The Pauley File


  • President and CEO, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, Mass.
  • Senior vice president, external affairs, government relations, Schneider Electric.


  • Former chair roles with the American National Standards Institute.
  • Former chair roles with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.
  • Former chair roles with the National Fire Protection Association.
  • IEEE/NFPA Arc Flash Research Project Steering Committee and member of IEEE Standards Association Board of Governors.
  • University of Kentucky Engineering Hall of Distinction.
  • Standards Engineering Society Fellow.


  • Bachelor’s degree, electrical engineering, University of Kentucky.

Jim Pauley is the president and CEO of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a global, self-funded nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. This month, he discusses the NFPA’s history and future as the association celebrates its 125th anniversary.

What are some of the major strides the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has made in health care? 

We have seen fires in health care settings greatly reduced over the last century. Incidents at Cleveland Clinic in 1929, St. Anthony’s Hospital in 1949, Mercy Hospital in 1950 and Hartford Hospital 60 years ago all led to code changes and the healthcare industry widely embracing NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, in the 1960s. 

As our seminal research report “Fire Safety in the United States since 1980: Through the Lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem” shows, codes and standards; policies; and fire protection systems have been instrumental in safety. From 1980 to 1984, U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 7,100 hospital fires; today, that number is 1,100. Smoking bans have reduced the number of fires started by smoking materials from 35% to 5%. Back in the 1980s, automatic extinguishing equipment was present in fewer than half the reported hospital fires; today, sprinklers are present in nearly four out of five hospital fires. Sprinklers were first mandated in new hospitals and nursing homes in the 1991 edition of NFPA 101 and in existing nursing homes in the 2006 edition. Currently, existing non-sprinklered hospitals must install sprinklers when they undergo major rehabilitation projects.

What are some of the key initiatives and/or partnerships for NFPA today? 

NFPA is in the midst of a digital revolution so that we can continue to serve our global stakeholders for the next 125 years. Stakeholders today want to understand problems, identify solutions and access contextual information in real time via different devices. NFPA LiNK™ — the association’s information delivery platform with 325-plus NFPA codes and standards; supplementary content; and visual aids for fire, building, electrical and life safety practitioners — is changing the ways that standards are accessed and applied. Our digital-first strategy has led to expanded online training and certification solutions, NFPA Journal online, podcasts and videos that inform audiences about trends, technical topics and new threats.

How does NFPA help keep the health care field up to date with the latest codes, standards and best practices? 

Volunteers from 42 countries fill more than 9,000 technical committee seats and update our codes, standards and handbooks every three to five years to reflect new research, technical innovations, emerging issues and lessons learned. Each revision cycle proceeds according to a published schedule and includes four fundamental steps: public input, public comment, NFPA technical meeting and NFPA standards council action. During COVID-19, the standards development process persisted, and our efforts to add all documents to NFPA LiNK endured. 

In addition to our code development work, NFPA does several things to deliver recent, relevant information. For example, NFPA membership offers a dedicated section for those in health care so that individuals with common interests can connect. All NFPA members can submit questions to NFPA staff for interpretations of code requirements. We support the work of the Healthcare Interpretations Task Force, a group made up of health care authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and others with a goal of interpretating difficult code issues so that there is consistent enforcement of codes among health care AHJs. Top notch NFPA training programs and certifications are available for those interested in professional development. And, of course, there is the research that we do, in collaboration with the American Society for Health Care Engineering and others, to address emerging hazards.

What are the components of a fire safety ecosystem?

NFPA introduced the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™ in 2018. It is a framework that identifies eight interdependent components that must work together to reduce risk in the world. If an element is missing or broken, we can almost always trace the cause of life safety injuries, fatalities and tragedies back to the breakdown of one or more components of the ecosystem. Since 1970, hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory surgical centers and other medical facilities have needed to demonstrate that their fire and life safety programs satisfy different editions of NFPA 101. Then, five years ago, the bar was raised even higher. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) mandates related to NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code, and NFPA 101 are excellent examples of the government responsibility and codes and standards elements that we highlight in the ecosystem. Thanks to CMS requirements, health care facilities are also prioritizing safety across the board, requiring key personnel to be trained on facility risks, and ensuring that code compliance is a constant. This is great news. My only ask is for CMS to embrace more recent editions of these codes to keep pace with progress.

What have been some of the biggest challenges during the pandemic? 

Health care providers, code officials, trade workers, accrediting organizations and NFPA have been challenged to find quick, creative solutions while maintaining basic fire and life safety benchmarks. Collaboration is always essential, but during a global pandemic, it is even more critical. Hospitals and others have been dealing with overcrowding; mobilizing care; temporary sites; storage of the vaccine and an abundance of hand sanitizer; code compliance; inspection, testing and maintenance setbacks; staffing issues; and many other critical concerns. 

In response, we created fact sheets, white papers, podcasts, webinars, videos and relevant content on myriad topics, including the very low temperatures needed to store the vaccine, COVID-19 compliance considerations, and code modifications for health care and remote sites. We shared resources for health care and other focus areas on, including 14 NFPA codes and standards that have been instrumental as health care officials pivot throughout the pandemic. Some of the considerations addressed during COVID-19 may eventually make their way into future editions. 

How can professionals get involved in codes and standards development? 

I was actively involved in the NFPA standards development process for many years — providing input and comments, participating on committees and assuming leadership roles. It offered me invaluable exposure to all facets of the building, fire, electrical and life safety industries, and helped me greatly in my previous roles and as I lead NFPA today. 

Health facilities professionals can get involved in a variety of ways: NFPA membership, technical committee participation, and by providing perspective during the standards development process and engaging with others via our online community: NFPA Xchange.  

And, of course, there is our NFPA Conference & Expo (C&E), the largest annual conference of its kind for safety-focused influencers. C&E brings together forward-thinkers from around the globe and is unmatched in terms of networking and professional development. In 2022, we will be in Boston celebrating our 125th anniversary milestone and the ability to reconnect in person. We would love to see health facilities professionals there because we all play a role in safety.