A Jar of Honey

The shear magnitude of our fire fatalities and economic losses year after year, should remind us all that Americans deserve better.

For example, a few months ago at the International Code Council (ICC) code hearings in Rochester, despite being short of the 2/3 required majority, we received 56% of the votes in support for the residential fire sprinkler proposal. That was indeed a great accomplishment attesting to the success of our efforts. I believe that the opposing 44% of building officials in Rochester were not our enemies, but our public servant peers; who at that particular moment in time, and on this particular issue, happen not to see eye to eye with us. Then for us to succeed, we must pursue our efforts relentlessly and participate in the code development process even more vigorously.

What else can we do to bring about the support of the remaining building officials in the ICC to support our efforts? Well, maybe we should also be looking at it from their point of view, and see what we can do to help them with their efforts. Why can't we scratch their backs and help them, and then have them helping us? After all, as public servants, regardless of being building official or fire chiefs, we are in it together to build for a safer environment and protect our communities.

After all, if it is all about the safety of our public we are tasked to protect, then why don't we put all our differences asides and work together, not only locally (which we tend to do well most of the times), but even more importantly nationally?

Here is an example. We in the fire service have the national Fire Prevention Week every October. And the building officials have their Building Safety Week every May. But why two separate events? These are basically the same safety concepts and principles, and yet we have them separately, six months apart. Why? How many of us on the fire service side have formally participated in the Building Safety Week events locally? And by the same token, how many of the building officials have done the same and participated in the Fire Prevention Week events in their local jurisdictions? Why should we be divided, when we both serve the same master, the public?

These are the core questions that both the fire chiefs and building officials need to evaluate in detail and answer. This is about both of us all, building officials and fire chiefs. We must recognize our professional obligation to work together in full cooperation with the common goal of reducing our annual national fire fatalities and fire losses that burden our nation. The shear magnitude of our fire fatalities and economic losses year after year, should remind us all that Americans deserve better than what we have been offering them.

This is more than the sophomoric quarrels and the code development skirmishes that has existed for the last eight years between NFPA and ICC. As a proud member of both these organizations, and as an end-user, I do blame them both equally for dividing us and imposing such a tremendous gap upon us. But then even though magnified by this unfortunate code development competition, the gap between the fire chiefs and building officials was present even before then.

In their various publications ICC has identified the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as one of their four "strategic partners". I think it is indeed great to have a very good, civilized and professional relationship between the enforcement agency regulating the industry, and the industry being regulated by the enforcers. But then fathoming a strategic alliance between a regulator and regulatee, is a tad awkward, isn't it? And then, what strategy is it based on, and at what price?

Installation of residential fire sprinkler in all new homes would not have any financial impact at all on the building officials. If they don't have a horse in this race, then why should they oppose it, especially, considering that they would have safer communities? Then how else could the opposition of 44% of the building officials to the residential fire sprinkler proposal be interpreted; other than they did not want to "upset the apple cart" and adversely impact NAHB, their "strategic partner", who has a vested interest in their opposition to mandating the residential fire sprinkler requirement?

Quite naturally, as a business, just like thousands of others across the country, NAHB's strategic goal as a trade organization is to increase productivity, reduce costs, and increase profit margins for their members. And, naturally, they want to do it with the least amount of governmental intervention, restrictions, and regulations as possible. That is normal, and is expected of any industry in our country that is regulated by any national standards. What would be strange though, is if their strategy, some how dominated the strategy of their regulators. Wouldn't it?