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I am looking for opinions as to the true legal application of NFPA standards. Can they be used with the power of law? do they truly provide a case towards negligence if not adhered to? I have heard conflicting opinions and wanted to see how others look at the issue.

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The reason you may receive conflicting opinions is that each state utilizes NFPA in a different manner. In New York State, NFPA is NOT the law. However, NFPA had been used in one criminal case in a town named "Lairdsville" to convict a deputy chief of criminally negligent homicide. However, you have to understand how NFPA was used in this criminal case. The case involved a death due to using a live victim in a live fire exercize. The NFPA was used not as a standard per se, but to show all of the precautions that were listed as a national standard, none of which were implemented. The deputy chief was not required to implement the NFPA, but when asked if any of the precautions were utilized, it was clear that none of them were utilized.

In civil cases, NFPA is not the standard. However, be careful in your operating procedures. If you blindly implement the NFPA, they might become your department's standards.

In NYS, department standards which impose a duty "above" or "higher than" or "more stringent than" the community (or state) standard are not admissible. Most NFPA standards impose duties higher than the actual practice, so they are not admissible as evidence of the actual standard that should have been followed.

In other states, NFPA has been used in both criminal and civil cases against departments. I cannot speak to those, as I do not practice in those states.
Thanks. This info is appreciated.
I have recently attended training were the topic was discussed. NFPA standards are ANSI approved. ANSI was established by U.S. Congress. This is where these standards can carry the force of law in the court system. NFPA 921 which is a guide and not standard has been accepted in all federal courts and many state courts as the standard by which all fire investigations must be conducted. Failure to conduct your fire investigation in accordance with Scientific Method as stated in NFPA 921 will terminate your case in court. Failure to conduct your fire investigation in accordance with the Scientific Method as stated in NFPA 921 can result in a malpractice lawsuit being filed against an investigator.
The NFPA 1033 the standard for professional qualifications for fire investigators references NFPA 921 throughout the standard. This has brought NFPA 921 to the level of a standard by reference. When fire investigation case goes to civil court for subrogation many times liability claims are based on non-compliance with NFPA standards such as the electrical code, fire code or alarm code. Is it possible that we will see cases based on non-compliance with NFPA 1710 in the future? I think so. I don't think it will matter whether or not the state legislature has adopted it. It is an ANSI standard which makes it a recognized and enforceable regulation by the authority of the U.S. Congress.
I don't think the ANSI adoption makes a difference, although there are certain private fire investigators who push NFPA 921 (they usually sit on the committee!) like it has the force of law. Many courts do use 921 as "the standard" for fire investigations with respect to Daubert challenges testing the admissability of the experts opinion. But, the court is looking at the reliability of the work compared to a standard, not whether the standard has been adopted by ANSI. Additionally, there are still courts who reject, in part or whole, using 921 as the sole benchmark upon which to judge an investigators work. Having said that, the trend in the court systems is to look at NFPA standards as benchmarks. You will see them utilized in reports and court cases more often in the future. Read the recent NIOSH report rre Charleston. Chip Comstock


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