Washington, D.C. - Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Defense for Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R) and head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), called on America's firefighters to step aside from routine duties on June 21, 2005, and "stand down" to focus on their own health and safety. Brown joined the heads of 20 organizations in the first-ever National Stand Down Day for Firefighter Health and Safety. As Under Secretary of EP&R, Brown oversees the U.S. Fire Administration.
"Too many firefighters are being injured or killed in the line of duty and when they return to the firehouse," Brown said, referring to the 58 line-of-duty deaths among firefighters so far this year. "So many of these deaths could have been prevented by firefighters learning about health and safety, training in health and safety and applying healthy and safe practices whether on the fireground, at the fire station or when they go home."
The initiative, led by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), called for firefighters on all shifts during the next week to put aside routine duties like alarm inspections and building maintenance for one shift. All fire departments still answered all emergency calls, but when there were no emergency calls, firefighters would concentrate their efforts on being healthier and safer on and off the job. The National Fire Protection Association cites more than 78,000 firefighter injuries annually. Firefighter injury and death rates have remained relatively constant during the past several years, despite monumental improvements in technology and equipment. In a given year, about half the line-of-duty deaths are from heart-related illnesses. Another 25 percent are from accidents including motor-vehicle accidents.
"Firefighters are being killed at an alarming rate. The fire service simply cannot continue to do business as usual when so many of its own are dying," said IAFC President Chief Bob DiPoli. "We are conducting the stand down to raise awareness of the need for increased vigilance toward firefighter safety."
A stand down is a method used by the military to correct an issue that has been identified as a problem throughout its ranks.
"The public needs to understand the importance of a safe and healthy fire service, both career and volunteer," said Chief David Paulison, administrator of EP&R's/FEMA's U.S Fire Administration. "Our goal here today is to ensure that every firefighter goes home after every call."
Brown said he hopes the focus on safety continues.
"We're asking fire departments to spend one day focusing on safety and health, but we really want this to become a year-round concentration on safety," he said. "We don't want to the energy and momentum we're creating to end in a couple of weeks or a month. Safety is our constant job. Our communities expect you to come to work at the beginning of every shift and your families need you to come home at the end of every shift."