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Firefighter Safety Knows No Bounds

As the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) travels the world, while we may experience different cultures and approaches to the delivery of fire and rescue services, one common denominator can always be found, the dedication and commitment of the safety of its firefighters.

Last year, NFPA’s Guy Colonna, Division Manager Industrial & Chemical Engineering and I, presented at the China Fire Officer Conference held at the Shanghai Fire Academy. Invited by China’s Operation and Training Division, Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the Fire Officer Conference is an annual gathering of senior command officers from all around the country. More than 100 senior fire officers attended and an additional 50 participated through live transmission at this year’s conference, which focused on hazardous materials safety, lessons learned and best practices regarding response to hazardous materials incidents and emergency planning for such events.

During the discussion, NFPA shared how its Standards are utilised in the United States to enhance firefighter safety and reduce line of duty deaths and injuries during a hazardous materials incident; an important issue for the Chinese. NFPA also provided a perspective on the evolution of NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code and utilised three incidents to illustrate different tactical approaches and lessons learned.

Two ammonium nitrate explosions that resulted in dozens of responder deaths were among the examples. The first explosion involving a ship carrying ammonium nitrate in Texas City, Texas in 1947 killed 26 firefighters; the second, a bulk fertilizer storage facility explosion in West, Texas in 2013, resulted in 13 responders killed. Both of these explosions stand in stark contrast to the response of the Fire Department of New York in 2010 to a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in Times Square in New York City that resulted in zero responders killed or injured. As NFPA explained, the critical difference between these events was the ability of the fire service to recognise the danger early on, initiate a multi-agency response, and assume an operational posture that provided for civilian and responder safety.

Guy Colonna and I went on to illustrate how the U.S. Fire Service responds to hazardous materials incidents, explaining the typical training and operational structure for hazmat response. NFPA 472, Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction and NFPA 1620, Standard for Pre-Incident Planning were two of many NFPA Standards available to assist fire departments in planning and responding safely, creating a safer environment for firefighters to work, and assist in the reduction of firefighter deaths and injury from similar high-risk, low-frequency events.

Central to NFPA’s mission is the development of codes and standards to reduce the worldwide risk from fire and other related hazards. This includes the risk of death and injury during emergency operations shared by firefighters across the globe. NFPA is honoured to support the China Ministry of Public Security and its global partners in utilising NFPA Standards as a framework to reduce death and injury sustained by firefighters in the line of duty. When it comes to fire safety, NFPA Standards provide a common language where there are no geographical boundaries.

To view NFPA 472, Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents, please go to www.nfpa.org/472. To view NFPA 1620, Standard for Pre-Incident Planning, please go to www.nfpa.org/1620 

Kenneth R. Willette is Division Manager, Public Fire Protection at NFPA

Kenneth R. Willette is Division Manager, Public Fire Protection at NFPA

For further information, go to www.nfpa.com

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