By Robert Tutterow
This year’s Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) did not disappoint with the number of exhibitors and attendees. However, one very disconcerting thing was seeing several items of personal protective equipment (PPE) that were not compliant with the applicable National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard. This was particularly true with gloves, hoods, and footwear. Perhaps more disturbing were manufacturers offering a choice in products-some of which were NFPA-compliant and some of which were not NFPA-compliant.
A fire department has a moral and legal obligation to purchase NFPA-compliant items. All firefighting PPE is required to be third-party tested and certified. PPE is life safety equipment, and the third party certification means the product has been manufactured to design and performance standards that the fire service has determined to be acceptable. Whoa-did I say the fire service made that determination? Yes. Technically, the minimum standards are developed by the NFPA standards development process. However, in actuality, they are driven by the fire service.
Many people are quick to say that NFPA standards are manufacturer-driven. Having served on three NFPA technical committees and one NFPA correlating committee, I can say with absolute certainty that the fire service is the driver in standards development and revision. This is especially true with controversial issues. Once the fire service reaches agreement on an issue in a standard, almost all the nonfire service voting members will quickly fall in line. The real struggle is getting the fire service to reach a consensus opinion.
Not Out of Reach
One encounter with a vendor at FDIC was particularly revealing. This person accused the NFPA of penalizing the fire service with NFPA 1801, Standard on Thermal Imagers for the Fire Service (2013 ed.). The sales representative blasted the technical committee for setting requirements that were pricing the thermal imagers out of reach for most fire departments. He went on to say that the new prices were higher than what is allowed by the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
Serendipitously, I ran into the former chair and another member of the NFPA technical committee, who were part of the NFPA 1801 revision, shortly after my encounter with the thermal imager vendor. I shared this story with them, both of whom are fire service people. They were quick to dismiss the vendor’s comments. In fact, they said the new pricing is not nearly as high as the sale representative was claiming it is. Both of these technical committee members were well aware of all the thermal imagers currently on the market.
Buyers, beware of salespeople blaming price increases on NFPA standards. There is no doubt that establishing minimum standards will likely increase the price of a product. For example, Gary Handwerk’s article from the August 2008 edition of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment underscores this point. NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Apparatus (2009 ed.), was about to be released with many new safety requirements. Some were speculating that the changes would add as much as $20,000 to the cost of a fire apparatus. Handwerk did an item-by-item breakdown of the new requirements and found the cost to be about $8,000. By the way, have you noticed the reduction in firefighter line-of-duty deaths from apparatus accidents in the past few years?
As Mark Twain said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” When it comes to fire equipment-verify the information you receive, and always be informed.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).