Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on January 23, 2023.


Essential Reading

After 15 years, a revamped Fire Protection Handbook is set to hit shelves in the spring. Experts explain why the handbook is so special and what a new edition means for the global fire protection community.



Listen to a related podcast on the 21st edition of the Fire Protection Handbook.

Energy storage systems. Cannabis processing facilities. Modular construction. These are just a few of the topics that vex today’s fire safety professionals. But 15 years ago, they were little more than theoretical hazards for the vast majority of the globe. 

In other words, a lot has changed since 2008, the last time NFPA released an edition of the Fire Protection Handbook (FPH). But a new edition is on the horizon. The 21st edition of the Fire Protection Handbook is due out in March, although copies can be pre-ordered now

One of the NFPA’s most significant publications, the FPH is a comprehensive, one-of-a-kind reference guide of fire and life safety information for professionals across a wide range of industries. The two-volume book contains more than 200 chapters on topics ranging from hazardous materials and medical gases to fire safety education and human behavior in fire. Fourteen entirely new chapters appear in the latest edition, reflecting technologies and hazards that have emerged in recent years, such as energy storage systems (ESS), active shooter incidents, cannabis facilities, smart home systems, and modular construction.

“The NFPA Fire Protection Handbook is the most comprehensive industry resource for professionals who need to be well informed and stay current in their field,” said NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley. “It is the fire protection encyclopedia and there is no other resource like it anywhere in the world.”

While the breadth of the Fire Protection Handbook’s practical applications is certainly impressive, one quality of the FPH that sets it apart from other academic or professional publications is that, for many people, it represents more than just a book—something more meaningful and sentimental. It can become a keepsake of sorts that they hold onto for years or even a lifetime, a staple in their library that can connote fond memories of their college education or early days of their careers. So how did the FPH reach this larger-than-life status, and what will this new edition bring to the table?  

A ‘one-of-a-kind’ publication  

When Casey Grant started working at NFPA in 1988, one of the first things he remembers receiving is a 90th-anniversary commemorative edition of the very first FPH, which was published in 1896—the same year NFPA was founded—and at the time called the Handbook of the Underwriter’s Bureau of New England. Grant, who retired as executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation in 2019, still has the 5-by-7-inch, black, leather-bound book. 

“It’s a complete version of the original handbook,” he said excitedly on a recent video call, holding the book up to the camera. “I remember thinking ‘Wow!’ and I still keep it here on my desk alongside other editions of the Fire Protection Handbook.” 

Stories like these abound among members of the global fire protection community, who describe the Fire Protection Handbook as “inspiring” and liken it to “an encyclopedia” or “Bible” in the world of fire protection. 

In 1997, when he was studying fire protection engineering at Seneca College in Toronto, Nicholas Dawe, now a fire marshal in Cobb County, Georgia, received a copy of the FPH as a form of payment. “One of my roommates actually owed me money for a utility bill, and he paid me using the 17th edition of the Fire Protection Handbook,” Dawe recalled in an interview in January. “Obviously I saw the value in it if I took the trade. That book, to me, has always been something kind of special. It’s one-of-a-kind.”

In With the New
Fourteen new chapters have been added to the 21st edition of the Fire Protection Handbook, due out this spring. Pre-order yours today!
Wildland Fires and the Wildland/Urban Interface 
The Interconnected All-Hazards Fire Department
Smart Infrastructure and Fire Protection
Facilitating Occupant Movement During Emergencies
Additive Flame Retardants
Solid and Liquid Oxidizers
Organic Peroxides
Photovoltaic Systems
Energy Storage Systems
Fuel Gases Detection
Cannabis Processing Facilities
Active Shooter/Hostile Event Operations
Modular Construction 
The NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™

Over the past 127 years, the book has evolved from something that could slip into your jacket pocket to a two-volume set that more closely resembles a couple of dictionaries. Its content has expanded from focusing mostly on fire sprinklers to encompassing virtually everything a modern-day fire or life safety specialist could encounter. 

“As the most pressing concerns of fire protection have evolved—from property protection concerns of the late 1800s, to life safety concerns for public occupancies in the beginning of the 1900s, to the computer-modeled, risk assessment–based systems approach in use today—the number of subjects covered by the FPH has increased greatly,” the introduction to the 21st edition of the handbook reads. 

One of the main reasons the Fire Protection Handbook is so indispensable is because, as Pauley and others have said, there’s nothing else like it. 

“When I was in college, it was always the first place I’d go to familiarize myself with a new topic,” said Jonathan Hart, a technical lead at NFPA. 

Grant, who now works as a fire protection engineering consultant for a Massachusetts-based firm, still uses the FPH to refamiliarize himself with certain concepts. “I was one of those people who saved my notes from school for a long time, but I finally threw them out one day when I was cleaning the basement,” he said. “So, the Fire Protection Handbook essentially serves as those notes for me today. If I have to remind myself of the basics of any fire protection topic, I’ll go to the handbook, and it immediately gets me going in the right direction.” 

New content for a wide range of professionals

Each of the Fire Protection Handbook’s chapters is written by a different subject matter expert. “We utilized over 200 industry experts who contributed their knowledge, expertise, and time to this document,” said Kristin Bigda, publications strategy director at NFPA. Bigda, Dawe, Grant, and Hart all contributed to the writing or editing of chapters or sections in the 21st edition. In total, there are 210 chapters spread across 21 sections.

What’s immediately clear to anyone scanning the table of contents in the 21st edition of the FPH versus previous editions is that there are more than a dozen new chapters on technologies and hazards that have emerged or drastically spiked in significance in the past 15 or so years.

“A lot has changed since 2008, and a lot of value was added to the handbook,” said Dawe. “We have a new chapter on energy storage systems. One on wildland fires. One of the more unfortunate chapters we now need is on active shooter protocols and NFPA 3000®, Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program.

Even in chapters that were there before—including the chapter Dawe wrote on business occupancies—important updates have been made to reflect the latest trends and current data. “I was able to bring my expertise dealing with business occupancies to the table,” said Dawe. “In Cobb County, we have a lot of unique properties like a major stadium and event venue and an amusement park. And, of course, after the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses operate differently.”

Overall, Dawe said the FPH is written in a way that provides context to why certain codes and standards exist or why they require certain things. Unlike a more technical resource such as the Society of Fire Protection Engineering’s Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering, the NFPA Fire Protection Handbook is written with a wider audience in mind—everyone from fire protection engineering students to insurance agents to fire service officials. “It’s really something anybody can find value in,” said Bigda.

If you’re going to be using codes and standards daily, weekly, monthly, then you should have a Fire Protection Handbook on the shelves of your individual library.


More specifically, the FPH also serves as the basis for candidates taking the Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS) exam administered by NFPA. Currently, CFPS exam candidates use the 20th edition of the FPH, but that’s slated to shift to the new edition in the fall of 2023. The CFPS credential was created in 1971, and since then, more than 5,000 people with professional backgrounds ranging from risk management to fire inspectors to building designers have been credentialed.

For now, the 21st edition of Fire Protection Handbook will only be available in print, although Bigda notes that could change in the future. However, for some people, the print-only aspect of the book seems to add to its uniqueness and value. 

“If you’re going to be using codes and standards daily, weekly, monthly, then you should have a Fire Protection Handbook on the shelves of your individual library,” said Dawe. “To me, it just helps complete the total package of being able to have access to full understanding of what the individual fire protection challenges are that you’re dealing with.”

ANGELO VERZONI is the content marketing manager at NFPA. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni. Top photograph via Unsplash