered, “They were firearms…not actually fire. Let’s stick to what you know.”

The responses—posted by people who may or may not have actually read Pauley’s blog—touched on a decades-old misconception that the National Fire Protection Association is solely involved in preventing fires. Fire is certainly a major focus for NFPA; it keeps detailed statistics on fires around the world, advocates for life-saving, fire-suppressing technologies like home fire sprinklers, organizes the country’s annual Fire Prevention Week, and has created widely known public-education messages on fire safety, including “Stop, Drop, and Roll.”

But fire is just one of many safety issues addressed by the organization. Despite its name, NFPA for decades has maintained an all-hazards focus, and has developed codes and standards that address a vast range of fire, electrical, and life safety hazards. In 2018, the organization further increased its scope with the release of NFPA 3000™ (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, a groundbreaking document on preparing for active shooters and other hostile events

“As the fire service has evolved beyond fire, so have we,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “Today’s fire service is responding to a myriad of ordinary and extraordinary events. The information and knowledge developed by NFPA covers that full spectrum of fire service experience and is a vital resource in its ability to meet the complex needs of communities.”

Amid the Facebook responses were comments from people who jumped to the organization’s defense. “Amazing how NFPA’s branching out to further advance the protection of the public rubs people the wrong way. What gives?” one user wrote. Another said, “[NFPA writes] codes and standards for life safety procedures under any circumstances, not just fire.”

Of those who were peeved by NFPA’s post, some appeared to be angered in their assumption that NFPA 3000 is a document that tells responders, in particular police officers, what to do in an active shooter incident. What they got critically wrong, though, and what NFPA staffers and other safety experts have emphasized about NFPA 3000 since its release, is that the document contains nothing on tactical response.

“NFPA 3000 is focused solely on preparedness,” said John Montes, staff liaison to NFPA 3000. “The standard focuses on the things that can unite communities in their preparedness efforts. Tactics are difficult to standardize because they are based on your risk assessment, resources, capabilities, policies, and training. NFPA 3000 sets the stage to have those items in place, and each community can then determine the tactics that work best for them and put them in place.” 

ANGELO VERZONI is a staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Getty Images