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.

On their website, ICC has identified their values, their vision of "protecting the health, safety, and welfare of people by creating better buildings and safer communities", and mission "providing the highest quality codes, standards, products, and services for all concerned with the safety and performance of the built environment". Based on their official mission and vision statements and strictly from a public servant's perspective tasked with enhancing fire and life safety and protecting our communities, I believe that ICC can be a natural partner and strategic ally for the fire service. Again, we serve the same master, the public.

As it is in life, if you ignore your partner long enough, he or she might eventually stray; and that applies to the organizations too. And I think that building officials have strayed. But then I don't blame them if they ask us, what have you done for us lately? In this affair on the other hand, NAHB has spent tremendous amount of time, efforts, and resources to flourish this courtship with ICC.

Creating that strategic partnership is the responsibility of both sides. But, I ask my peers in the fire service, how much effort have we focused on creating that strategic partnership? In recent years, the Fire and Life Safety Section (FLSS) of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has taken great strides to bridge this gap between the fire service and the building officials. But we need to do a lot more to bring the building officials back to our corner.

I believe that it is only through better communication and cooperation between the fire chief and the building officials, at all levels, that we can strive for a safer community. We should support their efforts to improving safety, and they should support ours.

With that said, here is a prime example of how we in the fire service, might be able to assist the building officials at the national level. In the April 2007, issue of the Building Safety Journal, in an article titled "Connecting the Dots on Capitol Hill," ICC's CEO, Richard Weiland, explained that "the centerpiece of this year's legislative agenda is a proposal to create a National Code Administration Grant Program". He then further elaborates his concepts and the reasoning behind it.

"Many of us have long believed in the economic benefits of both modern and effective enforcement, and now the value of spending to mitigate damage and loss from natural disasters has been scientifically measured. A recent report from the National Institute of Building Sciences shows, quite dramatically, that for each dollar spent on mitigation, society saves an average of four dollars in response and recovery costs. A national program that authorizes federal competitive grants to provide capital resources to local code enforcement offices is clearly in the best interests of our country and every community in it. Too often, especially in smaller jurisdictions, there simply are not sufficient resources to support robust enforcement of building and safety codes. A grant program like the one the Code Council is proposing can help create self-sustaining local initiatives".

And then in then in the June 2007 Issue of the Building Safety Journal it was stated "In more than 130 meetings on Capitol Hill with Congressional offices, Council leaders promoted the proposal that would provide federal grants to building departments to enhance their code enforcement capabilities".

Why don't we in the fire service put all our legislative muscle and support on the Capitol Hill behind the building officials' national legislative efforts? Who, besides the occupants, would benefit from better code enforcement, well inspected and safer buildings? Our firefighters do. Buildings are our real work environment when we are fighting fires. And we do deserve to have a safer work environment. Remember our nine brothers in Charleston who were killed fighting a fire in a box store.

Why not support the building officials? Wouldn't that be a great national gesture of cooperation between us public servants? Then, wouldn't that generate a mutual understanding of fire safety concerns and cooperation between the two sides? It should be clear that diplomacy and negotiation in this case is definitely feasible and would benefit both sides. But then, even more importantly, the real benefactors are our citizens and our communities all across the country.

In the fire service we are brought up rigid, with strict adherence to our SOPs on how we respond and address various situations; and we have also a tendency to stick to our traditional approaches. At the leadership level though, we need to analyze the situation and determine the most appropriate strategy and tactical approach to address the problem.