Safety Programs: Minimizing the Hazards

Safety Programs: Minimizing the Hazards


Volunteers Corner

We have a shocking safety record. Admittedly, fire service operations are inherently dangerous. Working in close proximity to uncontrolled flame, entering unbreathable atmospheres, operating at extreme heights, guiding heavy apparatus through traffic; all contain a high degree of risk. While the hazard cannot be totally eliminated, it can be minimized.

Part of our poor safety record comes from accepting the idea that accidents are “part of the game.” Industry recognizes there is a direct relationship between minor accidents, major accidents and fatalities. If you’re complacent about safety and have enough minor accicients, sooner or later a fatality will occur. The industrial safety officer, therefore, monitors both the frequency and severity of accidents and tries to eliminate them, no matter how minor.

Industry has the obvious advantage of being able to control the workplace environment. We have no control over when and where fires occur. The key elements of industrial safety, however, are directly transferable to the fire service Those elements are attitude and commitment — the attitude on the part of everyone that safety does come first, and an absolute commitment to build safety into the planning and execution of every operation.

Controllable: The fire station environment is totally controllable. Floors are frequently wet and slippery; falls are common. Therefore, floor surfaces should be nonslip or, at least, high traffic areas should be treated to provide good footing. Equipment projecting from apparatus must be guarded. All electrical equipment must be well maintained, grounded and grounds tested to assure they are adequate. Machinery with moving parts, like belt drives on air compressors, should be guarded. Safe procedures for refilling breathing air bottles should be posted and enforced. Refueling of apparatus and gasoline-driven power tools must be done properly and with care Good housekeeping should be maintained. Fire stations burn like any other building. Does yours have smoke or fire detector stations, preferably tied into the local alarm system?

Responding to alarms is also under our partial control. Volunteers driving to the fire station must drive with caution and due regard for the safety of others and themselves. Running within the firehouse should be forbidden. Apparatus must not move until the entire crew is in full turnout gear and securely aboard. A simple tailboard-to-cab signaling system should be in place on every piece, with drivers alert to moving out only upon the signal that everyone is ready. Riding positions should be evaluated for safety. Standard operating procedures should eliminate those which do not offer reasonable safety or which might contribute to fire fighters being thrown from the apparatus.

Special skill: Emergency response at the wheel of a 20-ton fire apparatus, secured to the road only by six palm-size patches of rubber, requires a special skill. Drivers should be carefully screened to assure they are emotionally stable, mature and fully aware of their responsibility. Training must include a full range of road conditions with emphasis on driving conservatively and defensively. Flashing lights and sirens do not command the right of way, they ask for it. “Who had the right of way?” becomes a futile question when an accident involving responding apparatus kills or injures either civilians or fire fighters.

Backing, with the limited rear visibility of most apparatus is particularly hazardous. Fire fighters, intent on their own tasks, have been injured or killed when caught by a backing rig. Backup warning devices or a backup guide visible to the driver are essential.

Safety on the fire scene could easily fill a book. Cutting across the range of risks facing the fire fighter is the necessity to apply common sense, to think critically about the task at hand and to take all safety precautions which the situation permits. Keep your eyes and ears open. Watch out for each other and be ready to caution anyone who appears headed for trouble. Following drillground and training practices should be standard procedure; the safety built into practice evolutions must not be abandoned in the heat of battle.

Essential: Full protective clothing and positive pressure breathing apparatus are, of course, essential. We should seriously consider the British system for controlling and establishing accountability for fire fighters entering buildings. Their concept of the “breathing apparatus control officer” who keeps track of mask crews, would undoubtedly save lives. Working in teams will help, but it is not the total solution.

The safety officer provides a bridge between the training area and the fireground. A designated person — one who is respected, experienced and qualified to make decisions — should fill this position on every major alarm. On lesser alarms, the delegated tasks may fall on the shoulders of the company officer or chief in charge. Whenever possible, however, the safety officer should be out of the command chain and free to concentrate on safety matters.

Built in: Training operations should be planned to meet performance objectives with safety built in at every step, fob safety analysis assures that each task is as inherently safe as we can make it. Carefully consider each operational step, looking for points at which injury might occur. Hazardous steps should be eliminated or modified or flagged for special emphasis during training. During training, the safety officer monitors operations to assure compliance with planned safety measures. Emergency responsibilities of the safety officer start at the same place but are expanded to include the particular hazards of the structure or facility involved.

The safety officer must have full authority to stop any operation. The concept of “calculated risk” certainly has a place, but only if the risk has truly been evaluated and deemed unavoidable under the existing circumstances.

Many years ago the United States Steel Corp. build a safety campaign around the initials “KNE,” standing for “Knowing s Not Enough.” Knowing how to do any task safely is of no value unless that knowledge is applied. Today is a good day to start.


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