Tom Lia

Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB)


Tom started in the fire service as a paid-on-call firefighter for the City of Oak Forest in 1977. At Oak Forest, Tom was trained as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) at South Suburban Hospital, then as a Paramedic through Ingalls Memorial Hospital. During his tenure there, Tom became president of the Firemen’s Association and helped organize a citywide fundraiser for an Advanced Life Support ambulance. His full-time firefighting career began in Chicago Ridge in 1982 where he earned the rank of Lieutenant and eventually Director of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Emergency Services and Disaster Agency (ESDA) concurrently. He participated in Regional Emergency Services Organizations and developed a districtwide (1st District) Emergency Weather Response System for fourteen communities, and the area’s first Regional Public Safety Days featuring fire prevention activities and programs from all combined departments. During his tenure at Chicago Ridge, he coordinated the Fire Prevention and Public Education Program where they received recognition from the state as having the number-one-rated fire prevention bureau for a town with a population of less than 25,000. Concurrently with Chicago Ridge, Tom also began working at the Orland Fire Protection District as a Plan Reviewer and New Construction Inspector. In 1989 Tom became employed by Orland Fire Protection District on a full-time basis, and within the first year was switched to day shifts in the fire prevention bureau as the New Construction Inspector. In 1992, the District appointed Tom as Fire Marshal with a staff of four full-time personnel and twelve part-time inspectors.

Formal education includes an Associates Degree in Fire Science from Moraine Valley Community College, a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration (Management Major) from Chicago State University, and a Masters Degree in Public Safety Administration from Lewis University. In regard to state certifications, Tom also earned his Fire Officer III, NFPA Plans Examiner, and Fire Prevention Officer I and II certifications. Other related efforts included working as a field instructor for the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association, Illinois Fire Chiefs Association, University of Illinois, and Moraine Valley Community College. In 1989, while with the Chicago Ridge Fire Department, Tom was appointed as Coordinator of the Fire Science Program at Moraine Valley Community College and held this position until 1994. He worked to correlate college classes to the state curriculum requirements and personally educated hundreds of fire students in fire prevention classes. Tom re-entered the program as the interim Coordinator in 2000 until 2004. Tom has been involved with the State Fire Marshal Committees to develop the new Fire Prevention Officer I classes and an improved Fire Prevention Principle I Class for firefighters and inspectors.

During his tenure at Orland FPD, Tom was a member of the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association and held the offices of Secretary, Treasurer, Vice-President and President. ICC Chapter 43. Locally he worked for more progressive codes in Orland Park and was a grassroots originator for the State School Fire Sprinkler Legislation with Orland’s Fire Chief Bob Buhs, columnist Phil Kadner, and former State Senator Bill Mahar. An Underwriter’s Laboratory certification program for fire alarm systems was instituted in Orland Park to reduce false fire alarms. The Orland FPB also fought and won State Appellate & Supreme Court cases involving water supplies and the right for a fire district to enforce its fire sprinkler codes over a county code, (Orland Fire Protection District versus Intra-State Piping). In the area of grants, Tom applied for the NFPA Learn-Not-To-Burn grant and was awarded one of two presented in the state that year for implementation into district elementary schools. Tom also worked on a committee for a grant towards a fire safety trailer from the Andrew Foundation, also for use in the district schools. The State Chamber of Commerce and later the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance voted Orland the Grand Award for the best Fire Prevention program in 1992 and as the number-one fire prevention bureau in its population category (over 50,000) in 1993, 1994, and 1995. As the carbon monoxide (CO) problem arose in 1994, the Orland FPD mitigated the challenge by developing a nationally recognized emergency response procedure to CO calls, which is in widespread use today.

Tom joined the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB) as executive director in 1999, concentrating on fire and building code issues, and providing training and educational classes, contractor liaison, and plan review assistance/interpretation assistance to members of the fire service community or public, continuing his strong fire service career fire safety advocacy.

FPC Magazine named NIFSAB the Organization of the Year in 2004. In 2008, Tom was awarded the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association’s “Dick Arthur” Lifetime Achievement Award, named after its first president, for his continued work on improving the fire codes and for developing training and education programs in the codes and standards committee and association activities. In 2011, Tom received a Life Safety Award from the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance; and the Northern Illinois Fire Inspectors Association (NIFIA) Recognition Award; followed by NFPA’s first Fire Sprinkler Initiative Award in 2013.

At this time, the fire sprinkler trailer program has been expanded to four demo trailers, an educational side-by-side burn program developed with over 600 successful separate demos completed to date. In addition, fire official scholarship classes were also developed to help train deserving fire officials. There also has been 48 demo home projects for group homes, injured soldiers, after fires, etc.

NIFSAB also obtained a FEMA Grant to educate and inform the public on residential fire sprinklers and a FEMA Grant for a new fire sprinkler demonstration trailer. In 2016, NIFSAB obtained a FEMA Grant to educate real estate agents.

At this time, 107 communities/districts have zero fire tolerance or “0”-square-foot ordinances and 103 political entities have enacted NFPA 13D, following the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) America Burning and FEMA Firefighter Life Safety Summit recommendations.) A total of 207 political entities have made progressive fire sprinkler code amendment threshold changes. At the start, three communities had “0”-square-foot thresholds, two communities had 13D, and seven had progressive fire sprinkler code threshold changes. In addition, the State adopted the NFPA Life Safety Code 101 (2000 Edition), a College Dorm Retrofit Act, Greek Housing Retrofit Act, and Chicago adopted a Commercial High-Rise Retrofit, Residential High0-Rise Life Safety Evaluation Program, a Lower-Level Nightclub Retrofit and Wrigley Field Rooftop Retrofit Ordinance.

Thomas A. Lia, Executive Director

Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board
62 Orland Square Dr Suite 201
Orland Park, IL 60462
Phone: (708) 403-4468
Fax: (708) 403-4771


*Bio updated in December 2016

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