Author(s): Fred Durso. Published on March 4, 2014.

In California, ranchers are selling their cattle, which are unable to graze off scorched pasturelands. Dried-up waterways are unearthing artifacts, including the ruins of a ghost town near Sacramento. Elsewhere, the Gold Rush is back on, with rivers running at such low levels that valuable nuggets are being revealed as the water recedes.

How dry is the state? Precipitation levels haven’t been this dire in more than 150 years, experts say, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency in January.

A more calamitous effect has been the “above-normal wildfire activity” in January, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC). NDMC’s January 2014 Drought and Impact Summary reports that California firefighters battled more than 400 fires that month, more than five times the average for January. And things might get worse.

Fire safety advocates are cringing at the possibility of a momentous year for wildfire events in California, now in its third consecutive year of an official drought. “I’ve heard from folks in California about just how dry it is and how scary the conditions are,” says Michele Steinberg, NFPA’s wildland fire projects manager. “One of the best factors for producing bigger wildfires is an abundance of dried-out fuel. If you have a home where you have water-dependent shrubs and plants that dry up, that’s providing more fuel for the fire.”

That’s why Steinberg and others are urging homeowners to take steps now — if they haven’t already — to mitigate the risks. More than 70 California communities have been recognized for implementing wildfire mitigation concepts through NFPA’s Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program. Looking to expand these concepts throughout the state, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) tasked NFPA with developing a curriculum for Firewise workshops to be held throughout the state as soon as possible. Steinberg, who submitted a workshop proposal to Cal Fire in February, says the curriculum would focus on Firewise principles, helping participants identify hazards around their homes, and minimizing home ignition potential.

The proposed workshops are part of Cal Fire’s ongoing attempts to expand its fire prevention efforts. Funding this work is a fee applied to all habitable homes within California’s State Responsibility Area (SRA), locations where the state is responsible for the prevention and suppression of wildfire. Cal Fire, for instance, has already increased its workforce for vegetation management and has inspectors conducting defensible space inspections at homes.

“These efforts have been in the works for a few years,” says Dave Shew, Cal Fire’s staff chief and program manager for the SRA Fire Prevention Fee and California’s State Fire Plan. “Now that the drought has come about, we’re ahead of the game. If we had to start [these efforts] now, we’d be way behind the curve. Certainly the drought will be a big factor as we gear up for what will be a potentially devastating wildfire season. If we’re able to get ahead of what’s to come, all the better.”

Like a good neighbor…
Other U.S. communities aware of the benefits of mitigation work have received a helping hand from State Farm. The auto, home, and life insurer recently supplied a $60,000 grant to NFPA in support of two campaigns aimed at protecting homes and communities from wildfire.

One campaign, the Firewise Challenge, tasked Firewise communities and newcomers to the program with conducting risk-reduction activities. Firewise state liaisons and NFPA picked the winners, which were communities in Arkansas, Washington, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey. Winners will receive $5,000 each for future mitigation activities, including brush chipping and vegetation removal. Five additional communities in Virginia, Colorado, Oregon, Tennessee, and Maine received runner-up prizes of $900 for safety gear, tools, or mitigation work.

The remaining funds support the Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 3. Residents across the country are being asked to develop and participate in daylong activities to reduce their community’s wildfire risk. Twenty projects will receive grant money for their efforts.

 “We certainly want everyone to understand the risk that comes with being a homeowner, and we want to reduce the chance for someone to file an insurance claim,” says Heather Paul, State Farm’s public affairs specialist. “If there’s a little preparation that can reduce the amount of damage, we very much want to support and encourage that.”

State Farm is well aware of the benefits of wildfire mitigation. Since 2003, the insurer has been conducting home inspections in wildfire-prone areas around the country using Firewise principles. “We encourage homeowners to have an inspection by an underwriter or contractor, recommend ways to mitigate, and then work with their agent to get those things completed,” says Paul. “If they don’t, that’s an opportunity to reevaluate if [their home] is too much of a risk for us to insure. If you’re a homeowner, you need to be responsible for those things.”

A Change in Leadership
Jim Pauley to succeed Jim Shannon as NFPA's president

Through a unanimous vote in January, NFPA’s Board of Directors named Jim Pauley the association’s sixth president. He will succeed James Shannon, who has served as president since 2002 and has been with NFPA for 23 years.

Pauley will assume his new duties in July.

Pauley has an extensive codes and standards background. Joining Schneider Electric in 1985 as an application engineer for its Lexington, Kentucky, office, he’s risen in the ranks to become senior vice president of External Affairs and Government Relations. He spent 14 years on NFPA’s Standards Council, six as chair, and has sat on NFPA technical committees. Pauley was also appointed board chair of the American National Standards Institute in 2012.

“I have been integrally involved in not only the development of codes and standards, but also working in the space of how these standards can positively impact the public,” says Pauley. “How they are adopted and used has been a big part of my career.”

Strengthening other aspects of NFPA’s mission is another key effort for Pauley. He cites growing wildfire concerns, as well as rapidly developing countries that don’t place enough emphasis on fire and life safety. In the U.S., he says, “we can never be satisfied that we have done all we can to lessen the fire risk and the burden of fire. We have made great progress, but our mission is critical to ensure complacency doesn’t overcome the great progress we’ve made.”
Pauley credits Shannon’s efforts for this progress. Pauley says he “has big shoes to fill” and intends on continuing Shannon’s legacy of passion and advocacy for NFPA’s mission.

“I have known Jim Pauley for a long time,” says Shannon. “He is a terrific guy and a real people person. He has been one of the outstanding volunteers in the NFPA system of the last generation and has a deep commitment to our safety mission. With Jim as president, NFPA is going to be in good hands.”

Look for more information on NFPA’s presidential succession in upcoming issues of NFPA Journal.

— Fred Durso, Jr.

Challenge This

“A receptacle outlet for specific appliances such as laundry equipment installed in a dwelling unit shall be installed within blank of the intended location of the appliance?”

That was the final question served up to Derek Vigstol in the 2014 NEC Challenge, and Vigstol crushed it: Six feet.

With that, Vigstol, a master electrician from Princeton, Minnesota, became the first NEC Challenge Champion, claiming not only bragging rights as the country’s biggest National Electrical Code® (NEC®) know-it-all, but also a handsome championship belt and a cool $5,000 for his efforts.

The “Jeopardy!”-style Challenge finals, held in January at the Pulse Network studios near Boston, were the culmination of a nationwide competition celebrating NFPA’s release of the 53rd edition of the NEC. Last fall, electrical professionals across the country were invited to put their knowledge and experience to the test at a series of NEC Challenge events held at electrical trade shows. More than 500 people took the opportunity to show off their superior code knowledge, with three emerging as finalists.

“Electrical safety is a serious topic, and the NEC Challenge introduced some fun and competitiveness to draw attention to many important elements of the code,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA.

NFPA has been the developer and publisher of the NEC since 1911. The code sets the standard for safe electrical installation and inspection to protect people and property from electrical hazards, and it is one of the world’s most widely used codes for the built environment. The 2014 NEC provides the latest updates to further electrical safety.

Vigstol’s win was hardly a slam-dunk. Fellow finalists Joe Brinley of Roanoke, Virginia, and Robert Watkins, Jr., of Denver, Colorado, put up a fight, with Vigstol and Watkins going head to head in a final-round challenge to determine the winner.

In addition to Vigstol’s championship check, Watkins and Brinley received runner-up prizes of $2,500 and $500, respectively.

Dan Whiting, content marketing manager for NFPA and coordinator of the live NEC Challenge championship event, described the effort as extremely successful. “It really got people engaged with the NEC,” said Whiting. “The turnout at the Challenge events that we held at the trade shows was very high, and I was impressed by the level of enthusiasm among all of the participants. It showed us that we have a lot of opportunities to expand and reach a lot more people in 2014.”

For more information on the NEC and to stay up-to-date on new NEC Challenge events coming in 2014, visit

Safer Surgery
NFPA joins initiative aimed at preventing surgical fires

By Fred Durso, Jr.

Elements of the fire triangle exist during surgical procedures; doctors use electrosurgical lasers (the heat source) on patients prepped with alcohol-based antiseptics and placed near flammable drapery (the fuel).

Adding oxygen into the mix can lead to disastrous consequences. Case in point: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that about 600 surgical fires occur annually and have led to severe injury and death.

Steps can be taken to avoid these incidents, safety experts claim. Initiated in 2011 during NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week, the Preventing Surgical Fires Initiative links the FDA with key partners to highlight the root cause of operating room fires and risk-reduction practices and safety procedures. While the initiative has always highlighted information that matches provisions in NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities, and NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, NFPA was officially named a partner in 2013. There are now more than 20 partners, including the American Society for Healthcare Engineering and The Joint Commission, which certifies and accredits more than 19,000 U.S. health care organizations.

“NFPA has been attending our meetings since the launch and has been an active participant,” says Cindi Fitzpatrick, the FDA’s project manager for the initiative. “It was suggested last year that we should become more involved with them.”

Since officially bringing NFPA on board, the FDA has updated its “Resources and Tools for Preventing Surgical Fires” page with links to NFPA 99; NFPA 101; NFPA 1, Fire Code; and NFPA 70E® : Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. Partners have also been tasked with specifically promoting the initiative’s materials during Fire Prevention Week in October among other points during the year.

While the initiative’s partners are currently developing metrics for success, Fitzpatrick says they have succeeded in disseminating crucial information on a growing concern. “The FDA’s efforts are largely regulatory,” she says. “We have purview of the labeling of products that are involved in surgical fires, but we don’t regulate the practices of health care practitioners. By collaborating with outside groups, we can help implement these practices even though we don’t regulate them.”

For additional information on the Preventing Surgical Fires Initiative, visit

Growth Opportunity
NFPA training in the Middle East expands

For the first time in NFPA history, training on its codes and standards will be conducted in Arabic.

These lessons are examples of efforts that have placed NFPA on the Middle Eastern map. This year, for instance, authorities having jurisdiction as well as engineers, architects, and other members of the building design community in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are now taking courses that include key NFPA code provisions. Some of the more popular documents being referenced are NFPA 1, Fire Code; NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems; and NFPA 25, Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. The new training initiative was prompted through an agreement between NFPA and the UAE Civil Defense and finalized earlier this year.

The region’s building boom is another catalyst. Dubai will host Expo 2020 (similar to a world’s fair) that year, and the UAE is in the process of constructing the world’s largest airport. “There is a real demand for NFPA standards” in the UAE, says Donald Bliss. “Expo 2020 is stimulating a lot of commercial growth.” Civil Defense officials are also “receptive” to the idea of adopting NFPA codes and standards in the near future, adds Bliss.

Other Middle Eastern countries are also turning to NFPA for support as building and infrastructure projects expand across the region. “Decision makers are recognizing the need to properly address fire and life safety issues through a set of globally accepted practices,” says Drew Azzara, NFPA’s Middle East representative. “The focus is also on utilizing world-class codes, standards, and training programs to advance fire and life safety by collaborating with NFPA.”

— Fred Durso, Jr.

Philip Stittleburg, chair of NFPA’s Board of Directors, greets Pope Francis at the Vatican in November.

CHIEF, MEET PONTIFF  Philip Stittleburg, chief of the La Farge, Wisconsin, fire department and chair of NFPA’s Board of Directors, greets Pope Francis at the Vatican in November. Stittleburg was part of a delegation representing NFPA, the National Volunteer Fire Council, and the Organization de Bomberos Americanos (OBA), a group that includes fire service interests from around South America. The delegation presented Pope Francis with a personalized fire helmet. “I told him that firefighters are always in need of his blessing,” Stittleburg said, “and he replied, ‘Yes, and tell them they must pray for me, too.’ It was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”


NFPA Awards Isman Grant
NFPA recently announced that the HazMat Task Force of the Shelbyville Fire Department in Shelbyville, Kentucky, is the winner of the 2014 Warren E. Isman Educational Grant.

The selection was made by the NFPA Fire Safety Educational Memorial Fund Committee, which recognized the skill and training displayed by the Shelbyville Fire Department in dealing with hazardous materials during a crisis. The department’s HazMat Task Force has made efforts to teach both communities and first responders about hazardous materials management techniques and safety awareness.

The $5,000 grant, awarded annually, will allow the Shelbyville Fire Department HazMat Task Force to attend the International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference, put on by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, in Baltimore, Maryland, May 29–June 1.

For more information on the Isman Grant program, visit

Standards Council Members Named
The NFPA Board of Directors recently appointed three new members to serve on NFPA’s Standards Council.

The board named Kenneth E. Bush of the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office in Easton, Maryland; James R. Quiter of Arup in San Francisco, California; and Chad E. Beebe of the American Society for Healthcare Engineering of the American Hospital Association in Lacey, Washington, to three-year Standards Council terms effective January 2014.

In addition to adding the new members, the Standards Council also appointed current member Kerry Bell of Underwriters Laboratories in Northbrook, Illinois, as the new Council chair.

In other Council business, members Richard Owen, an electrician in Oakdale, Minnesota, and Daniel O’Connor of Aon Fire Protection Engineering in Glenview, Illinois, were also reappointed for three-year terms starting January 1, 2014. Current member James Milke of the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, was appointed for a one-year extension, also beginning on January 1, 2014.

The 13-member Standards Council is charged with overseeing the NFPA codes and standards making process, with duties including supervising activities related to NFPA codes and standards development, administering rules and regulations, and serving as an appeals body.

Research Foundation Issues Reporton Tall Wood Buildings
Tall buildings utilizing structural components made of engineered wood are being discussed — and built — around the world, and the Fire Protection Research Foundation recently contributed to the discussion in the form of a new report.

“Fire Safety Challenges of Tall Wood Buildings,” authored by Arup North America and sponsored by the Foundation’s Property Insurance Research Group (PIRG), is part of an effort to understand the performance of tall wood buildings under credible fire scenarios. Those scenarios include ensuring the safety of building occupants against emissions and thermal hazards, as well as the property protection of the building and nearby structures. The goal of the first phase of this project was to perform a literature review and identify knowledge gaps related to fire safety in tall wood buildings.

Recent architectural trends include the design and construction of increasingly tall buildings with structural components comprised of engineered wood. At least one such building is under construction in Australia, with others are being designed in Europe and Canada. For more on the topic see this issue’s “Research” column on page 24.

For more information please visit

Remembering When Training Offered
Applications are being sought for scholarships to NFPA’s upcoming Remembering When™:  A Fire and Fall Prevention Program for Older Adults conference, to be held June 4–6 at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

NFPA awards scholarships annually to establish partnerships between fire departments and home visit agencies. Applications must be submitted by March 10. For more information and to enter, visit