Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on July 1, 2020.

Virtual Voting

Valet trash dominates virtual tech session debate. Plus: The results of the 2020 NFPA Annual Meeting and the winner of this year's Shannon Advocacy Medal and other awards.


In light of the cancelation of this year’s NFPA Conference & Expo because of the global coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 NFPA Technical Meeting took place online in June—a first for the annual event, where NFPA members vote on certified amending motions (CAMs) for codes and standards set to have new editions released this summer. As anticipated, CAMs related to valet trash collection services in NFPA 1, Fire Code, and NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, generated the most heated debate, with members eventually voting against the codes allowing valet trash collection services.

Valet trash collection services allow residents of apartment buildings and similar dwellings to place trashcans in hallways, where they are eventually collected and emptied by trash service. The practice eliminates the need for residents to lug trash bags or cans outside and has become popular with elderly populations. Before this year’s Tech Session, the NFPA 101 technical committee on residential occupancies proposed requirements that allowed valet trash under certain conditions, while the NFPA 1 technical committee proposed language banning the practice. CAMs were introduced at the Technical Meeting opposing the proposed ban in NFPA 1, as well as opposing the proposed allowance in NFPA 101.

In the eyes of those who were against the CAM for NFPA 1 and in favor of the CAM for NFPA 101—in other words, they didn’t want valet trash collection services to be allowed in any way by the codes—the practice only serves to clog up means of egress and ultimately results in unsafe conditions for occupants.

“Allowing trash cans into the exit path will only cause more hazards,” said Rick Swan of the International Association of Fire Fighters, according to debate notes posted online by NFPA. “Convenience should never be placed over safety. Allowing anything in the hallways is a hazard.”

“Protecting the means of egress from obstructions and hazards is a sacred, tried-and-true fire safety principle,” said Catherine Stashak of the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office. “NFPA 1 specifically prohibits the introduction of high hazards into, or travel through, an area with high hazards.”

Others, however, argued that simply excluding valet trash collection services from codes like NFPA 1 and 101 won’t make the practice go away, so it’s better to address it in these documents. “While I oppose the idea of valet trash, if it is allowed in some jurisdictions, it needs to have parameters to be enforced,” said Matthew Mertens of North Shore Fire Rescue in Wisconsin. “This language needs revision, but it’s better than having no direction at all.”

Val Ziavras, the NFPA 1 staff liaison, wasn’t surprised with the CAMs and debate that ensued. When the NFPA 1 technical committee weighed banning valet trash collection services in the first place, it “was probably the most controversial thing we discussed,” Ziavras told NFPA Journal in a 2021 code revision roundup published in the previous issue.

Debate on the valet trash CAMs and others stretched from June 8 through June 17, and voting took place June 22 through June 26. (See the full voting results here.)

The experience of conducting the first-ever virtual NFPA Technical Meeting came with its expected challenges, said Dawn Bellis, director of Standards Administration at NFPA. “One of the biggest challenges was preserving the core elements of our traditional Technical Meeting,” Bellis said, such as voter debate and transparency. “Seeing the debate continue daily, with the meeting quorum being met well in advance of the closing for registration, and having received positive feedback from stakeholders and participants on the ease of use of the website, I think we achieved what we set out to do.”

Annual Meeting + Awards

With the cancelation of this year’s C&E, the 2020 NFPA Annual Meeting was also conducted virtually and included NFPA members voting to elect individuals to the NFPA Board of Directors. Denis Onieal, who has served as deputy fire administrator for the United States Fire Administration and superintendent of the National Fire Academy, was elected to a three-year term on the board.

Ahead of the vote, Keith Williams, the outgoing Board chairman, and Jim Pauley, NFPA president and CEO, delivered remarks via video, both commenting on the unique circumstances that led to a virtual Annual Meeting. “I speak for the entire staff at NFPA when I say we wish we could be interacting with you in person this week,” Pauley said. “In these times of uncertainty, please know that we are working hard to serve your needs and to get you the information you need to do your job…We look forward to a time when we can meet again in person.”

On June 15, what would have been the first day of C&E, NFPA also announced the winners of awards that typically announced during the conference.

Paul D. Martin, retired deputy state fire administrator with the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Service’s Office of Fire Prevention and Control, was awarded the James M. Shannon Advocacy Medal. Maria Bostian, public education and information officer for the Kannapolis (North Carolina) Fire Department, was named Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year. Peter J. Willse, a former member of the NFPA Board of Directors who has an extensive engineering background, was awarded the Standards Medal.

The Research Foundation Medal was awarded to a Fire Protection Research Foundation report published in December 2019 titled “Digitized Fuel Load Survey Methodology Using Machine Vision,” while the Harry C. Bigglestone Award was given to a paper published in the journal Fire Technology in July 2018 titled “Should We Leave Now? Behavioral Factors in Evacuation Under Wildfire Threat."

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