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National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards have a significant impact on the fire service. Documents such as NFPA 1001, Standard for Firefighter Professional Qualifications, NFPA 1403, Standard on Live-Fire Training Evolutions, NFPA 1500, Standard on Occupational Safety and Health, and NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, are just a few of the many standards that the fire service uses as a basis for training, certification, and the acquiring of equipment.
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) strongly encourages all members of the fire service to be active in the development and review process for NFPA standards. Standards and codes are a key component of the NVFC’s B.E.S.T. practices for health and safety. The B.E.S.T. practices, which make up the NVFC’s Health and Safety Priorities, cover the four main focus areas of Behavior, Equipment, Standards and Codes and Training (see www.nvfc.org/health_safety).
Many wonder how NFPA standards come into existence or how they are revised. The purpose of this article is to help clarify how standards are written, by whom and how you, the user, can influence what goes into these documents.
Technical committees (TCs) for the various standards are formed consisting of volunteers – individually, representing an organization or having expertise and subject matter knowledge. NFPA balances the committee membership by selecting from various groups, including users, labor, manufacturers, installers, applied research, enforcing authorities, insurance, consumers and special experts. This is to preclude one section from dominating the group. Each TC has an NFPA staff liaison to ensure that the codes and standards development process is followed.
Existing standards are revised approximately every five years. The revision cycle takes about two years and involves a five-step process. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to offer input and can influence the revision during several steps within the cycle. Guiding principles for the NFPA codes and standards-making system include due process, openness and consensus. The following is a brief overview of the five-step process.
• Step 1 – Call for Proposals. A public notice is made approximately two years before the document revision is complete. The public is encouraged to submit proposals to the NFPA Standards Administration. You do not have to be a member of a TC to have your concern heard. The proposal must be on a proposal form available at www.nfpa.org. Proposals can seek to clarify, add or delete components of the standard. Proposals received after the proposal period has closed will be held until the next cycle.
• Step 2 – Report on Proposals (ROP). The submitter of the proposal does not need to be present at the ROP meeting. By process, the TC is required to consider and act on all proposals. Proposals can also be submitted by members of the TC at the ROP meeting.
The TC will review all proposals for merit and discuss the limited options available to the committee. Each proposal is voted on in terms of the actions by the committee: accept, reject, accept in principle, accept in part and accept in principle and in part. With the exception of the committee vote to accept, the TC must substantiate the reason for voting, which will become part of the ROP record. This is a simple-majority vote by members of the committee present that lets the proposal move to a “letter-ballot” (written ballot). It is not necessarily a reflection of the committee to accept the revision at this time. The letter-ballot is sent to all members of the committee after the ROP meeting is completed.
As part of the letter-ballot, TC members are balloted to accept, reject, accept in principle, accept in part or accept in principle and in part. With the exception of the committee vote to accept, the TC member must also substantiate the reason for voting. The actions of the TC and the results of the simple-majority vote and the two-thirds-majority letter-ballot vote are published as part of the ROP and made public on the NFPA website and in print. Anyone submitting a proposal receives a printed copy of the results.