Why does fire work?

NFPA head Shannon says it's all about the process and people
Saturday, July 1, 2006

ORLANDO--You don't have to be around the fire industry long before you hear comments that this industry moves slowly.
It's driven by codes, which, most agree, take considerable time to formulate. At the National Fire Protection Association World Safety Conference and Exposition here in June 4-8, Jim Shannon, chief executive officer and president of the NFPA told Security Systems News it's that labor intensive, deliberative, code-making process that makes the codes so valuable--and jurisdictions, including some foreign entities, interested in making them the rule of law.
Talking about NFPA 731, which has received much attention recently as the first NFPA standard to regulate the installation of security systems in commercial applications, Shannon said, "We proceeded slowly by design," he said. "Our system shouldn't work quickly; we operate on a consensus basis. We make decisions and use an approach where [components of a standard] are thoroughly thought out."
NFPA 731 is just one example of how NFPA codes are gaining wider acceptance--slowly but steadily--well beyond the realm of standard fire applications.
Shannon noted the interest that the Department of Homeland Security has taken in NFPA codes, having formally adopted several since its creation in 2002. In addition, both DHS and the 9-11 Commission believe that private sector businesses--which control 85 percent of the country's critical infrastructure--should look to NFPA's emergency preparedness standard [NFPA 1600] when they formulate their business continuity and emergency preparedness plans.
It's a combination of the process and those involved that produce good, useful standards, Shannon said.
"We have the right people sitting at the table," Shannon said. "We have representatives from manufacturers, installers, enforcement, and no single interest area can have more than one-third of the seats on a committee."
The NFPA, Shannon said, is a place where there's a "convergence of public policy with private enterprise." Shannon, who came to NFPA as general counsel in 1991 and became president in 2002, knows both the private and public sectors, having spent a chunk of his pre-NFPA career in public office, as a multi-term member of Congress and also as the Massachusetts Attorney General.
The NFPA's more than 7,000 volunteer members of technical committees may not move quickly, but they're "extraordinarily efficient" at churning out, on schedule, new and revised versions of the group's more than 300 standards, he said.
Some people "don't realize how easy it is to participate in the NFPA code-making process--to make a proposal, or come and argue for or against a proposal," he said. It's important, especially with consolidation in the fire industry, that "employers support their technical employees' participation in this process."
"Broad participation produces the right standards," Shannon said.