NFPA Launches Policy Institute to Support Fire and Life Safety Efforts

NFPA’s Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute launches with ambitious plans to educate policymakers on the importance of a “fire prevention and protection eco-system.”

NFPA’s Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute launches with ambitious plans to educate policymakers on the importance of a “fire prevention and protection eco-system.”
Citing the need to have an arm’s-length view on policy issues that impact fire, life and electrical safety, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) launched the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute.

The Policy Institute, which will be led by Meghan Housewright who served in NFPA’s government affairs office since March 2011, will study a range of issues and provide guidance and information to policymakers on the best approaches governments can take to improve safety for the citizens they serve.

“We have made tremendous progress in reducing loss from fire since NFPA’s inception, but we are painfully reminded every day that there is more to be done,” says NFPA President Jim Pauley.NFPA fire and life safety policy institute

According to NFPA, in 2016 U.S. fire departments responded to a fire every 24 seconds; one structure fire was reported every 60 seconds. While the number of civilian fire deaths in the U.S. has decreased by 54 percent from 7,395 in 1977 to 3,390 in 2016, fire still claimed nine lives a day and caused almost $11 billion in direct property damage.

Pauley explains how the Institute will help elected officials understand and navigate these issues through analysis and recommended policy approaches designed to protect citizens. He refers to recent situations where some combination of code adoption, enforcement and awareness efforts were woefully inadequate for one reason or another, resulting in tragedy. These include the Oakland Ghost Ship fire, which killed 36 people; the London Grenfell apartment fire, which took the lives of nearly 80 people; and a number of recent fires in buildings under construction.

“It takes a full fire prevention and protection system to reduce loss, and either intentionally or unintentionally that system has been broken. And the public, who believes this system exists and relies on it, has been let down,” Pauley says. “We can do better.”

Meghan Housewright is the director of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute

As the new director of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute, Housewright is moving quickly to establish the Institute and is targeting projects that will help inform  policymakers. She acknowledges the importance of building codes in helping the institute save lives. “Building codes are  are indispensable for providing  fire and life safety,” she says. “Coupled with properly adopted and enforced fire and life safety codes, these documents work together to minimize the impact from fire.”

According to Housewright, preventing fire means working to control or limit the ignition sources. “Adoption of NFPA 70, for example, insures the installation of a safe electrical system infrastructure thereby all but eliminating electricity as a source of ignition,” she notes. “Should a fire still occur, building and life safety code provision such as passive requirements, including fire walls and use of  fire-tested materials, slow the spread of fire or reduce the likelihood of significant fire growth. Active measures, like fire alarms, provide notice, and enable people to escape.”

Housewright points out the crucial role of automatic fire sprinklers, required in the NFPA codes such as NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 as well as the IBC and the IRC. “Fire sprinklers can greatly reduce the severity of a fire and provide occupants with more time to escape,” she says. “Access to exits through design of the egress systems ensures that occupants will have safe routes to the exterior of the structure should a fire occur.”

Housewright has an ambitious agenda for the new institute. “Out of the gate, we’re focusing closely on the concept of the ‘safety eco-system’ or the ‘fire prevention and protection eco-system,’” she says. “The eco-system is an umbrella concept to describe the laws, regulations, and policies that are key to supporting fire and life safety. It includes keeping the most current codes and the requirements in these codes in force and supporting a skilled workforce that can confidently interpret and carry out code requirements. It also includes a strong system of code enforcement as well as an active public education program to ensure the public understands the risk of fire and can take action to stay safe.”

In the end, says Housewright, the institute wants to make sure policymakers understand how each of the eco-system components are important in carrying out the overall goal of keeping people safe: “We want to identify best practices, like adopting the most current version of codes, that strengthen safety.”

To learn more, visit NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute.