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As we will explain from the start, the answer to this question may be more meaningful if it were restated and asked of the entity that is the authority having
jurisdiction (AHJ): How does our AHJ treat the standards that are published by the NFPA and the ISO – as requirements or as guidelines?
The NFPA is a non-profit organization that, according to its website, has a mission to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards. While the standards developed by the NFPA are used to guide many aspects of fire department operations, they are not laws. And since they are not laws, they are not requirements. However, if the AHJ adopts an NFPA standard, then it could be argued the standards then become requirements. Absent the formal adoption by an AHJ, a fire department has no obligation to comply with a consensus standard.
This does not, however, absolve an AHJ from potential liability in the event something would go awry and an attorney representing the aggrieved would cite an NFPA standard as a nationally accepted best practice for whatever argument the attorney is advancing on behalf of the plaintiff. So even if the AHJ does not formally adopt an NFPA standard, that does not mean the standard may not be used as a means to judge a fire department’s compliance to a nationally accepted best practice as defined by an NFPA standard.
The best thing a fire department can do is to consult with its attorney to determine whether the AHJ should adopt a standard and to obtain an opinion on the potential liability for non-compliance. The decision to adopt or not adopt an NFPA standard rests with the AHJ. Where the fire department may be an independently operated entity, it may be the AHJ. If the fire department is a municipal department, the city is then the AHJ and makes the decision whether to adopt NFPA standards.
The ISO collects and maintains information about municipal fire protection efforts throughout the United States. The ISO analyzes data using its Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS). This results in the community receiving a Public Protection Classification (PPC) from 1 to 10. A classification of 1 is assigned to fire departments that are believed, by the ISO’s rating system, to provide superior property fire protection. A classification of 10 indicates the municipality’s fire suppression program does not meet the minimum criteria set by the ISO. According to the ISO’s website: “By classifying communities’ ability to suppress fires, ISO helps the communities evaluate their public fire-protection services. The program provides an objective, countrywide standard that helps fire departments in planning and budgeting for facilities, equipment, and training. And by securing lower fire insurance premiums for communities with better public protection, the PPC program provides incentives and rewards for communities that choose to improve their firefighting services.”
Like the NFPA, the standards set by the ISO are not law and therefore each AHJ has the opportunity to consciously decide how much deference it wishes to give to its ISO PPC rating. The decision as to what PPC a municipality obtains, or maintains, is one to be made by the AHJ. It is a recommended best practice that the goal for what PPC a municipality achieves or maintains is established with close consultation with the fire department. Each incremental improvement in the ISO PPC has an associated cost. This cost is not just to achieve the rating, but also the cost for ongoing maintenance of systems, equipment, staffing and training to keep the classification.