I was a junior studying fire protection engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) when, in 1976, I was taken to my first annual National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Conference & Expo in Boston. Bob Fitzgerald from WPI and Rex Wilson from FirePro personally took the time to explain the process at the Expo, as well as its importance to fire protection engineering. I still remember watching Rolf Jensen and Chet Schirmer walk down to the microphone to share their opinions on a particular motion before it went up for the vote, and I recently gave back to two of our newest fire protection engineers what was so freely given to me.

How to Introduce a New Fire Protection Engineer to the NFPA Conference & Expo

I put a lot of time into setting up Kevin Johnson and Rob McFeaters for a successful conference. I helped them through registration and guided them through the materials, explaining what events were important versus those that were not an ideal fit for them. I also asked them to select the seminars they thought would be most relevant to their work. After reviewing their selections, I made a couple of changes and walked them through the process to upload their choices to the Conference App calendar.

Outlining Goals and Process

With all the practical knowledge in place, I explained my expectations and hopes regarding Kevin and Rob’s participation. Note-taking was a critical aspect of my advice because the two were expected to take notes on what they thought was most relevant to their work, and also to the work of all our engineers. That way, the two could take their learning back to our firm and take part in updating the entire workforce.


I set up regular meetings over the course of the day, during which time Kevin and Rob could check in and relate their key takeaways. Of course, these events should have pleasure mixed in with the business, so we shared meals together, as well. These were informal checkups where the reporting turned a bit more personal and relaxed.

I know how important it was for me to attend the annual NFPA conference in the right way. Every single time (100% literally) that I attended an NFPA conference over the years, I was able to use one piece of knowledge I learned from it, or one new contact I made, to help me deliver substantially greater value to a client.  It was weird, but my attendance and serious engagement in these conferences always paid back, and I never knew when, or how, it would do so. The same goes for Kevin and Rob.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.