NFPA World Fire Safety Congress & Exposition(tm): May 14-17

More than 6.500 security and fire professionals elevated their knowledge by traveling to the Mile High City to attend the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) World Fire Safety Congress & Exposition(tm) May 14-17 at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center. The event included participants from 40 countries, a record 85 educational sessions and exhibits spread across more than 175,000 square feet of floor space.

Highlights included the General Session—which featured entertainment by the Colorado Springs Firefighters Pipes and Drums, awards presentations, and speeches by NFPA President George D. Miller and James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—several fascinating seminars, a myriad of exciting products and a dinner party with entertainment by country band Diamond Rio.

In the General Session, Miller expressed his appreciation toward outgoing NFPA Chair Chief Herman Brice before providing attendees with an overview of NFPA matters. The heart of his presentation revolved around the organization’s effort to develop building codes. “We heard from you, and others like you, who believe it is important to have a building code and a comprehensive set of codes that developed in a truly open consensus process,” Miller said. “I’m standing here before you today to tell you that I believe NFPA can and should develop a building code.”

One of the biggest announcements was that Miller and Witt signed a commitment for NFPA and FEMA to work collaboratively to provide the public with the best hazard protection available. In his keynote speech, Witt said, “That agreement encompasses more than a memorandum, it embodies a mission. We have agreed to share information. But more important than that, we have joined to pursue an ideal. The mission is safety. The ideal is service. Together, we can build a new millennium of disaster preparedness on the foundation of NFPA’s century of prevention.”

Awards were handed out in four categories. Dr. James A. Milke, associate professor of fire protection at the University of Maryland won the Harry C. Bigglestone Award for excellence in communication. The President’s Award was given to a team of fire safety professionals from Michigan: Fire Marshal Ron Farr; Tony Sanfilippo, director of the Office of Fire Safety; and Christy Baird, executive secretary of the Michigan State Fire Safety Board. Robert Nelson of Industrial Risk Insurers received the Standards Medal. Finally, the Paul C. Lamb Award, established in 1980 to honor NFPA members whose service characterize the height of voluntary spirit and deed, was given to retired West Virginia Fire Marshal Walter Smittle III.

One of the hottest seminar topics was performance-based codes. Two sessions that addressed this developing area were “Performance-Based Codes – The Impact on Users” and “Performance-Based Structural Fire Protection Design.” The former provided insight into the need for performance-based codes and the process of coordinating the efforts of architects, engineers, building owners and fire code officials. The session produced a lively question-and-answer portion. “Documentation is key, yet no one has the responsibility for that,” said panelist Charles Yaunches of Bell Atlantic Corp. The latter seminar, presented by James A. Milke, the associate professor of fire protection at the University of Maryland and winner of the Harry C. Bigglestone Award, and graduate student Anthony Colletto, was more technical and outlined a standard on calculation methods for structural fire protection. The material was recently published by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“A Historic Look at Smoke Alarm Technology and Public Behavior” was another excellent seminar that provided an overview of home smoke detection and notification, public education messages, and the resulting effect on public behavior in emergencies. Speaker John Hall, Ph.D., NFPA assistant vice president, Fire Analysis and Research Division, managed to cover all of the material in less than an hour. Hall said that more than 1,000 lives are saved each year by smoke detectors in residences.

Exhibiting companies included ADI, Grinnell Fire Protection Systems Inc., Kidde-Fenwal, Radionics/Detection Systems Inc., SecurityLink from Ameritech, Silent Knight Fire Systems, Wheelock Inc. and many others. While the educational sessions were extremely well attended, several exhibitors expressed concern about the amount of foot traffic on the show floor. Some attributed the lackluster activity to the choice of venue, noting that Denver is not among the more popular destinations. Another theory was the timing of the event, which began on Mother’s Day.

The thousands who did make the trip were faced with unseasonably warm weather, as the mercury soared into the mid-80s. Many attendees took a break from the Convention Center by walking two blocks to the 16th Street Mall, which offered dozens of retail stores, souvenir shops and restaurants. Those who arrived early and/or stayed late were able to soak up more of the Denver experience. Popular attractions include the Coors Brewery, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, U.S. Mint, Six Flags Elitch Gardens Theme Park and the brand new Denver Aquarium. Sports enthusiasts had the option of seeing the Colorado Avalanche play hockey or the Colorado Rockies play baseball, while the Rocky Mountains were about a 90-minute drive away for nature-lovers.

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