Every piece of gear you buy has some information written on it, and probably comes with a bunch of paperwork included too.
If you are like most of us, when that shiny new carabiner or beautiful new rope arrives, you tear all the packaging off like a kid on Christmas morning and immediately start checking the gate action or tying some knots. What could be better than new gear?
However, starting later in 2022, if you begin reading through all that information, or inspecting the markings on the gear itself, you will start to notice some changes.
For those in the North American fire service the abbreviation of NFPA is very familiar, as well as many other countries around the world. The National Fire Protection Association was founded by a group of insurance companies in 1896 to help standardize the new technology of automatic fire sprinklers.
Over the years, the NFPA has created over 300 consensus standards which impact the fire service, providing a standard for everything from hoses to trucks, and of course rope and technical rescue. These standards are created by a group of stakeholders including the users, equipment manufacturers, and certification bodies, and are updated on a regular basis, usually every 5 years. For more information on the history of the NFPA in rope rescue, we highly recommend this excellent article by Russ McCullar.
The technical rescue portion of the NFPA standards has several parts, including:
NFPA 1670 – Operations and Training
NFPA 1858 – Selection, Care and Maintenance of Life Safety Rope & Equipment
NFPA 1983 – Life Safety Rope and Equipment
As you can see from the titles, these standards all are involved with each other, but stand separately. Some apply to how gear is made (1983), some apply to how it is chosen for use (1858), and some apply to the training requirements for people (1670). It makes sense to incorporate these inter-related subjects under one spot.
Therefore, with the new updates, all these will be moving under one umbrella, which will be known as NFPA 2500.
So, what does that mean for your new rescue rope or carabiner? Starting later this year, you will see your gear labeled with both the 1983 standard and the 2500 number.
This will be seen for the duration of this new edition, until 2027, at which point the 1983 will disappear and we will move forward with 2500 marking alone.
So, you might be thinking, what does this mean for me? Here are some answers to common questions around this:
Q: Does this mean that gear marked with 1983 is no good anymore? Do I need to replace it?
A: No. Gear with 1983 markings is still totally fine, as long as it still passes its inspection requirements.
Q: What does that little UL symbol mean next to the NFPA number?
A: In order to be labeled as being certified to NFPA, equipment needs to be tested by an outside lab, to ensure that the manufacturer meets all the requirements. The laboratory that performs the testing will also include their logo or “mark” on the product, to show they are “vouching” for the performance of that product. UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories, one of the most commonly used labs for this testing.
If you are familiar with the that UL logo, keep an eye out, that one is changing this year too!
Q: Can I still buy products labeled NFPA 1983?
A: Yes. These changes in labeling apply only to the manufacturers. As an end user, they have no impact on what you can buy or use. Remember, NFPA sets voluntary standards that manufacturers can choose to comply with and be tested to, but it DOES NOT dictate what you can and cannot use for your job. That job belongs to your local Authority Having Jurisdiction. Manufacturers must stop labeling to the 2017 edition in March of 2023, but some of those products will still be in the warehouses and storeroom of your favorite equipment suppliers, so they may take a little while to work their way through the supply chain to you.