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Fire standards include input from many points of view


National Fire Protection Assn. codes and standards that often govern building safety typically evolve from a very formalized yet "open consensus-based process," said Christian Dubay, NFPA vp and chief engineer in Quincy, Mass.

Anyone can submit proposals on, for example, the type of sprinkler systems that should be installed in certain types of buildings, when the NFPA calls for proposals, he said.

But a host of experts sitting on NFPA technical committees weigh in on or draw up their own recommendations before voting on whether a proposal can proceed.

Even after committees of experts help shape proposals by submitting a report, the NFPA takes public comment on the committees' work. The committees then meet anew to act on the public recommendations.

Further scrutiny ensues and includes NFPA members voting on whether to adopt a proposal. There is also an appeals process before the NFPA Standards Council finally decides whether to publish recommendations.

Experts from various industries and consumer groups serve on the NFPA's review committees, Mr. Dubay said. That way the codes and standards are balanced and a particular interest group, such as insurers, can't dictate their final form, Mr. Dubay explained.

State and federal regulators rely on the NFPA's work to set their building and safety codes, Mr. Dubay said.

But sometimes new methods for suppressing fires evolve before the NFPA can give them their blessing, said Rodney Marchand, property risk manager for International Paper Co. in Memphis, Tenn.

A fire safety research unit, such as the Fire Technology Laboratory operated by Johnston, R.I.-based Factory Mutual Insurance Co., which does business as FM Global, might be two years ahead of the NFPA in finding effective methods for protecting buildings, Mr. Marchand said.

In such cases, Mr. Marchand might adopt the new methods just as soon as FM Global gives its blessing. Mr. Marchand is insured by FM Global and participates in FM Global's Risk Management Executive Council.