Global perspective and purview
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has been working with global authorities to help reduce risk for more than a century. A neutral, non-profit, non-governmental organisation devoted to eliminating loss from fire, electrical and related hazards around the world, our association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy, and by partnering with those who share our mission.
It’s a big world
Our world is different today. Our fires are different. And our life-safety challenges are different. What is not different is that your community expects each and every one of you to be there to protect them – no matter what the risk, emergency, or new threat is.
Two years ago, the NFPA introduced a new mantra for our organisation. ‘It’s a Big World Let’s Protect it Together’ is far more than a tagline, it’s our guiding principle.
Ten days after we launched It’s A Big World. Let’s Protect It Together, the Grenfell Tower in London went up in flames, killing dozens and injuring even more. Code enforcement was called into question. The post-incident report underscored the life-saving abilities of sprinklers and called for new building regulations.
Within a week of that deadly incident, there was yet another unrelenting wildfire, this time in Portugal. Sixty-six people died, homes and property were destroyed, and communities were taxed with responding and rebuilding.
Then, in Oakland, California, the Ghost Ship fire killed 36 people when code officials looked the other way. In nearly every way, the Ghost Ship building was primed for a disastrous fire; and that is exactly what happened.
Earlier this year, the world watched in horror as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris swiftly went up in flames. It serves as a heart-wrenching example of why we need to have the right measures in place to prevent or minimise the impact of a fire.
These are just a sampling of the catastrophic fires that prompt me to ask, ‘Why can’t we find the right elements to get safety right?’
Safety is a system
Safety is a system – not a singular action, piece of equipment or event. To drive that point home, and reinforce that everyone has a role, we developed the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem which consists of eight components that play a critical role in protecting people and property.
The first element of the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem centres around government responsibility. It is the policy-maker’s job to protect citizens, and we all play a role in educating them. That is why we launched the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Policy Institute last year to study a wide range of issues and provide guidance to government officials. To date, the independent institute has already shed light on the gaps between public expectations of safety – and reality.
Development and use of current codes
The next cog in the ecosystem pertains to the development and use of current codes. NFPA codes and standards are typically updated on a three-year cycle to take advantage of the latest learnings from research, technology, case studies, loss experience, and proven best practices.
The third element of the system centres around understanding and use of reference standards. Standards are actually a system of standards; following just one part leaves a significant safety gap.
Investment in safety
Element four calls for the investment in safety. We need to invest in researching new problems so that we can ensure that materials, systems and technology can be applied safely; and we need to make sure that we are prioritising the decisions being made.
Having a skilled workforce is another critical component of the ecosystem. Regardless of our role, we need to learn and improve our skills. NFPA can help you via classroom and online learning, and the robust content you will find on our website.
The sixth element of the ecosystem deals with code compliance. Effective code enforcement is essential throughout the entire lifecycle of a building – but sadly compliance runs the gamut from timely to terrifying.
Preparedness and emergency response
The seventh component of the ecosystem centres around preparedness and emergency response. Prior to this element, we have been talking about fire, but today we ask first responders to prepare for and respond to a broad spectrum of emergencies. Fire, police, EMS and other safety-focused practitioners need to work together in the interest of safety.
The final component in the ecosystem is an informed public. Educating the public about the dangers posed by fire and other hazards is more important than ever. We need to find creative ways to break through the messaging clutter and empower communities, individuals and families to take action to be safe from harm.
The NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem has been well received as the model for fire and life safety around the world. There are eight elements to organize your thinking and action. How will you move forward with this information? Which part of this ecosystem needs your attention? What are YOU going to do to reduce risk?
We may not be able to prevent every tragedy from occurring, but by recommitting to and promoting a full system of fire prevention, electrical protection, and safety education, we can help save lives and reduce loss around the world.
For more information, go to www.nfpa.org/ecosystem