This summer, the media was consumed by the Grenfell Tower fire in London, where at least 80 people died. On its own, it was a horrendous tragedy; however, when you look at this incident and others collectively, it suggests a disturbing trend in fire and life safety worldwide.
One year ago we saw 36 people perish in the Oakland Ghost Ship fire, a warehouse being used as living and entertainment space. We learned about a packaging factory fire in Bangladesh that killed 23 in a building with woefully inadequate fire protection. We witnessed wildfires in Portugal and Northern California that were unrelenting, killing 64 people and 43 people, respectively. The destruction to property was astounding.
Today’s fire challenges are different. What has not changed is the fact that the public needs and relies on fire and life safety professionals to be there for them every single day – mitigating risk and addressing new threats.
It takes a full fire prevention and protection ecosystem to reduce loss, and either intentionally or unintentionally, that system has been broken. We need to prioritize fire and life safety in policy-making and invest in a complete fire prevention and protection infrastructure. As a result of pressure to reduce costs, a lack of knowledge or to avoid regulation, we see a Band-Aid approach to codes, standards, and safety.
When governments and other entities don’t adopt or use the latest versions of codes and standards, they lose the benefit of innovative technology, research, and collective wisdom. When authorities fail to review and follow standards that are referenced in the codes, they can’t ensure that the right practices and products are employed for optimal safety. When design, installation, enforcement, and maintenance professionals are not up-to-date on the latest requirements, they can improperly use products. When jurisdictions reduce enforcement efforts, they place their communities at risk. And when the public takes safety for granted, their actions can place them and others in peril.
Today’s global fire system is broken and a single solution isn’t the answer. We need to connect the dots on safety. At NFPA, we are focused on looking at the entire system and working with different stakeholders to help them do their jobs more effectively.
We may not be able to prevent every tragedy from occurring, but by recommitting to and promoting a full system of fire prevention, protection, and education, we can help save lives and reduce loss. This is the story that should consume the news of the day.
For information on exterior cladding and NFPA 285, the Standard Fire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of Exterior Non-Load-Bearing Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components, visit nfpa.org/exteriorwalls.
To learn more about preventing fire problems in buildings under construction and NFPA 241, the Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, visit nfpa.org/constructionfires.
For more information, go to nfpa.org
*The contents of this article originally appeared in the NFPA Journal® and in an NFPA blog at nfpa.org/xchange. Some details have been updated.