How NFPA Committees Develop Codes

Published: December 9, 2012

Anyone who has spent time in the business of designing, installing, maintaining and monitoring fire alarm systems has come to realize they are regulated by codes and standards. The document used the most is NFPA 72, The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

NFPA 72 is not, however, the only document that governs fire alarm systems nor is NFPA the only organization that promulgates codes and standards associated with fire protection. This article covers the development process of fire protection codes and standards.

It All Tickles Down From ANSI

In the United States, the national organization that serves as the clearing house for most codes and standards is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI is the official U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Most countries are members of one if not both of these international organizations.

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ANSI accredits organizations as Accredited Standards Developers (ASDs). These ASDs promulgate standards of all types, to which fire protection is just a part. There are just fewer than 200 ASDs that produce about 10,000 ANSI standards at this time. All ASDs must follow the ANSI Essential Requirements for the development of American National Standards. The principles of the Essential Requirements are:

  • Consensus must be reached by representatives from materially affected and interested parties
  • Standards are required to undergo public review when any member of the public may submit comments
  • Comments for the consensus body and public review commenters must respond in good faith
  • An appeals process is required

The Essential Requirements follow international accepted principles of standardization that are used by ISO and IEC member states. Thus, the method of codes and standards development used in the United States is similar to those used in countries such as Germany, Australia, China, Russia and Brazil.

Role of NFPA Technical Committees

While most if not all installers of fire protection systems in the U.S. are familiar with NFPA, they may not be familiar with the process of producing a document within that association. NFPA has more than 70,000 members, with several thousand serving on its in excess of 250 Technical Committees (TC) that publish some 300 documents.

NFPA’s TCs process produces four different types of documents: Codes; Standards; Recommended Practices; and Guides. The first two are written in mandated language (“shall”) while the final two are written with non-mandatory language (“should”).

The body that governs the standard-making process for NFPA is the Standards Council, which is comprised of 12 members plus a chairperson. Both the members and the chair are elected by the NFPA Board of Directors, and may serve for up to two three-year terms. Assisted by several full-time staffers, the Council meets three times a year for two to five days depending on the agenda. Although the Council meets in executive sessions closed to the public, the full agenda (with the exception of committee membership and policy) can be downloaded at A typical agenda usually exceeds 2,000 pages.

The Council names all members of TCs, approves new projects and hears and acts on appeals that may be filed by the public. The Council also develops the policies and procedures that, upon approval by the Board, are followed by the NFPA in the promulgation of documents.

TCs are typically comprised of not more than 30 principal members, each of whom may have an alternate. The Council gives organizational members associated with multiple firms preference over those representing individual companies. The feeling is that through directive votes the organizational member represents a larger population of affected users. During the past several years the Council has attempted to reduce the size of the TCs, but has had limited success as restricting the number of members cuts down on those who have a “seat at the table.”

A TC may not include more than one-third of its participants from any of these membership categories:

  • Applied Research/Testing Laboratory
  • Consumer
  • Enforcing Authority
  • Installer/Maintainer
  • Insurance
  • Labor
  • Manufacturer
  • Special Expert
  • User


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