Train disaster

NFPA Network May 2021


Complacency and a Lack of Urgency Jeopardize Safety 


Over the past several weeks, there has been no shortage of catastrophes around the globe. From the devastating hospital fire in Baghdad to the subway disaster in Mexico City, these and other deadly incidents reflect an all-too-common theme: the failure to use and implement the latest fire and life codes and standards as well as other safeguards directly contributes to fatalities, injuries, and millions of dollars in direct property damage that otherwise could have been prevented.

In the immediate aftermath of such tragedies, there is often much talk of doing better and applying the lessons learned moving forward. Unfortunately, as these convictions tend to dissipate over time, the pitfalls that frequently contribute to major fires and other disasters, such as complacency, convenience, time- and money-saving shortcuts, take hold once again. 

The events that have transpired in the four years since the Grenfell Tower fire is a prime example of this dangerous pattern. Soon after the failures that led to the deadly blaze were identified, including the highly flammable cladding that was used as an exterior wall component for the building, there was a collective pledge to make the needed fire and life safety changes. Fast forward to today and a plan for stripping and replacing exterior wall components on thousands of buildings in the United Kingdom has been stalled as the result of an ongoing debate over who should pay for the work. The drive to make needed improvements has given way to a struggle among multiple groups over who is responsible for owning these efforts.

In short, as time and other factors erode a sense of urgency toward making impactful improvements, the price we pay when another preventable catastrophe strikes is way too high.

As NFPA celebrates its 125th anniversary, I’m proud of all we have collectively accomplished toward eliminating fire and related hazards from our world. We have come so far and achieved so much. However, if all we know and have learned over the past 125 years isn’t fully applied to the best of our ability, progress will be hindered and avoidable tragedies will continue to happen.

Next month, as part of our 125th Anniversary Conference Series, NFPA will be hosting a full day of sessions that address today’s most pressing building and life safety issues, opportunities and challenges. Called the Big Wide World of Building and Life Safety, this full-day session will cover everything from construction site fires, remote virtual inspections (RVI), and potential fire risked posed by facilities that grow, extract and extract cannabis, to emerging technologies like drones and 3D printing, among other topics.

Weaved into these presentations will be the guiding principles of the NFPA Fire &Life Safety Ecosystem®, including the critical importance of having a full system of safety in place. If even one component of the Ecosystem is lacking, as evidenced in the tragic incidents that have recently occurred, the risk of tragedy isn’t simply more likely, it’s inevitable.

For all of us in the world of fire and life safety, continuing to learn and apply our knowledge to the work we do is essential to truly protecting the people and populations that trust and depend on us to keep them safe. If we apply that shared commitment and integrity to mitigating risk, the burden of fire and related hazards will no doubt decline dramatically in the next 125 years. And that would be something to celebrate.