Published on January 6, 2014.

First Responder - January / February 2014

I BECAME A FIRST RESPONDER in August, 1974, though that wasn’t the term we used. I was appointed as a civilian firefighter trainee at an Air Force base, where I spent three years before moving to the municipal fire service for a suburban community. For the next 26 years, I served as firefighter/emergency medical technician, captain/shift commander, and eventually chief of department/director of emergency management. I moved to a larger community, where I served as fire chief/emergency management director for another six years. I joined NFPA in 2010 as manager of the Public Fire Protection Division, where my duties include managing the resources and staff that support the development of standards focused on responder safety, and providing outreach to all segments of the responder community.

Those duties now include taking on this new "First Responder" column for NFPA Journal, which succeeds the "Structural Ops" column by Russ Sanders and Ben Klaene. My primary goal here is to address issues that are timely and important for the entire first responder community. That includes showing how NFPA codes and standards protect responders while they protect us, and how the work of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the Charles Morgan Library, and the Fire Analysis and Research Division inform those codes and standards.

This is an important moment to consider the role of today’s first responder. The responder community is a diverse coalition of trained individuals — firefighters, emergency medical personnel, emergency management personnel, and more — who are passionate about their role in life safety and community preparedness. While we are all focused on a single mission — protecting life, property, and the environment — we are sometimes splintered by the badges and uniforms we wear and by the functions we perform.

But first responders can no longer afford these separations. As recent events have shown us, neither the public nor the agencies that fund first responders, including all levels of government, will accept anything less than complete coordination between first responders in emergencies. Today’s responders must be prepared for all hazards and all manner of threats, and their response must be coordinated and unified. The response to the Boston Marathon bombings last year was proof that a unified command, and a unified approach to resource management, works.

NFPA has been at the forefront of improving responder safety, training, protective equipment, and pre-incident planning since our founding in 1896. There are nearly 7,700 volunteer technical committee members who develop NFPA’s codes and standards. Within the Public Fire Protection Division, the 102 standards that we support provide criteria for the fire service, emergency medical services, law enforcement, public safety telecommunicators, emergency management, technical rescue, and hazardous materials responders. These standards provide a framework for professional competence, occupational safety, and organizational deployment.

NFPA also has a robust set of codes and standards that addresses the built environment and the systems and practices that exist within structures. NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; NFPA 1, Fire Code; and NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code, all contain provisions to help make facilities and buildings safer for occupants and responders alike. NFPA codes and standards are at work in the responder community every day, on every response.

I look forward to offering my perspective on these important issues, and I look forward to the conversations these topics generate.

KEN WILLETTE is division manager for Public Fire Protection at NFPA.