Author(s): James Shannon. Published on January 8, 2014.

First Word - January / February 2014

IN DECEMBER, LORRAINE CARLI, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy, sat down with NFPA President Jim Shannon to talk about the association’s accomplishments over the last year and what he hopes NFPA will accomplish in 2014.

Carli: It was a busy year for NFPA, particularly for our outreach programs. We devoted a lot of resources to a number of major initiatives, such as the wildland fire issue.
Shannon: Yes, NFPA was very active last year in a lot of important efforts to get the word out to people about how they can make their homes, businesses, and communities safer, here in the United States and around the world.

At home, the wildfire issue became a bigger and bigger concern, not just for NFPA but for the country as a whole. We know that tens of thousands of wildfires take place every year in this country, and it’s pretty clear that climate change has dramatically affected their size, scope, and severity, particularly in the growing wildland/urban interface.

NFPA president Jim Shannon talks about one of the legal challenges the association will face in the coming year.

What role can NFPA play to address this problem?
For years, we’ve worked to teach people who live in the wildland/urban interface how to make their communities safer from wildfires through our Firewise Program and, more recently, through our Fire Adapted Community program. But the whole fire protection community needs to come together to develop a more aggressive strategy for better protecting both wildland firefighters and the people who live in the wildland/urban interface.

What still needs to be done?
For one thing, we need more efficient ways of evacuating people and letting them know where there is a problem. We also need better community planning efforts, better training, and more research. NFPA is good at bringing together the people who can contribute to our knowledge and find solutions to these problems, and I expect we’ll play a very large role in helping mitigate the wildland fire problem in years ahead.

Another issue that has resurfaced is furniture flammability. What role do you see NFPA playing in the discussion?
The use of chemical fire retardants in upholstered furniture has become a huge issue lately. In fact, California, which led the way in putting retardants into furniture almost 40 years ago, took action last year to take retardants out of furniture because they were concerned about the environmental aspects of chemical retardants. We are, too, but as a fire safety organization, we can’t lose sight of what this means for fire protection.

We’ve been working with fire enforcement officials, federal agencies, and organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to develop fire-safe furniture that doesn’t depend on chemicals. UL, in particular, has done a lot of work showing how barriers can be used to make furniture safer. However, much more work needs to be done, and NFPA will play an important role in that research through the Fire Protection Research Foundation.

Furniture flammability raises the larger issue of fires in the home, where most fires and fire fatalities occur. Is NFPA taking any new steps to address this issue?
As you know, NFPA led the way to the adoption of fire-safe cigarette laws in all 50 states, and last year we began to see the effects of those laws on reducing the number of fire deaths in homes. But there are other home-related fire issues I think we need to address, as well. Among them is cooking, which is the number one cause of fires in the home. We also need to focus on the misuse of candles, bad electrical outlets, and overtaxed electrical outlets. We’ve talked about all of these problems for a long time, but we need to re-double our efforts at public education in these areas. We also need to continue to push hard for home fire sprinklers. That’s still a large priority for NFPA, and we plan to work very aggressively in 2014 on our residential sprinkler initiative.

Talk a little bit about NFPA’s efforts to protect its intellectual property rights.
One thing we need to focus on is protecting our intellectual property rights to the codes and standards and other materials we produce, because they provide the revenue that allows us to do what we do. If we lost those, we’d have to curtail our efforts dramatically.

Last year, in conjunction with several other organizations that depend on the revenue from the standards they develop, we filed a lawsuit against an organization that was giving our standards away on the Internet. Litigation moves slowly, but within the next couple of years, I hope we’ll have a court decision that allows us to continue earning the money we need to fulfill our mission into the future.

NFPA’s mission led to some very interesting work in Brazil in 2013, didn’t it?
The fire at the Boate Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, last winter killed more than 240 people and was very similar to the 2003 Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island. Shortly after the Santa Maria fire, the Brazilian authorities asked us to help them develop new fire codes using the information we learned from the Station fire. With Brazil hosting the upcoming Olympics and the soccer World Cup, Brazilian fire authorities felt that the country’s fire codes could be strengthened, so we’re helping them rewrite the codes for the state of Rio de Janeiro. We’re translating our material into Portuguese, a project that will extend into 2014. We’re also doing outreach work with the state of São Paulo.

Technological advances have allowed us to become more aggressive in sharing information globally, something we couldn’t have imagined doing 15 or 20 years ago. We’ve come to realize that, by creatively taking full advantage of technology, we can take what we’ve learned here in the United States and apply it elsewhere in the world.

All of these efforts are what our strategic plan is all about: fulfilling our mission in bold new creative ways to make the world safer in 2014 and beyond.