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Putting Minnesota fire prevention and safety on the map

June 20, 2019

Jon Nisja accepts the James M. Shannon Advocacy Medal from NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley and NFPA Board Chair Keith Williams
Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division Fire Safety Supervisor Jon Nisja (center) accepts the prestigious James M. Shannon Advocacy Medal from NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley (right) and NFPA Board Chairman Keith Williams (left).

You likely don’t know his name. And you probably don’t think about what he does. But every time you walk into a building in Minnesota, you are safer there in part because of Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) Fire Safety Supervisor Jon Nisja. But don’t take our word for it: This weekend, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) presented Nisja with the James M. Shannon Advocacy Medal, which recognizes “individuals who have made significant contributions to the fire loss problem through advocacy.”

That description fits Nisja to a T. He became a firefighter in Mankato in 1978, and joined the SFMD in 1990, where he leads the Fire Code, Fire Protection, and Fire Information Management teams. You could call him a lifelong learner, but that doesn’t quite capture it all; he’s also a teacher. He constantly seeks to add to his knowledge about fire prevention so that he can pass it on to others and, ultimately, keep Minnesotans safe.

Take the fire code, for example. If you don’t know, a fire code is a set of requirements for buildings. If the building’s owner follows these requirements, fires are less likely to occur, and if they do, they are less likely to harm the people who use that building. Nisja helped develop the Minnesota State Fire Code, and he did so by learning about other fire codes and incorporating state-of-the-art changes when he found them. He then helped train fire code officials across the state on the new code.

Nisja is also a bit of a data geek. He’s helped ensure that nearly 100 percent of Minnesota fire departments report to the Minnesota Fire Incident Reporting System (MFIRS), which creates an accurate picture of where, when, and – most importantly – how fires in Minnesota happen. He then uses this data to assist with legislative efforts; fire code development; and educating architects, engineers and fire inspectors on the challenges they face in fire prevention.

Perhaps most important is the work Nisja did with the School Inspection Team. He helped manage a program that brought Minnesota school buildings’ fire safety up to acceptable standards, and he reviews the latest data to make sure the programs stays effective.

Only one person receives the Shannon Medal each year, despite dozens (and sometimes even hundreds) of nominations. The men and women who have received this prestigious award in years past are members of the fire service from across the world who have saved lives, and Nisja is no exception. He has put Minnesota on the map as a leader in fire prevention, and we couldn’t be prouder of him.

What does all this mean for you? You shouldn’t have to worry whether any Minnesota building you walk into is fire safe. And you certainly shouldn’t have to worry about whether your kids are safe from fire at school. Jon Nisja has been working, passionately and tirelessly, for over 40 years to help make sure you don’t have to.