The Role of the Safety Officer

Question: Some departments have full-time trained safety officers who respond to fires. Other departments don’t have that luxury. How is the safety officer position filled in your department at a working fire?

I am of the opinion that the fire service is reinventing itself. One hundred years ago, pretty much all firefighters did was fight fires. I started my career at the tail end of that era. Only three years before I came on the job, Toledo started its paramedic program. In my early career, I voluntarily took EMT training. It became mandatory years after that.

We are not only doing different things, but we are also doing some of the old things differently—for example, we are fighting fire smarter: risk assessment, SCBA use (air management), incident management, and so on. One aspect of the incident management system (IMS) that enhances the fireground is the use of safety officers (SOs).

In Toledo, there are four trained SOs, lieutenants who do shift work, working under a Safety Bureau captain, who works under the Operations chief as a staff captain. Thus, Toledo has the opportunity to have a SO on duty 24 hours a day. The SO is dispatched to all structure fires, hazmat incidents, water rescues, extrications, and confined space incidents. If the on-duty SO is at another incident, the safety captain or a BC is sent in his place.

The SO sends a report of safety conditions and concerns to the chief of operations following every working fire. He is responsible for infection control and follows up on firefighter injuries.

—John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering, a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board, and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000).

Rick Lasky, chief,
Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: A full-time division chief oversees the training, health, and safety divisions for our department. He oversees the health and wellness programs and our safety committee and is our representative for citywide safety initiatives. Regarding SOs, the following assignments are made in the following order:

  • The first-arriving chief officer assumes command.
  • The second-arriving chief officer takes Operations.
  • The third-arriving chief officer takes its Sector C.
  • The fourth-arriving chief officer takes the Safety.

Then, as chief officers arrive on the scene, they are assigned to the sectors that need to be filled for that incident—Division 1, Division 2, and Staging, for example. A reported fire in our department gets the BC; when that fire is declared a working fire, a duty chief is dispatched to the scene. On requesting a second alarm, three additional chief officers are dispatched to the scene. The five chief officers assigned to the first and second alarms are a minimum for our operation. Usually, more will arrive.

It’s everyone’s job to be a SO on the fireground, just as all are responsible for accountability.

Gary Seidel, chief,
Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: Our training chief is certified and qualified as a Type 2 safety officer (SOFR2) according to the National Wildland Coordinating Group (NWCG) 310.1-Wildland Fire Qualifications System Guide. This member is assigned to a 40-hour workweek and serves as the daily SO on all issues surrounding the department, risk management, and the city, which also includes emergency responses, either requested or dispatched. In addition, the Department also has two additional certified and qualified SOs (SOFR2) who can serve or assist in this capacity as well. If any of the above SOs are not available to respond, the incident commander (IC) selects a qualified person to fill the role of SO.

We also have an internal Type 3 Incident Management Team (IMT). The majority of its members also serve on Oregon’s Type 2 IMTs, Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) Type 2 IMTs, or the United States Forest Service (USFS) Type 1 IMTs. The majority of these members on the IMT work a 40-hour workweek but are subject to callouts after hours if their specific position or the entire IMT is needed.

Jim Mason, lieutenant,
Chicago (IL) Fire Department

Response: Our safety positions are filled with several full-time senior, well-trained members. They respond on second alarms and unusual incidents, or when requested. Along with our dispatch center, they monitor the radio for the need to respond to smaller incidents. Our safety staff is appropriately certified to act in this capacity.

In the field, our BCs and company officers are trained to act as the SOs for their span of fireground control. Decisions for attack mode (offensive or defensive), strategies employed, and escalation of alarms fall under the battalion umbrella; line officers would be most concerned with hoseline positioning, company air management, and team continuity—particularly during searches. Our company officers also provide the IC with interior radio reports to help coordinate the attack, which improves the survivability of the operation.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,
Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: Our SO position falls by job description to our assistant chief. With our municipality being four square miles in size, more than 95 percent of the time on a working fire, both of our chiefs and an additional two chief officers from neighboring departments usually respond. If our chiefs are needed in a fireground management capacity, the IC delegates the role of safety chief to an automatic-aid chief.

Several of our company officers have been through SO classes, conducted at the St. Louis County Fire Academy. Initially, the first-arriving company officer must function as the IC as well as the SO until the assistant chief relieves him of the responsibility for the entire incident.

While safety is the responsibility of every member on the fireground, the company officer must maintain crew integrity, enforce crew accountability, and consistently work to ensure the safety of all members under his command.

Elby Bushong III, deputy chief,
Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department

Response: Our BCs’ drivers, called “field incident technicians” (FITs), fill the SO role. They are captains, and when the BCs are assigned to forward sectors, the two work as a team to provide safe operations on each geographical side of the fire. On larger incidents, the FITs can be assigned a safety channel monitored in the command van by the command team. This allows them to relay nonemergency information and track personnel accountability off the tactical channel to free valuable air time on the tactical channel.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York

Response: Our department has a specialized Safety Battalion that responds to all multiple-alarm fires. This unit provides a highly trained chief officer whose sole task is to address the safety aspects of an incident.

The safety chief is also assigned to high-rise fires, building collapses, confined-space operations, and other complex situations when the IC requests it. In addition, he investigates firefighter fatalities, serious injuries, and apparatus accidents.

At a multiple-alarm fire, an additional BC is also assigned as a “safety coordinator.” He operates as the SO until the Safety Battalion arrives at the scene.

Most of our fires are handled by a first-alarm assignment, which provides a deputy chief, two BCs, and about nine company officers. All of the chiefs and officers are expected to perform a safety function along with their other operational duties. The IC can request an additional BC or the Safety Battalion if he wishes to dedicate someone exclusively to safety.

The presence of a SO is a tremendous asset for any operation. However, the ideal situation is to have each individual firefighter simplify the SO’s concerns by continually evaluating the safety ramifications of his activities. Safety awareness is a state of mind that can be learned, be reinforced, and eventually become habit forming.

Bobby Shelton, firefighter,
Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department

Response: We have a trained, designated health and SO with the rank of district chief. He works Monday to Friday and is on call for three alarms or greater. If he is not able to respond with our current complement dispatched for a fire, two district chiefs respond. The second district chief assumes the responsibility of accountability/SO. All company officers have the responsibility of SOs if no chief officers are present. All of us—whether or not we have rank or are designated—are obliged to watch out for ourselves and all on the fireground.

Mike Metro, assistant chief,
Los Angeles County (CA)
Fire Department

Response: We have one SO assigned to that specific duty on a 40-hour-per-week schedule; he reports to our Risk Management Division. We have a number of other qualified SOs (captains), most in training assignments, that rotate the SO duty for major-alarm fires. A duty SO will be paged on all major alarm fires or can be special called by the IC. Additionally, LACoFD has three Type 3 incident management teams with qualified SOs assigned to each.

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief,
Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: We do not have a full-time trained SO who responds to fires. Traditionally, this role has been filled by the fire chief or one of the assistant chiefs on call. During the past few years we have encouraged ICs to fill this position with a career company officer or career acting company officer. This allows the position to be assigned in a more timely manner and to have a more contemporary officer examine fireground safety practices.

To support this, we made the incident SO course a prerequisite for the lieutenant’s exam. This ensures that all of our company officers and acting company officers have the training and some experience to fill this role on the fireground. We added an extra fire lieutenant to each shift, so that we have more “regular” company officers on duty when there are absences because of vacation, holiday, or sick leave. The additional fire lieutenant also increases our skill and experience base. Additionally, we have been training on a standardized procedure or checklist of things that the incident SOs must do when they assume the position. SOs need to follow a “definitive path” on the fireground. They cannot afford to walk around, look around, and yell if “the sky is falling.”

Forest Reeder, battalion chief,
Pleasantview (IL) Fire
Protection District

Response: We are part of MABAS Division 10 and handle the incident SO response in two ways. At the full still (report of fire), the department ISO is dispatched along with the first-alarm response. Anytime a department in MABAS 10 requests a box alarm, a qualified ISO is dispatched as part of our Incident Management Assist Team (IMAT). These personnel are qualified through a screening process that includes Illinois certification as an incident SO among other requirements. Response duties are typical with NFPA 1521 and 1561 requirements. We are fortunate to have more than 40 officers in our MABAS Division who are qualified for these responses. Annual recertification and in-service training for this position is now underway to keep our ISO personnel up to date with current information regarding their positions.

Michael S. Coleman, safety officer,
Chatsworth (NJ) Volunteer
Fire Company

Response: The position of SO in my volunteer fire company is appointed by the chief. Since I joined the company, I have served as SO and training officer. We feel that being a small company with a limited membership, both positions should be combined to take advantage of the training I have and the certifications issued by New Jersey; each fire service instructor takes a General Safety course as part of his or her certification process.

During emergency incidents, it is my responsibility to maintain accountability, check for proper use of personal protective equipment, and perform resource check-in and other duties when necessary.

Joe McCarthy, district chief,
Bloomfield (NJ) Fire Department

Response: We do not have a full-time SO. The position is assigned as one of several duties the staff deputy fire chief fills. The officer that is serving in this position has attended the NFA “Incident SO” course. However, this officer works steady days (Monday to Friday) and is not on duty nights or weekends. The SO is notified and responds from home for all “working fires.” If the SO is not present, the IC must either assume the role or delegate it to someone else.

John Penny, captain/safety,
Toney (AL) Volunteer Fire Rescue

Response: I am the SO for my department. We have 44 members ranging in experience from three months to 20-plus years. I have 23 years on the job and haven’t been to the SO class because I am unable to get off work to go to class. However, I have read the SO book and use it for reference regularly. If I’m not on the call, usually one of the more experienced members acts as SO.

Steven R. Shaumeyer, firefighter,
Kansas City (MO) Fire Department

Response: We use a district SO (DSO) assigned to the BC of the district. We have seven suppression districts. The BC assigns the DSO and responds in the same vehicle. This gives us the luxury of immediately having a SO present on any incident that requires a BC response. As the complexity of an incident increases, a BC is assigned to safety, and his DSO and the original DSO have the personnel to perform the essential function of a safety position. A SO is more than a “hood and earflap checker”; if used appropriately, he should constantly observe fire, operations, and building conditions for signs of potential danger to personnel and should be the IC’s eyes and ears and let the IC know when conditions are not improving, operations need to stop, or something just doesn’t feel right.

The SO needs to be an officer with experience enough to know when bad stuff is going to happen; this is the person watching out for all of us. In our metro area, several departments are making the transition from a suburban department to a large municipal department. As that change is happening, I have seen debates over the need for a full-time position of shift SO. A SO is needed at an incident usually before a staff person can respond from home. Also, driving the BC allows the chief to concentrate on the incident and the units responding without having to navigate through the city streets while running the emergency. The fire service would not expect a company officer to look up maps and preplans, perform a size-up, and make initial assignments while driving. Why should we allow our chiefs to do this?

Al Duffy, captain,
North Naples (FL) Fire
and Rescue District

Response: In February 2007, we implemented a shift training and SO position. Each shift has an assigned SO. All department SOs are certified by the Fire Department Safety Officers Association. This program has worked well for us.

Jon Adams, lieutenant,
South Metro (CO) Fire Rescue

Response: We have a line position called “Training 33” we use in a multifaceted approach: A line lieutenant assigned to a 24-hour shift is responsible for shift training and serves as the SO on group calls. This position is automatically dispatched on the following calls: structure fire, train accident, aircraft crash, heavy rescue call, dive rescue, hazmat, and multiple vehicle accidents with multiple injuries or an extrication. It has worked great for our department in that this position can be a training instructor, be a resource for our line firefighters, oversee the development of our recruits, and act as the SO on all major incidents.

On arrival at an incident, Training 33 is to check in at the command post to determine what is happening at the scene, do a 360 of the scene to assess scene hazards, and make sure all crews are operating in a safe manner. The position is assigned a digital camera and can easily take pictures of the scene as it is developing to use for future training or to conduct post-incident analysis. This gathering of information has been beneficial in developing future directives pertaining to on-scene safety.

Nick Morgan, firefighter,
St. Louis (MO) Fire Department

Response: We do not have anyone designated as a full-time SO. Our SOPs basically state that the IC is responsible for the overall safety of all firefighters working on an incident scene. However, all members, especially the captains operating at an incident scene, are supposed to be alert for unsafe conditions such as possible flashover, potential for building collapse, and electric wires down. All officers are to continuously make sure that they know who is on their crew or group and where they are operating.

If a first-alarm assignment is filled out on a structure fire, an additional BC is dispatched so the involved structure can be monitored from the front and rear simultaneously. Every riding position on our fire apparatus has a portable radio assigned to it, so all of the firefighters operating on a scene should also be monitoring the radio should someone call for a Mayday. There has been discussion among the chief staff officers about assigning a full-time SO position, but this hasn’t been implemented yet.

Anthony Avillo, deputy chief,
North Hudson (NJ) Regional
Fire & Rescue

Response: Proper use of the SO can assist the IC in running a controlled, safe, and informed fireground. The SO should not be shackled to the command post; he should be assigned as the IC’s eyes and ears. Orders and directives that come from the SO carry the same weight as the IC’s; personnel should be directed to follow them as such. The SO should be mobile, going where the areas of concern are and furnishing reports back to Command, either face-to-face or by radio. This concept, which I refer to as “Roving Recon,” puts an arm of the IC where it is needed most of the time. Basically, the SO becomes another division supervisor, but with the flexibility to check on all areas of the fireground as the need arises. If your SO is operating on the fireground in anything but full PPE and with SCBA donned, he is not an SO. This must be made mandatory through effective and enforced standard operating procedures (SOPs).

We have the luxury of a dedicated SO on duty at all times, who holds the rank of captain. We have been trying to push the SO rank up to BC but have yet to be successful. Although I agree with the rank increase, I am grateful I have a dedicated position for this critical fireground task. Safety 1 (his radio designation) rides on all reported fires as well as to technical rescue incidents, vehicle fires, and rail incidents. In North Hudson, the SO responds with the command technician in our mask service unit.

Once on-scene, the SO first reports to the command post to let me know he is there. Unless I have something specific for him to do, he immediately does a 360-degree tour of the fireground. After reporting back for a face-to-face report—or by radio, if something critical arises—he begins to move to the areas of most concern to liaison with the division supervisor, if one is assigned at that time, or with the company officer assigned to that area. He provides support from the operational safety point of view and advises as required. His reports to the command post are issued at regular intervals and are a vital part of command operational evaluation.

Kevin Miller, captain/safety officer,
Saline County (KS) Fire District #5

Response: We have a full-time SO; however, when that person is unavailable, there is nobody to fill in for him. Other departments in our county do not have a full-time SO but appoint an officer or a firefighter to fill in the position if the chief thinks about it.

Kevin Lanford, battalion chief,
Orange Beach (AL) Fire Rescue

Response: As a small combination department, staffing is hard to come by. The position of SO at working incidents is often an additional duty of the IC (BC). Although this seems to be working, we know it is not ideal and, in reality, not adequate. Therefore, we are in the planning and development stages of a program that will see our three full-time Fire Prevention personnel and the department training officer qualified and certified to fill this position at working incidents. This will entail changes in our dispatch protocols as well as “on-call” responsibilities, but we believe this plan will serve us well.

One other idea we have toyed with is entering into an agreement with our two neighboring departments that would see the on-duty supervisor in any of the three departments respond in a mutual-aid capacity on any working incidents. On arrival, they could fill the position of SO or any other position as a way to assist the IC. This would also offer the IC another perspective, advice, and support.

John Hawkins, safety officer,
East Northport (NY)
Fire Department

Response: I am an SO in a volunteer fire department that averages about four working structural fires each year. We have a six-member Fire Department Safety Committee that has four Pro Board-certified ISOs. At a working structural fire, the role of the ISO is filled after the fire attack is underway if and when one of the certified ISOs arrives on-scene and is not involved in the fire attack. We have tried to institute a policy in which a duty SO would respond directly to the incident scene. The idea has met some resistance for reasons such as having to pass a fire station and the possibility of improper staffing of responding apparatus. Our township consists of 12 fire departments. The departments that have SOs meet on a regular basis and discuss townwide issues concerning fire department SOs. At large incidents, SOs can be requested from other departments. This mutual-aid system works very well.

Mike Bucy, assistant chief,
Portage (IN) Fire Department

Response: The SO position is one of those neglected positions that should come first. We don’t have the staffing for a full-time SO. Two assistant chiefs (fire and EMS) handle day-to-day tasks. Safety is also stressed as an everyday occurrence to all the fire department personnel. It is engrained in personnel that they are to look out for one another. The scene SO is assigned as part of the first-due arriving apparatus (after fire attack crews are set up). The SO is assigned to one of the following: company officer (captain or lieutenant), chief officer, or acting officer. This is done for every working incident. We are looking at having the members of these groups attend an incident SO class and becoming certified.

Bill Brown, lieutenant,
Wellington (OH) Fire District

Response: Since we are a small combination department, improvements in everything we do is possible. However, in terms of staffing the SO position, I feel we only pay it lip service at times.

Without fail, an SO is appointed at every structure fire or “punished” as it appears considering the normal recipients of the SO vest. The problem I have seen in the past several years is that possibly the greenest rookies are the “chosen ones.” Because of their lack of training, the newbies get appointed SO. So although we go through the motion of appointing the SO, we really have not done ourselves any favors.

We often anoint this person with the task of accountability also! Obviously, it is most difficult for newer department members to continually monitor the safety concerns around the structure as well as account for the entries and exits of firefighters.

The solution is to train individuals to be the incident SO. Several years ago, two of our older, yet not ready to be put out to pasture, firefighters attended the Ohio Fire Academy’s SO program. However, you can’t always expect one of them to show up at every call. A better solution would be to train the command staff and then designate the highest ranking officer (outside the IC) on-scene as the SO.

Although every department differs in structure and control, officers need to be aware of the differences between accountability and safety, as well as the vital importance of each function.

Andy Krajewski, battalion chief,
Golden Gate (FL) Fire Control
& Rescue District

Response: We have several personnel who have NFA certification as SO—our BC and captain of training as well as the three shift battalions. We use at least one, usually two, dedicated SOs at every working fire as described in our standard operating guidelines for SO and structural fires.

Colleen J. Walz, deputy chief,
Pittsburgh (PA) Bureau of Fire

Response: We handle the ISO by using the second BC on the running card (box). He responds on a confirmed structure fire automatically and assumes the responsibility of the ISO, coordinating with the accountability officer and the rapid intervention team relative to their strategy and response based on the particular structure. Currently, all BCs have had the NFA 16-hour Incident Safety Officer Curriculum.

Devon J. Wells, assistant chief,
Hood River (OR) Fire Department

Response: The ISO is one of the most important positions on working fires and many other incident scenes. We do not staff a full-time, 24-hour SO position, so it has to be staffed with other available resources. Our county works on a predesignated automatic-aid response system for all major emergencies. A working fire brings at least two neighboring agencies and a chief officer from each. These chiefs and our chiefs are used in the command structure.

The initial IC fills the SO position with the first-arriving, qualified chief officer. “Qualified” is important, since some of the outlying agencies don’t require their chiefs to have the SO training. Filling the position of SO with an untrained person could spell disaster. SOs are relied on to provide very knowledgeable feedback to the IC throughout the incident. With an untrained SO, improper feedback, or none at all, could hamper incident operations.

The SO position is a necessity on any working fire incident. It is filled as soon as possible with the most qualified person at the scene. The lack of an SO places liability directly on the IC and does not give your firefighters the extra eye they need watching over them during these hazardous situations.

Alfred DiMartino Jr., lieutenant,
Clifton (NJ) Fire Department

Response: Our department uses a twofold system dependent on the time of day an alarm is received. During office hours, the training division captain responds to working fires and assumes the role of SO. For alarms received after office hours or on weekends, the IC can notify our dispatch center to call in a SO. The dispatch operator then brings up a list of qualified SOs from the department roster and calls on the phone until one is available to respond directly to the scene. On second-alarm fires or greater, the dispatch operators are instructed to automatically call for a SO. Once contacted, they report to the incident command post to gather information and assume the duties of the ISO.

Tracy J. Raynor, deputy chief,
Boise City (ID) Fire Department

Response: We looked at the importance of having an ISO present at all working fires and determined that we should put our training officers through an ISO program. Building construction, fire officer 1, the NFA “Incident SO” course, infectious control, and investigation training were combined to create our ISO training program. The training officer/incident SOs are on call 24/7 on a rotational basis. They are dispatched along with the companies on all structure fires, hazardous materials calls, dive rescues, technical rescues, and wildland urban interface fires. Our ICs have grown accustomed to having them on-scene; they become a second set of eyes on the incident while adding their insight on safety to the on-scene actions. They are also used to investigate injuries and accidents for the fire department and act as the designated infectious control officer.

Matt Holke, captain,
Orange County (CA) Fire Authority

Response: As part of my administrative position in training, I schedule our department’s SO coverage. We have nine assistant fire training officers and two other administrative positions that are all qualified as SOs and provide coverage with a rotating schedule one week at a time, broken into day coverage from 0700 hours to 1700 hours and night coverage from 1700 hours to 0700 hours. The person who has night coverage receives on-call pay and then overtime pay if he is called back for an emergency.

Our SOs come from all ranks; each person takes the National Wildfire Coordinating Group SO course (S-404) and shadows another SO for the time necessary to allow for participating at several incidents. A SO is dispatched to what we call a “working fire” (along with several other types of incidents) determined from multiple 911 calls or an on-scene report from a company officer. Each one of these administrative positions is assigned a Code 3 vehicle they can drive home for the purpose of responding to emergencies when needed. This represents the basics of our program. It has other parts built in formally and informally to accommodate a variety of incident types and complexities.

Ed Herrmann, captain,
Boynton Beach (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: During any call where there is a significant risk of injury to our crews or to the public, our IC establishes a SO—a company officer from one of the first-arriving units. In a structure fire, the officer likely to be assigned this task would be the shift’s second in command (a captain) or the officer (captain or lieutenant) off the first-due rescue (ambulance, bus, whatever you want to call it).

Our city provides a full service fire/EMS system. Within our stations, we rotate between positions on the engine and the rescue on a shift by-shift basis. In other words, I’m the officer on the engine today; next shift I’ll probably be the officer on the rescue. All of the officers and step-ups in our department are trained in the duties of a SO and are assigned to the position as needed.

The downside to this system is that you end up with SOs with widely varying levels of experience from one incident to the next. The upside (and we feel it is a significant one) is that more than one-third of the personnel on our emergency scenes are qualified within our department to act as SOs. That’s one officer on every three-person unit, plus those qualified to step up.

Robert Goplin, division chief,
Green Bay (WI) Fire Department

Response: The division chief of fire training is the ISO and the health and safety officer (HSO). The ISO has the discretion to respond to any incident he feels would benefit from his presence. The ISO is dispatched on greater-alarm structure fires.

This position is filled by one person who responds 24/7, as available. The department intends to fill the role of SO at working fires or incidents that may be especially hazardous. If the assigned ISO is not available to respond, the IC may assign an ISO from on-scene personnel. Unfortunately, staffing does not always allow for this. In a greater-alarm incident, the chief, assistant chief, second-due BC, or a call-back BC could also be used to fill the ISO position.

Today’s increasingly dangerous firegrounds make it paramount to fill this role. Although it is not always possible to fill the ISO role with the assigned staff member, our department has attempted to refocus the view of all members on firefighter safety. All members must understand the importance of having an ISO on-scene and make it a priority.

William Brooks Jr., captain,
East Wallingford (CT)
Volunteer Fire Department

Response: Connecticut has two certified levels of SO. One is safety and health officer (must be officially posted in this position to be certified) and the other ISO (currently fire suppression; hazmat and EMS ISO pending).

A career deputy chief is responsible for the HSO duties for the overall department. He may also fill the ISO position at major fire/rescue incidents. The position of ISO may also be staffed at major fire/rescue incidents by certified career company officers or by certified volunteer officers/firefighters. Fortunately, a number of personnel are usually available at fire/rescue-related incidents to staff this position as needed. The position of ISO would normally be filled on second-alarm status or greater. The IC would normally have this responsibility at first-alarm or smaller incidents.

Hazmat incidents require a different level of training and expertise. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 1910.120 mandates that a SO be designated at such incidents. Normally, a responding career deputy chief would fill the position of ISO at a hazmat incident. There are a few possible candidates in the volunteer ranks, depending on their availability.

Skip Heflin, captain,
Hall County (GA) Fire Services

Response: We do not have a full-time SO assigned on shift. During training activities, an instructor from the training division is typically assigned to the SO role. ISO is a requirement for promotion in the department. At a typical incident, the role is sometimes filled by a shift captain or an administrative staff member. Our administration members participate in a weekly on-call rotation. In a working structure fire or other significant response, that person responds and is available to the on-duty BCs to fill the safety role if needed. When the full response arrives at a typical residential structure fire, for example, the following officers are available: one BC, two captains, and three lieutenants.

Assuming no officers are off, the IC has appropriately trained personnel available to assign the SO role. We have an automatic-aid agreement with a neighboring department and, of course, work with members from that department at incidents on a regular basis. This can present a problem when the SO role is filled by a member of the other department. The problem arises because of differing operating procedures and guidelines among the departments. The SO may be looking at operations with which he is less familiar. We are attempting to bridge this gap by having both departments participate in a training exercise on the subject. This has been challenging, but the need is so great that both departments have made great strides to work together for the sake of safety.

Rick Mosher, lieutenant,
Merriam (KS) Fire Department

Response: Our size prohibits the luxury of a full-time SO. Command is filled with the first-arriving company officer, and the SO is filled with the second-due chief officer. This officer responds from fire administration during the day and from home at night and can be from within our department or may be a neighboring BC. The SO safety operates alone. This brings up an interesting situation.

In my experience with other large cities, they have a fire alarm operator or captain assigned to drive the BC and act as an aide. This works well, because the first-arriving chief officer has an aide for command functions. This prevents robbing a company officer from a later-arriving company. The second-arriving chief officer and his aide can act as SOs together; they form a two-person team. This not only provides two sets of eyes and ears but also keeps the SO from working alone. We teach new firefighters never to work alone, so why should the SO do so? As fire departments become large enough to support an aide on the chief’s vehicle, this issue needs to be addressed. It can be a budget issue, however.

Timothy Ryan Jr., lieutenant,
White Plains (NY) Fire Department

Response: I am the municipal training officer (MTO)/SO for our department. I work a 10-hour day staff position, Monday through Friday, with a rotating day off. I have my own dedicated portable radio, which I wear continuously.

If an alarm for a structure fire is transmitted between the hours of 0800 and 1800, my duty is to report to the scene in full PPE. Outside of those hours, the chief will recall me to the scene.

My first action is to report to the IC and help define critical priorities. Ultimately, if there is a high life hazard, I may attach myself to a suppression company to aid in rescue. We use the passport accountability system, so it is rather easy to add my tags to a company to keep me in the accountability loop. If sufficient personnel are on-scene and there are no known life hazards, I help establish our incident command board.

Depending on the structure, high-rise or residential, offensive or defensive, my duties vary. On an offensive residential fire, I do a 360-degree of the structure and become a second set of eyes for the IC, reporting back any pertinent information. If the tactics move to defensive, I will have many more people outside to account for. On a high-rise fire, I check in with the IC and proceed to two floors below the fire to assist the operations chief. I will constantly monitor stairwell conditions and evaluate equipment needs. As crews rotate, the need for rehab is addressed.

Joel M. Thacker,
chief of training and safety,
White River Township (IN)
Fire Department

Response: The chief of training and safety, a Monday-Friday 40-hour staff position in our organization, is discharged with the duty of responding to all working fires and significant multiapparatus incidents—i.e., vehicle accidents with entrapment and special operations incidents. The training and safety chief has a take-home response vehicle and responds after hours as well on all working incidents. When the training and safety chief is unavailable or out of town, the second-arriving chief officer fills the position of SO.

On arrival at the scene, the SO checks in with the IC and receives information about the location and extent of the fire and the activities of fire department companies on the scene. The SO manages utilities and confirms that they are secured. He completes a 360-degree survey of the structure to identify structural components, watch for collapse indicators, and checks the fire’s status. Throughout the incident, the SO monitors the structure and activities of the fire companies operating at the scene to ensure that all personnel function safely on the fireground. Any hazardous conditions or unsafe activities are radioed to the IC and are corrected without delay.

Kenneth E. Morgan, battalion chief,
Clark County (NV) Fire Department

Response: We do not have permanently assigned SOs. It is the responsibility of the IC to fill that position. This has good and bad consequences. Our command structure has no preassigned functions other than the initial IC; as such, this system allows a lot of flexibility for the IC in making assignments up to and including the SO. As the scene dictates, that position can be filled or expanded. Further, should that SO need to be in an area with potential immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmospheric issues, this flexibility provides for splitting an engine company into an SO and an assistant SO, each having a second individual to “partner” with for safety in that IDLH environment.

The downside is that in the heat of the command, this position sometimes gets the “back-burner” treatment and is often overlooked, at least initially. Traditionally, our department uses an unassigned engineer whose crew may be assigned to another task. This introduces the potential for having a less-experienced individual responsible for a task in which there is great responsibility. The IC must be aware of which individual he is assigning to that position. Of course, the ultimate answer is to assign a company officer to the safety position. Despite the potential issues, the SO position is essential. Until we have full-time SOs, we will leave that decision in the hands of the IC.

Paul J. Urbano, captain,
Anchorage (AK) Fire Department

Response: We have been very fortunate to have three full-time safety BCs for the past seven years. These chiefs work a 56-hour workweek; one chief is assigned to each of our three operations shifts.

Their primary function is to respond as ISOs for working structure fires and vehicle extrications as well as specialty team responses such as hazardous materials, trench rescues, and dive rescues, to name a few.

At structure fires, our safety chiefs report to the command post for accountability (not necessarily assigned as the accountability officer) and coordination, perform scene surveys, photograph the scene, and participate in post incident analyses (PIAs). Our PIA reports are electronic; the ISO submits a written narrative, which is separate from the run report narrative.

In addition to performing as ISOs, our safety chiefs also perform as assistant HSOs. Since our department cut the full-time HSO position a few years ago, our safety chiefs now have an even greater HSO responsibility. They are involved with health and safety policy, peer fitness and wellness program management, accident and injury investigation, accident and injury prevention training, and the management and labor safety committee.

Billy Jack Wenzel,
safety/training officer,
Wichita (KS) Fire Department

Response:The ISO plays a vital role in our organization. An ability to work in concert with the IC is critical. The exchange of ideas and information and mutual respect are required. The ISO, who is under the supervision of the chief safety/training officer, is attached to the training division and is also responsible for the development and instruction of fire operations training. Often, close calls or issues found on our fireground end up being part of departmental training. This provides for some very effective and current training opportunities.

This is a 24-hour “on-duty” (shift) and 48-hour “off-duty” nonexempt position that encompasses supervisory and management work in providing emergency scene safety, investigation of safety concerns, the tracking and documentation of injuries and vehicle accidents, and emergency operational training. During field operations, he works within the incident command system, generally assigned as part of the command staff as an ISO.

Other duties include providing training program development, training program instruction, on-scene safety quality ensurance, on-scene incident command reconnaissance, hands-on patient care, hands-on emergency scene supervision, managing maintenance and replacement of fire equipment inventory, and the certification of driver operators.




The health, safety, and welfare of its firefighters is the primary concern of every fire department. In order to provide an adequate and effective safety and health program for its members, a department must develop, implement, and incorporate such a program into its daily management routine. For a safety and health program to be continuously effective, it must be managed competently by the fire department safety officer.

What are the minimum qualifications for a safety officer? What are the daily responsibilities and duties of this individual? National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1521, Standard for a Fire Department Safety Officer, provides part of the answer. But in addition to complying with NFPA 1521, each department must define its own criteria for the position of safety officer.

The position of department safety officer can be filled on a full-time or part-time basis, depending on the department’s needs. A large department may need several members assigned to a safety division under the direction of a single safety officer Other departments may require a safety officer who works a day shift in addition to a safety officer assigned to each suppression shift. A department should assign individuals to specific areas based on their expertise or knowledge.

The job description for the position of safety officer with the rank of captain (specific to our department) was added to the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department after the Department of Human Resources approved minimum criteria for the position. Keep in mind that these are specific requirements for one department. They may or may not meet the needs of another department. For example, a department that provides both fire and rescue services should provide for a separate infection control officer in addition to a safety officer. Also, depending on a department’s size and structure, the safety officer may have to be of the rank of battalion chief or above.

The fire department safety officer is responsible for the management of the safety and health program. This position requires a significant degree of written and verbal communication skills, the ability to interact with industry professionals and government officials, an understanding of safety management principles and practices, and a knowledge of safety standards and regulations relative to the fire service. The member, who has a 40hour workweek, is assigned to the fire chiefs staff; he/she may have to respond as needed during off-duty hours. This position is based on compliance with the most current edition ofNFPA 1521.


The safety officer must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate and must have graduated from Tidewater Regional Fire Academy (TRFA) certified as a state level II firefighter, driver/operator, and state emergency medical technician/D. Other certifications to be maintained are state fire officer I and instructor II. The safety officer must have successfully completed the Fire Department Officer Candidate School.

He or she must be classified as fit for duty by Occupational Health as required by the current edition of NFFA 1582. Standard for Medical Requirements for Fire Fighters, must pass the department’s annual physical fitness test, and must possess a valid driver’s license from the state in which he or she resides. His or her conduct and character must meet the level expected of public safety personnel as outlined in the City of Virginia Beach Code of Ethics, and he or she must have four consecutive years of experience as a paid firefighter with the fire department.


Accident and injury analysis. Reviews all accident and injury reports for accuracy and completeness. Compiles accident/injury statistics on a monthly basis for staff officers plus an annual comprehensive report for the fire chief. Provides statistical data for department, city, state, and national organizations. The accident and injury analysis is imperative, as it is a means of determining how the safety program is doing and what, if any, adjustments are needed.

Accident and injury investigations. Conducts investigations in conjunction with investigation experts relating to vehicular accidents, serious personnel injuries, and fatalities. Submits a detailed report to the deputy chief as to the cause of the accident/injury, determines preventability and needed changes to department operating procedures.

This program is important, as it allows the safety officer to determine what happened, why it happened, and how it can be prevented from happening again. It is important to learn from our mistakes.

City safety liaison. Interacts with the city safety office to ensure department safety issues are addressed. Ongoing safety issues include asbestos abatement and monitoring, bloodborne pathogens (infection control), hazard communication, hearing conservation. and OSHA accident/injury reporting.

Interacts with the division of risk management regarding accident reports and workers’ compensation claims. Any liability situations affecting the department will require informational input from the safety officer.

Serves as an ex-officio member of the department’s Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) committee, which mandates attendance and participation in this program. Supplies information and provides assistance to the OSH committee on an as-needed basis.

These agencies have a great influence on the operation of the fire department. Good relations with these agencies are imperative.

Hazard communication. Responsible for the department’s compliance with VOSHA Standard 1910.1200, Hazard Communication. Provides necessary training programs as needed. Continually evaluates the program regarding compliance, employee knowledge, submission and compiling of material safety data sheets (MSDSs), marking and labeling of containers, and contact with manufacturers. if necessary. This is a mandatory requirement that has become even more important with the implementation of 1910.1030, Bloodborne Pathogens.

Health maintenance program. Responsible for the department’s monthly medical examinations and medical evaluations at Occupational Health. Interacts with the city physician on members’ health problems relating to communicable diseases, medical fitness of full-duty and lightduty personnel, and any other situation that requires medical evaluations of department members.

The health and welfare of department personnel are vital to the department. A healthy workforce will reduce the number and severity of injuries, lost work time, and sick time usage.

Incident scene safety. As required by department policy, the safety officer is a vital part of the incident management process as it relates to firefighter safety. The safety officer has the authority from the department’s chief to immediately suspend any operation that jeopardizes the safety of department personnel. The safety officer shall ensure that the health and welfare of department personnel are maintained through rehabilitation at the incident scene, especially during extended emergency operations. Incident scene safety performance includes the monitoring of structure/container stability, proper and mandatory use of protective clothing and equipment by department personnel, accountability of personnel, rehabilitation of personnel, addressing any safety concerns of the incident commander, and investigating damage to department equipment or injuries to department personnel at the scene.

Statistics show that the incident scene continues to generate more firefighter injuries and deaths than any other location. Our efforts need to be directed toward reversing this trend.

Infection control officer. Is responsible for department compliance with the VOSHA Standard 1910.1030. Bloodborne Pathogens, and NFPA 1581. Fire Department Infection Control Program. Primary responsibilities include training and education. hepatitis B vaccination, personal protective equipment, record keeping, exposure control procedures and health maintenance, cleaning and decontamination procedures, facility safety issues, and program management. Serves as department liaison to determine if medical treatment will be needed if a significant risk of exposure is determined, or a real exposure has occurred. Ensures that the proper documentation of health exposure is submitted by affected personnel. Serves as the department’s liaison to the infection-control TQM team. Reviews and makes necessary changes to the department’s and city’s infection-control policies on an annual basis.

This is another mandatory requirement that ensures the safety and health of department personnel.

Temporary duty program. Responsible for supervising personnel assigned to light duty due to onand offthe-job injuries and illnesses. Makes a determination of assignment to light duty of personnel for job and nonjobrelated injuries and illnesses. Ensures light-duty assignments do not conflict with the attending physician’s orders, causing further aggravation or injury. Maintains adequate records to ensure compliance with the city policy governing light-duty assignments. Serves as a liaison to risk management, Occupational Health, and any other parties involved with this process.

This role is a means of maintaining the productivity of fire department personnel who suffer job-related and nonjob-related injuries and illnesses.

Company inspections. Accountable for the program management of this process, which involves the inspection of each shift at each station over an 18-month period. Coordinates the scheduling of these inspections with the shift division chief and the respective battalion chief. The process involves the inspection of personnel protective clothing and equipment, station facilities, all department vehicles and apparatus assigned to the stations, record-keeping requirements of the company officers, driving evaluations, hydrant maintenance programs, and proficiency testing. A detailed report stating the results of the inspection is submitted to the deputy chief, each division chief, the battalion chief, and the company officer.

This program allows for a review of engine/ladder company operations to ensure compliance with department standards.

Research and development. As an essential part of firefighter safety, the equipment and protective clothing used by department personnel must be state-of-the-art, meeting all safety requirements. This includes fire apparatus, protective clothing, protective equipment, and other equipment that affects the safety of department personnel. Supervises testing of trial clothing and equipment and is responsible for accumulating feedback for formal evaluations and recommendations. Develops bid specifications for safety-related items when appropriate. Responsible for evaluating compliance of clothing and equipment with state and national laws and standards. Maintains involvement in local, state, and national organizations, such as the National Eire Protection Association (NEPA), to ensure the department stays current with industry trends. The safety officer is responsible for determining if present equipment and clothing used by personnel are safe and can remove any defective clothing and/or equipment from service until it is replaced or tested.

This process allows for a means of evaluating new products and equipment that can enhance department operations.

Standard operating procedures. Responsible for the development and maintenance of the department’s standard operating procedures relating to this assignment. Standard operating procedures shall be reviewed and updated annually.

This review process allows that procedures are not outdated, do not conflict with each other, and are being understood and used.

Training and education. Delivers safety training and educational programs to career and volunteer recruits and department personnel during station or company/officer in-service training. Mandatory training includes such issues as infection control, hazards communication, hearing conservation, respiratory protection, and any other standards that affect department operations.

All personnel within the department must be trained and educated in existing and new safety and health procedures.

Vehicle and building maintenance. Supervises the department’s vehicle and building maintenance programs on a daily basis, ensuring compliance with department and city policies. The intent of the vehicle maintenance program is to sustain an operating fleet utilizing an aggressive preventive maintenance program. The vehicle maintenance program will maintain individual reports on each department vehicle to track maintenance costs and repairs. The building maintenance program ensures ail department facilities are adequately maintained relating to all applicable health, safety, fire, and building codes. Reviews all specifications (apparatus and building) to ensure safety compliance.

This process allows the safety officer to ensure compliance of existing department buildings as well as new ones. As fire apparatus is purchased, it must comply with the necessary regulations. An effective preventive maintenance program is imperative to the operation of apparatus and equipment.

A fire department safety officer is imperative to the safety and health of department members. Industry has shown us that aggressive safety and health programs result in fewer accidents and injuries, which in turn leads to a reduction in lost work time and workers’ compensation costs. Eire departments that utilize such programs experience the same results. A growing trend exists within the fire service to develop, implement, and manage a safety and health program utilizing a safety officer. Remember, safety is “good business.”