Welcome to this edition of IAAI’s CFITrainer.Net® podcast. Today, we get a look inside the process of revising NFPA 921 and NFPA 1033, two key NFPA documents that impact the fire investigation profession.
The revision of these documents coincided in the 2014 NFPA standards revision cycle. This gave the two technical committees the unique opportunity to coordinate with each other during the revision process. There are a number of very important changes in the 2014 editions of NFPA 921 and 1033. CFITrainer.Net® has prepared a module, it will be released soon, and it highlights the most significant changes. We encourage you to take that module so you will be up-to-date.
On the podcast today, we asked the chairs of the NFPA 921 and NFPA 1033 committees to give you insight into how the revisions are prepared. Joining us are Randy Watson, who’s the Chair of the NFPA Technical Committee on Fire Investigations, which develops NFPA 921, and George Wendt, Chair of the Technical Committee on Fire Investigation Professional Qualifications, which develops NFPA 1033. Let’s start with Randy.
ROD AMMON: So, Randy, thanks for being here. Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
RANDY WATSON: I grew up in the fire service and law enforcement, and the last 30+ years, I’ve been on the private sector doing fire and explosion investigations, and I’m currently a senior fire investigator for SEA Limited and also manage our Atlanta regional office.
ROD AMMON: What’s your role with the NFPA 921 committee?
RANDY WATSON: For over 20 years, I’ve been a member of the NFPA 921 committee, and since January of 2008, I’ve been the chairman of that committee.
ROD AMMON: Give us a little insight into how NFPA 921 is developed, and what is the role in of the committee in revising the document?
RANDY WATSON: There’s a lot of misconceptions about how 921 is developed or any NFPA standard. NFPA has a standard making process, which all documents have to follow. As part of that, the committee, which is made up of 31 people from different backgrounds to keep the committee balanced from fire service, law enforcement, public sector, and that committee evaluates public comments and public proposals that come in from anyone, and then the committee gives very careful consideration to each proposal that comes in and to what’s the best interest of the industry to promote fire investigation. The committee has to evaluate each proposal and then make a decision on that proposal, and that’s a consensus decision. It’s not unanimous, but it has to be at least two-thirds vote for anything to go into the document. So, there’s careful consideration to everything that goes into the document to continue improving and raising the bar of fire investigation.
ROD AMMON: So, what kind of suggestions does the committee receive, and what’s considered from the public?
RANDY WATSON: It’s very funny. We get recommendations to delete a chapter, or we may get a recommendation to add a complete chapter, and then virtually everything in between, to even editorial. We will get a proposal from someone that will say you left out a comma in the sentence, but most of the changes now are very well thought out by the public. They understand the NFPA process, and they’re very well thought out. We also get recommendations or proposals from groups, committees to evaluate. One of the things we have seen in the last several years is proposals from organizations that may know or have special expertise about a given topic like the Society of Automotive Engineers. They may have some specific proposals for the vehicle fire chapter. So, we’re getting a lot more involvement, and it’s a lot better detail than we’ve ever gotten.
ROD AMMON: When you were developing or expanding content, where does the new development come from? How does the committee decide what should be added for the first time?
RANDY WATSON: When - at the beginning of a cycle, and 921 is in a three-year cycle, we have a new document every three years, as a chairman, I call a meeting, and we discuss the future of the document. If there is a new chapter that the committee is interested in, we will discuss it. If we feel there is sufficient interest, then I will establish a task group. I will appoint a task group chair. That task group is responsible for developing the text, and the task group is made up not only of just committee members but from people outside the committee that may have special interest. When we revised the wildfire chapter, most of that task group was made up of non-committee members who have special expertise in wildfire investigation. That task group develops the text, finds the research, brings all of that back to the full committee. The full committee addresses it, reviews it, revises it, and then votes on it to be added to the document. So, it’s a fairly lengthy process. It goes on over a few years, and we try to bring in people that have special expertise for a given topic.
ROD AMMON: By this point, NFPA 921 continues to have a tremendous influence on the professional and legal community for fire investigators. Give us an idea of the weight in the committee’s revision decisions.
RANDY WATSON: That’s probably more so now than ever before. Many years ago when the Daubert decision came down, and it began being applied to fire investigation, we realized there was more legal scrutiny on fire investigation than ever before. Judges are using 921 as a standard of care in evaluating expert testimony and to determine if the testimony is reliable. So, everything we do within the committee, we have realized that tremendous scrutiny is being given to fire investigation and the legal community is using 921 as a measuring stick to determine if that particular investigation or testimony measures up. And so, we give careful consideration, knowing the implications to the investigator and the profession that the decisions we make will have on the fire investigation community.
ROD AMMON: So, what happens to public comments after they are submitted?
RANDY WATSON: Every proposal that comes in goes to NFPA. NFPA assigns it a proposal number. They document it, and then all of those proposals, regardless of the number, and sometimes we’ve had as many as 3 and 400 proposals, come to the committee. The committee is required by the NFPA process to discuss and evaluate each and every proposal regardless of what it calls for, and then the committee must vote on each and every proposal. And so, the - each proposal, there is a record that it’s been submitted by a person or organization. It’s recorded in the minutes that the proposal was considered, has recorded what the committee action was, and the committee has to give a reason for our actions. Unless we just straight accept what a proposal is, the committee has to give a explanation or substantiation as to why the committee took the action that it took.
ROD AMMON: Thanks Randy. The NFPA 1033 committee follows the same NFPA codes and standards revision process as the 921 committee. George Wendt, chair, is here to explain how they evaluate proposed revisions. George, give us a little bit of your background.
GEORGE WENDT: I’m a fire investigator with Travelers Insurance Company and the technical committee chairman for the NFPA 1033 committee on fire investigator professional qualifications. I’m a retired major crimes detective, specializing in fire and arson investigation from Morris County, New Jersey, and I’ve been on a technical committee for NFPA 1033 for about 10 years.
ROD AMMON: What is the role of the NFPA 1033 committee, and what is the revision process?
GEORGE WENDT: Each revision cycle, the committee, which represents every facet of the fire investigation industry, gets together and with the goal of analyzing the document front to back looking to make it better. Part of that process is proposals and comments that are submitted by the users, the customers, the members of the fire investigation community. And, during that process, there’s a lot of deliberation and give and take from people wanting to make sure that what we’re going to include in a document or what we’re going to take out of the document is appropriate and that the document represents the minimum basic qualifications for a professional fire investigator.
ROD AMMON: How does the public participate in the revision process?
GEORGE WENDT: Well, you don’t have to be a fire investigator, and you don’t even have to be a NFPA member to participate in the process. Once the revision cycle is announced, anyone can submit proposals to add to the document, revise information already in the document, or to take information out of the document. Each one of those comments is dealt with individually by the committee. Each one of those submissions are looked at thoroughly and deliberated, and the committee takes action that they feel will best represent the fire investigation industry as a whole.
ROD AMMON: What kind of guide does the committee use in considering changes?
GEORGE WENDT: Specifically for 1033, the major question is, is this information that’s necessary for the fire investigator to determine the origin and cause of a fire? Are these the qualifications that that individual would need to be able to render that opinion? If it’s not, then it doesn’t go into the document.
ROD AMMON: So, George, why is the NFPA 1033 and the changes made to the 2014 edition important to fire investigators?
GEORGE WENDT: 1033 is important to the fire investigator because it represents the minimum qualifications that a fire investigator should have before he conducts a fire or explosion investigation. This will become important when they go to court. The judge, who will be the gatekeeper in determining whether an opinion is going to be offered by that investigator, will measure that investigator against the basic qualifications in 1033. If you don’t meet those qualifications, you stand a very good chance of having your opinion disallowed, and your testimony won’t be heard.
ROD AMMON: Thank you George. And Randy, where can podcast listeners go to if they want more information about how the codes and standards revision process works and how they can participate?
RANDY WATSON: The best place is to go to the NFPA website, which is nfpa.org. There, you can download the information on the NFPA process. You can get proposal forms. There’s also proposal and comment forms on the back of every NFPA document, and then you can submit those documents, and they eventually come to the committee. So, anyone, regardless if you’re a member of NFPA or not, can participate in the NFPA process, and their website gives detailed information on how to be a part of that.
ROD AMMON: Excellent, and thanks Randy. On this podcast page, we’ve provided direct links to the most pertinent information on NFPA’s website.
Please remember to check out the new module called "NFPA 921 and NFPA 1033 2014 Editions: Important Revisions Affecting Fire Investigators" to learn more about the changes that will affect you as a fire investigator.
That concludes this podcast. Stay safe, and we’ll see you next time. For the IAAI and CFItrainer.Net®, I’m Rod Ammon.
NFPA Codes & Standards Development Process
NFPA 1033: Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigators document page
NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations document page