Online submission makes it easier to connect and provide support to the NFPA’s international members and enforcing authorities.
NFPA’s technical questions service – commonly referred to as “advisory services” – provides access to NFPA technical staff for association members and enforcement groups referred to as authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) from all over the world. Users of the service can ask questions by phone or via online submission about any NFPA code or standard, and NFPA technical staff will answer them. A case can involve multiple questions, as well as the back-and-forth of follow-up correspondence with related questions.
It is encouraging to see the service get this kind of use, but it could be even greater, particularly as we provide more support to our international audiences. Last year alone, NFPA’s technical staff responded to 11,254 cases through the service. Our records indicate that 14 percent of those inquiries came from members outside the United States. As NFPA codes and standards gain formal use and, in some cases, adoption in different countries this service will continue to grow as a valuable tool for our members.
The technical questions service is well supported by customer relationship management (CRM) software. Permanent, searchable records are kept of all activity to help ensure that inquiries are directed to the appropriate staff member and do not go unanswered.
Members and AHJs who do not know about the service, or may be unclear about the method and guidelines for submitting questions, could be missing out on an important tool to help them do their jobs better. NFPA makes it clear that this is not a consultation service, but rather an effective way of better understanding the intent, scope, and detail of NFPA codes and standards.
Some members prefer to submit written questions rather than rely on a telephone conversation. This is the preferred method of our international members. Each method of interacting with staff has its benefits; however a written inquiry and its answer, can sometimes present less room for misunderstanding and the answer lives on for future reference.
In posting written inquiries, members should include, to the best of their abilities, the information that NFPA technical staff needs to understand the question. For example, an inquiry on NFPA 101, Life Safety Code will seldom be complete if the occupancy classification is omitted; a question applicable to a health care occupancy might elicit a different response than an identical question applicable to an industrial occupancy.
Plans and figures are not allowed to be submitted with members’ inquiries, as questions need to be kept generic to avoid falling into the category of consulting services. Carefully chosen words can substitute for visual elements and still keep the question generic. Where essential information is missing, the email reply from staff may ask for additional detail, lengthening the time it takes to provide a useful answer. All written responses carry a disclaimer advising that any opinion expressed is the personal opinion of NFPA staff and does not necessarily represent the official position of NFPA or its technical committees. The disclaimer also advises that the response is neither intended, nor should be relied upon, to provide professional consultation or services.
The technical questions service is well supported by customer relationship management (CRM) software. Permanent, searchable records are kept of all activity to help ensure that inquiries are directed to the appropriate staff member and do not go unanswered. The advisory program is labour intensive, and an answer prepared for one member might be useful to others; with that in mind, written questions and answers can be scrubbed of identifiers and used as the bases for handbook commentary and online pages of frequently asked questions.
We would like to encourage our international members to take full advantage of this membership benefit and consider our technical advisory services as they continue to utilise NFPA codes and standards in the design, construction and operation of buildings and facilities in their countries. Please visit the document information page for the code or standard you have questions about and click the “Technical Questions” tab.
For further information, go to www.nfpa.com