Flashpoint: NFPA Committees

One of the primary missions of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is to formulate health and safety standards. The term “standard” includes various technical words that prescribe rules, guidelines, best practices, specifications, test methods, design or installation procedures, and the like. The size, scope, and subject matter of standards vary widely, ranging from lengthy model building or electrical codes to narrowly scoped test methods or product specifications. In the sprinkler industry, NFPA 13, NFPA 14, NFPA 20, and NFPA 25 are the most often referenced standards we use, but there are plenty more,

AFSA’s membership consists of contractors, suppliers, manufacturers, designers, and Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs). Each of these categories brings a unique perspective to our association. What unites them is the desire to protect life and property from the devastations of fire. Our members provide services or products which directly benefit this goal. AFSA currently serves on 53 NFPA technical committees. We have 34 staff and volunteers who serve our interests on 120 seats. Standards developed by NFPA are “voluntary consensus standards,” created through procedures accredited for their consensus decision-making, openness, balance of interests represented, and fairness by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Because of its credibility and reach, NFPA can attract thousands of volunteer experts to serve on its standards drafting committees.

AFSA’s involvement in the NFPA standard-making process has produced measurable results for its membership. AFSA’s Board of Directors is actively aware and directly involved in our NFPA involvement. NFPA activity is a major emphasis for the Engineering & Technical Services Department. AFSA wants to be on the cutting edge of NFPA standards, and the only way to do this is to be active in the process. This takes resources, but the results are self-evident.

I want to share how NFPA classifies technical committee members to ensure the technical committees are balanced and no one interest can control the process. The guidelines are for use by the NFPA Standards Council and the staff to assist in complying with the Regulations Governing the Development of NFPA Standards. The following classifications apply to committee members and represent their principal interest in the activity of the technical committee.

Manufacturer (M): A representative of a maker or marketer of a product, assembly, or system, or portion thereof, that is affected by the standard.
User (U): A representative of an entity that is subject to the provisions of the standard or that voluntarily uses the standard.
Installer/Maintainer (I/M): A representative of an entity that is in the business of installing or maintaining a product, assembly, or system affected by the standard.
Labor (L): A labor representative or employee concerned with safety in the workplace.
Applied Research/Testing Laboratory (R/T): A representative of an independent testing laboratory or independent applied research organization that promulgates and/or enforces standards.
Enforcing Authority (E): A representative of an agency or an organization that promulgates and/or enforces standards.
Insurance (I): A representative of an insurance company, broker, agent, bureau, or inspection agency.
Consumer (C): A person who is or represents the ultimate purchaser of a product, system, or service affected by the standard but who is not included in (2).
Special Expert (SE): A person not representing (1) through (8) and who has special expertise in the scope of the standard or portion thereof.

All the technical seats AFSA holds are classified as an Installer/Maintainer category. While I fully understand this designation, our membership is much more diverse. In my humble opinion, we should be offered the chance to hold Manufacturer, Labor, and Enforcing Authority seats. This would allow AFSA to select individuals from our membership who provide a perspective from their interest categories. For example, AFSA’s apprenticeship series and training programs are first-rate and well attended. We teach apprentices, fitters, and technicians every day. This training also includes safety in the workplace. AFSA has asked NFPA’s Standards Council for additional representations under different classifications. We are awaiting their response, and I will let our membership know their reply.

Our working relationship with NFPA is outstanding. For example, AFSA member Steve Leyton, Protection Design Group, is the NFPA 14 chair, and Bob Caputo, AFSA President, is the NFPA 24 and NFPA 291 chair. I also sit on the Board of Trustees for NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation,

AFSA supports the NFPA mission and staff in any way we can. We have worked on task groups, certification program development, conference presentations, and many other functions. We consider NFPA an industry partner and encourage all of our members to be active NFPA members. Being an NFPA member allows you to have access to the greater fire protection mission and enables you to take active participation in the NFPA standard development process. We can represent your interests, but sometimes we need your voice to accomplish what the AFSA membership desires. Being an NFPA member allows us to count on your voice in the NFPA process. The annual $175 cost could easily be paid back tenfold. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John August Denhardt, P.E., FSFPE, is vice president of engineering & technical services for the American Fire Sprinkler Association. He can be reached via email at jdenahrdt@firesprinkler.org.

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