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Fire Protection Research and Beyond: The Next 25 Years
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Issue 30: Fire Protection Research and Beyond: The Next 25 Years
An Update of the Current Trends and Activities at the Fire Protection Research Foundation

By Casey C. Grant, P.E., FSFPE

Now in its second quarter century of service, the Fire Protection Research Foundation continues to identify and facilitate research initiatives important to the fire protection engineering community. Activity at the Foundation remains high, with multiple projects of direct interest to SFPE members.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation is an independent charitable organization established in 1982 with a mission to plan, manage and communicate research in support of the NFPA mission. The NFPA mission, in turn, is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards.

Over the past five years, the Foundation has developed active research programs in areas corresponding with major NFPA technical committee projects. These are:

  • Detection and signaling;
  • Electrical safety;
  • Fire suppression;
  • Firefighter protective clothing and equipment;
  • Firefighting tactics;
  • Hazardous materials/commodity storage; and
  • Transportation.

Major research projects have been undertaken in each of these areas. These address the needs of NFPA Technical Committees and others and provide technical information in support of issues important to them. These projects cover a range of topics, from research supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on fire fighter protective clothing and equipment and fire fighting tactics, to industry-supported research to determine hazards associated with storage of commodities and associated automatic sprinkler protection, to advancing the understanding of fire and smoke detection and the long-term performance of electrical safety equipment. A complete list of existing projects and recent reports is available at www.nfpa.org/foundation.

There are several ways that SFPE members can participate with Foundation activities. First, anyone who would like to receive and consider research RFPs can advise Foundation staff and have their email address added to the Foundation's vendor list. As an alternative, oversight guidance for each Foundation project is provided by a panel of volunteer subject matter experts, and this provides another opportunity for participation. Finally, each year the Foundation holds technical symposia like the SUPDET conference (held annually in February addressing suppression and detection), and this is likewise of interest to SFPE members.

What are the emerging trends in the world of fire protection? Some insight on this inherently elusive question was recently addressed by the Foundation in conjunction with its celebration last year of its 25th anniversary.

 

Throughout 2008, the Foundation convened a series of meetings to learn from members of NFPA Technical Committees, staff, and leadership about the strategic issues likely to affect future fire safety. The goal was to identify key emerging challenges for NFPA documents and how the Foundation might structure itself to develop research information to help address those challenges.

One result is a research agenda designed to focus and set priorities for the Foundation's research program in the near term and to ensure that it is meeting the emerging research needs of NFPA technical committees and other constituents. This initiative evolved with conversation focused on three strategic themes:

  • The changing demographics of society;
  • New materials and technology that are being introduced; and
  • Increasing concern about sustaining natural resources.

A key part of this initiative was a symposium in Washington DC on 17-18 November 2008. Aptly titled "Fire Protection and Safety: the Next 25 Years," nearly 150 leaders from within the fire protection community and beyond shared ideas on the broad challenges that are faced, with a special focus on the three strategic themes. The attendees were challenged, and ultimately provided their perspectives on the key issues that will impact everyone in the fire safety community.

Specifically, the Symposium addressed each of the three strategic themes individually. First, the topic of "Social and Demographic Change" addressed urban growth patterns, demographic changes, and cultural and societal attitudes. The topic of "Changes in Materials and Technology" addressed new materials and new technology. The topic of "Changes in Environment, Energy, and Sustainability" addressed climate changes, aging infrastructure, declining energy and other natural resources, and environmental sustainability. A full report on the Foundation's website (www.nfpa.org/foundation) summarizes the symposium and provides specific details on important issues that will likely be faced in the coming years.

 

Another deliverable from this forward-looking exercise has been a collection of input to determine how the Foundation should shape its near-term research priorities. This has resulted in a research agenda comprised of seven primary thrust areas. These are a subset of the broader issues identified from the "Next 25 Year" symposium, and they are being considered by the Foundation in conjunction with multiple other applicable factors such as: Foundation/NFPA mission; Foundation's structure and capabilities; current interest of Foundation's supporters and stakeholders; and importance of addressing emerging issues for NFPA Technical Committees. The seven primary thrust areas are:
  • Assessing the hazards of changing building furnishings, storage contents, and configurations;
  • Developing performance criteria for advanced fire detection and suppression systems;
  • Determining performance issues for advanced firefighting equipment and tactics to ensure that they meet the real needs of first responders;
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of fire and electrical safety systems as they age in place;
  • Developing guidance on the fire and electrical safety infrastructure needed for alternative fuels and energy sources;
  • Analyzing fire safety strategies for the growing aging and disabled population; and
  • Developing fire protection strategies within the context of environmental considerations.

The next 25 years will certainly include change, and, based on the accelerating factors influencing demographics, urban growth patterns, material and technological development, environment, energy and sustainability, it is likely that this change will be significant. The fire protection and safety community will need to adapt and keep pace with this change. By doing so, it will be able to readily address the challenges of tomorrow.

Casey Grant is with the Fire Protection Research Foundation.


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