12-16 June 2016 | Las Vegas | Mandalay Bay Convention Center

President's report


Jim Pauley, President & CEO, NFPA



NFPA Jim Pauley at General Session

 

Three hundred and seventy days ago, I stood at this conference and unveiled the video you just saw – It’s a Big World, Let’s Protect It Together. We knew then that message was powerful. But in just over a year, we have witnessed how profound the plea is.

 

Ten days after we gathered, the world watched in horror as the Grenfell Tower in London went up in flames, killing 71 people and injuring many more. The rapid spread of the fire was attributed to flammable exterior cladding, material prohibited by codes referenced within building codes, yet were used in the construction of this building and as it turned out many others.

 

Three days later, sixty-six people died as wildfires spread through Portugal, another poignant example of the wildfire story playing out all across the globe – more lives lost, more homes and property destroyed, more communities taxed with responding and rebuilding. Yet we see a reluctance towards codes for building and land use practices, a complacent public that is uneducated on their risk and an under-resourced ability to respond effectively because most places never considered themselves to be prone to wildfires.

 

Shortly following, three people died in a high-rise fire in an unsprinklered apartment building in Hawaii. Because of pressure from policy makers, Hawaii repeatedly amended out the provision to retrofit sprinklers in their code saying the benefits did not outweigh the costs. In fact, as news of this fire was unfolding, the Building Industry Association of Hawaii was celebrating what they considered a big win - the extension of a state law prohibiting local jurisdictions from adopting their own requirements for fire sprinklers in new homes until 2027.

 

And tragically, about eight months ago across the street from this very hotel, nearly sixty people including twelve off duty firefighters lost their in what is now the deadliest mass shooting event in this country.  Our brave first responders are now dealing with these active shooter situations more frequently. Sadly, these are a new reality for all of us as evidenced by the Florida school shooting in February, and Texas last month. These events have also prompted the call from first responders that we need a holistic approach to be able to prepare, respond and recover.

 

Unfortunately, there are other incidents I could describe begging the questions, how is this possible in this day and age and what is that we need to be doing?

 

How is this possible? I have given a lot of thought to this question.

 

We see less fires, but statistically if you do have a fire in your home you are more likely to die today than you were twenty years ago. Yet, we have many of the tools to prevent damaging fires sprinklers, smoke alarms, codes and enforcement.  But they are met with resistance. They are underused, ignored or allowed to become outdated. This is happening at a time when new challenges are all around us.

 

Each of the examples I talked about is a tragedy on its own. Taken together they represent a catastrophic failure of what I call the fire and life safety ecosystem. We are backsliding when we need to be forging ahead.

 

Collectively we have forgotten to connect the dots. Everyone is so focused on a particular piece that we have forgotten that safety is a system – not a singular action, piece of equipment or event.

 

We tell people to follow the building or life safety code, yet we forget about the large number of referenced standards that are just as important. We want to make sure that the building is built to the code, but we forget about ensuring fire safety while it is under construction. We teach people about the  requirements, but we forget to teach about the limitations that the products may have because of their specific design or listing.

 

We reduce inspection and enforcement budgets and don’t remember that solid enforcement is a key reason we made progress over the past decades.  And internationally, we have growing countries that we are training on specific codes and standards and not helping them learn what an entire system of safety looks like.


At past events, people have said to me – Jim, at these general sessions you should just talk about the “state of the association”. My response? This IS about the state of our association. It’s about each and every one of you in this room that has a role and impact on fire safety. Our association exists to make a difference in the outcomes. Our vision is the elimination of death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire electrical and related hazards. Our role, together, is to tackle the tough problems. And none is tougher today than the breakdown of this ecosystem that I mentioned.

 

From our perspective, the full fire and life safety ecosystem includes eight elements that play a critical role in protecting people and property. Time after time when we have seen calamities, we can trace the cause of those situations to a breakdown in one or more of the elements of the safety ecosystem.

 

So, to understand the current focus of the association, let’s talk about those eight elements and I will cover a small part of what NFPA is doing in a few of them. 

 

The first element is around Government Responsibility Federal, state and local elected officials must create a regulatory environment where laws, policies and spending priorities are dictated by public safety needs, not by special interests. That is their job, to protect their citizens. And citizens expect them to do it. We saw this breakdown of responsibility on full display in March in Kentucky. A state senator – who is also a home builder – stood on the senate floor arguing about amending the electrical code – and stated that he has his electrician remove ground-fault circuit interrupters from his properties because they are an inconvenience when they trip. He is not only putting his own customers at risk, he is putting the larger public at risk by carrying his uninformed and inaccurate view into the larger policy for the state. 

 

Recognizing the importance of this element. We launched the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Policy Institute to study a wide range of issues and provide information and guidance to policy makers on the best approaches to improve safety for the citizens they serve. The work of the independent institute has already shed light on some serious issues including the gap between public expectations of safety and the reality of timely code use.

 

Element two, is around the development and use of current codes: Safety codes developed by experts from all over the world, many of you in this room, ensure minimum levels of safety. The current editions of codes and standards incorporate learnings from recent research, technology advances, case studies, loss experience and proven best practices.

And this ties in to the third element of the system which is around reference standards.

We all talk about the use of the “code itself” – the building code, life safety code, electrical code. But we have to spend more time talking about the importance of the referenced codes and standards as well.

To help with both of these elements, we have developed the NFPA CodeFinder™. It debuts this week at the NFPA booth in the expo hall. CodeFinder provides you a visual map of the key codes and standards used in North America as well as other parts of the world. CodeFinder also provides you great insight into the reference standards that relate to the particular codes. There is even a place for you to provide us with information about your particular jurisdiction if it is not already in the tool.

Element four is ensuring that safety is prioritized. Whether we are talking about uisng and enforcing codes, training workers or choosing products, safety must be top of mind. Uninformed decisions to simply cut costs can lead to disastrous and expensive consequences. Even in an anti-regulatory and cost-cutting environment, life safety measures should never be disregarded to save a few dollars. This investment in safety pays off in lives saved and properties protected.   

 

Element five is around maintaining a Skilled Workforce. Employers in many trades are struggling to find competent staff. I asked two large electrical contracting organizations recently what their single biggest problem was faced by their members – no hesitation from either – it’s availability of skilled workers.

To respond, NFPA is in the process of changing our entire training and learning approach. We are increasing our online course offerings and creating more interactive training. We have integrated 3D modeling into our Energy Storage training for first responders.  We are in development of two new standards – NFPA 78, Guide on Electrical Inspections, and NFPA 1078, Standard for Electrical Inspector Professional Qualifications, to help the enforcers increase their skill set and pass on those skills to others up and coming in the industry.

Element six deals with Code Compliance: There needs to be effective code enforcement. Whether a house or a new office building, the places people live and work are only as safe as the construction and code compliance in place. Without sufficient resources to ensure construction and maintenance meet code requirements, communities are missing a critical step in the safety ecosystem. And it doesn’t begin and end at the construction phase. Compliance is integral throughout the entire lifecycle of a building – every phase from planning and zoning through demolition.

For NFPA, we have assembled an enforcers forum from across the compliance areas of a building and they are having great conversations about how to better work together with developers, owners and facility managers. For additional action, we have also established a section in NFPA to give our electrical inspection members a specific place to gather and take action.

Element seven is around Preparedness and Emergency Response: Today we ask our first responders to be prepared for and respond to not only fires but a myriad of disasters that may strike. From car crashes and medical emergencies to natural disasters and man-made catastrophic events, first responders are the first line of offense and defense. They must be well-trained, well-resourced and well-prepared to meet the varied needs of their communities.

 

On this front, last month we issued NFPA 3000TM (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter / Hostile Event Response Program, to help communities holistically deal with the fast-growing number of mass casualty incidents that continue to occur throughout the world. NFPA 3000 is the first of its kind and provides unified planning, response and recovery guidance, as well as civilian and responder safety considerations. It has been an exceptional example of law enforcement, emergency responders and other safety-focused practitioners swiftly coming together in a way never seen before. Our work in this area also represents NFPA’s growing significance in the full range of safety issues beyond fire. We go where our first responder go.

 

The final element is an Informed Public. Educating the public about the dangers posed by fire and other hazards is more important than ever. Complacency is our biggest enemy - past success in reducing loss has led to an “It can’t happen to me” attitude. The public is taking safety for granted and is uneducated about fire risks.  We are living in a time where a recent survey by the Red Cross revealed that people believe they are more likely to win the lottery or be struck by lightning than to have a home fire.  We need creative ways to break through the messaging clutter and empower communities, individuals and families to become their own heroes, to take action to be safer. To drive home the point that everyone plays a role in safety.

So, we revamped our Fire Prevention Week campaign that we unveiled at this conference. It has a new theme, a new look, a new blue guy named Simon and an approach that encourages action not only in October but all year long. 


In addition, And I’m really excited about this one – we signed on to be the title sponsor for the NFPA HEROES Experience, a new attraction at the National Center for Fire and Life Safety, that will combine public education and state-of-the-art technology to drive home critical lessons in safety for all ages. To be located in Alabama, the NFPA HEROES Experience will immerse visitors in authentic stories, exhibits and experiences that dramatize the importance of preventative fire and life safety measures. Think Disney meets fire and life safety. This will be unlike anything that has ever been done in fire prevention education. It will impact not only Alabama but the rest of the country and the world. You can learn more about it in their booth at the expo this week.


Now let me ask you to think about your role. What part do you play in this safety ecosystem? What more can you be doing to better protect people and property? What more can we do together?

 

There is not a single answer to safety. There are several. We may not be able to prevent every tragedy from occurring, but by recommitting to and promoting the full safety ecosystem of prevention, protection and education, we can further our work to help save lives and reduce loss. It’s a big world, let’s protect it together. This is not a slogan. It is a call to action. That ladies and gentlemen is the focus of your association.

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