As a young boy, planning for the future was always exciting. Projecting my success (in whatever endeavor I would undertake) came easily - which is to be expected when one is blissfully ignorant of thenegativeuncertainty of life.

Fast forward many years to find me a middle-aged man who is excited once again - this time because I’m fully aware of the positive uncertainty of life. Even more interesting, my excitement is based on others’ projections rather than my own.

The source of my optimism is a recently released white paper calledFire Protection and Safety: The Next 25 Years. This report is based on the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s “Next 25 Years Conference,” held last November.

More than 130 leaders from the research, engineering, fire service, facility fire protection and manufacturing fields attended this conference to help celebrate the Foundation’s 25th anniversary.

The event focused on three topics - demographics and urban growth patterns, materials and technology, and environment, energy, and sustainability - with the latter two drawing my strongest interest as I make my plans for this month’s NFPA Conference & Expo.

During the materials and technology session, John Dean, state of Maine fire marshal, stressed the need to continue promoting residential sprinklers, since homes are a significant part of our fire problem and these are occupancies where the enforcement community has much less control.

Russ Fleming, National Fire Sprinkler Association, noted that, “automatic sprinkler system protection is an important tool in the effort to have a sustainable and controlled environment.” Fleming also recognized that environmental issues are a concern for water-based systems, resulting in changes such as ways to capture water in sprinkler testing.

Anthony Hamins, NIST, talked about the need for further development of computer modeling of fire. “These models have strong promise for applications with design and investigation applications, and reducing the need for full-scale fire testing.”

James Golinveaux, Tyco Fire and Building Products, spoke at the environment, energy, and sustainability session. “Declining water availability is becoming a concern, and we need to do more with less. It’s becoming less okay to keep using large conservative safety factors," he said.

As the conference drew to a close, Jon Hall, FM Global, reminded the attendees that “the greenest of all fire safety technologies is already here - automatic sprinkler systems. Fires in unsprinklered buildings create 36 times more damage than sprinklered building fires.”

Someone once wrote (or said) that, “The future isn’t what it used to be.”

Thinking about the future - specifically, the next 25 years - isn’t what it used to be, either.

Like the fire protection experts who spoke at last fall’s important conference, I’m positively certain of that.