LIFE SAFETY INITIATIVES

In March 2004, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) hosted a summit that produced 16 initiatives to serve as a blueprint for reducing firefighter deaths and serious injury. Condensed into bullets, the 16 initiatives follow:
• Define and advocate the need for cultural change in the fire service.
• Enhance personal and organizational accountability.
• Focus attention on risk management.
• Empower firefighters to stop unsafe acts.
Develop national training/qualification standards.
Develop national physical fitness standards.
• Create a national research and data system relative to the initiatives.
• Use technology as it relates to health and safety.
• Investigate all firefighter fatalities, injuries, and near misses.
• Ensure grant programs of safe practices.
• Develop national response procedures.
• Develop national procedures to violent incidents.
• Provide firefighters and their families access to counseling.
• Provide resources for public education in fire and life safety.
• Advocate residential sprinklers.
• Make safety a design consideration for apparatus.

Except for the acquisition of resources and development of national procedures, most of the initiatives deal with attitude. The first four items explicitly deal with attitude. Risk assessment, accountability, stopping unsafe acts, and changing 150 years of culture are, as we know, monumental tasks. We have to begin by looking at our profession and ourselves in a different light. Recently, I heard a firefighter say, “Dying is part of the job!” Back 50 or 100 years ago, we were low-paid, lower-class citizens with weak minds and strong backs, and we were expendable. As the old joke in the firehouse used to go, “You can be replaced with a 10-cent postcard.” Those days should be over. But because of attitude, nothing will change-ever. Nothing! Until we (you, me, and our brothers and sisters) want it to change. Hopefully, the next new generation of firefighters will be smarter and have more self-worth.

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

Question: What are you and your department doing to implement the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s 16 Life Safety Initiatives?

Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: We’ve attacked this issue from several fronts. First, however, the committee that put this initiative together needs a big word of thanks from everyone in the fire service. The NFFF exists to help firefighters and their families and provides excellent programs and support. All should support the initiatives and the NFFF.

Our Training Division has worked very hard with our Human Resources Department and is a part of our city’s overall safety team. It has developed and implemented a safety program that looks at everything we do as a city, evaluates the job tasks, and assesses the risks associated with those jobs in an effort to predict and prevent an injury or accident. It also reviews all accidents and injuries and provides a report with its findings to Human Resources and the department director.

As a part of this program, a safety team was assigned within the fire department to work these issues from our end. The program assigns points to accidents and injuries that assist in determining the level of discipline, if any is determined, regarding the incident.

We were very pleased when we first took a look at the 16 initiatives to find that we were already working toward several. For the initiatives that take a more global work effort, we have always taken and continue to take an active role and participate in any format that develops and supports changing standards and policies to make it safer for our firefighters. Our goal as a department is to constantly evaluate our departmental operations on all of these levels to ensure that we’re doing our part to meet the program’s goals. How could we go wrong trying to be safer at what we do?

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,

Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: My department has taken many positive steps for the safety of our firefighters. From the chief to the newest member of the department, the majority of our members are wearing “Everyone Goes Home” bracelets. Many of the 16 initiatives have been implemented within our department; the rest are in the process of implementation. We still have political red tape and budget issues to go through; but, to our advantage, our mayor wears the same bracelet as the department members.

My department currently requires annual physicals for all members. We have a required number of training hours per year, both in-house and on our own. Every day is a training day at my department. Our public education programs have had outstanding results in keeping children and adults out of harm’s way. These actions are just a small part of what our department is doing to protect our members and the public.

I must and do accept these 16 initiatives and pass them along to my firefighters every day. I am ultimately responsible for my company. My firefighters’ safety is first in my mind at all times. I make a point of listening to my firefighters; my idea might not always be the best one. We all work side by side whether training or on a scene. My main priorities are to continue to educate myself, know my job, and ensure we all go home at shift change.

John O’Neal, chief, Manassas Park (VA) Fire Department

Response: The department supports the life safety initiatives. Although we have not formally institutionalized the initiatives into formal policies and procedures, our current policies and practices incorporate safety and safe practices as our number-one priority and will continue to be a top priority as we update procedures.

Department personnel were briefed on the initiatives during the recent national safety stand-down, and we continue to reinforce these concepts during training activities and daily operations. All of our officers, acting officers, and personnel are charged with the responsibility to keep their personnel and peers safe and have the authority to stop unsafe practices and make the necessary changes to operate safely.

Some of our recent efforts to improve safety include our ongoing process to revise and update SOPs and initiate an annual medical examination program (scheduled for the first quarter of 2006). Also, all personnel recently were required to attend Mayday-firefighter down training and practice, and our officers and acting officers attended the incident safety officer course-all designed to strengthen our safety program. Our safety program is a work in progress, and we will continue to seek out best practices to eliminate firefighter injuries and institutionalize safety in all of our programs and operations. The department will continue to support the initiatives to make sure “everyone goes home.”

Craig Shelley, fire protection advisor, Saudi Aramco

Response: Our department has not specifically implemented the life safety initiatives, but, being the largest private fire department and involved in the oil and gas industry, many of the initiatives already have been implemented as part of our organization’s commitment to safety and loss prevention. Our company and our department maintain an excellent safety record and continuously strive to improve this record. Our department advocates the need for a cultural change and holds every member of the organization accountable for safety. There are safety campaigns throughout the year to remind employees of their obligations, present safety-related issues, and strengthen the commitment to safety on and off the job.

Our firefighters and other company employees are empowered and encouraged to stop unsafe acts. Our department has developed an advanced fire training center that has embraced and implemented National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards in its design and curriculum. Department members are now being certified to NFPA standards during firefighting, rescue, and hazardous materials courses. Senior management attends drills and exercises on a regular schedule and highlights positive safety practices and areas of improvement. Each division and department holds quarterly (or more frequent) safety review committee meetings where safety-related items as well as safety and performance indices are discussed. All proceedings of these meetings are shared with other members of the organization. It can be said that our safety initiatives are effective as well as transparent.

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

Response: The initiatives are broad comprehensive goals, and most firefighters will support the philosophy. However, assembling the “nuts and bolts” required to implement some of the initiatives will require time, some money, and the collaboration of labor and management.

We are a combination fire department serving a rapidly growing suburb. Over the past 10 years, we have made a number of changes and improvements. Like many fire departments, we are working on a number of changes that will get us a little closer to the goals of the initiatives. We will continue to increase and improve training, upgrade our equipment, increase staffing, and develop good management and leadership. However, the key to total implementation will rest with each individual.

We have distributed the 16 initiatives to all of our members. This is the first step in implementing them. The question asked is, “What are YOU and your DEPARTMENT doing …?” The first two initiatives focus on cultural change, leadership, accountability, and personal responsibility. This can be accomplished only on a personal level by each individual. No matter what your department is like or what your skill or experience level is, you (an individual) can do a lot to improve safety. Clearly, when a number of individuals subscribe to the initiatives, there will be a synergistic energy that will allow us to meet all of their goals.

Bobby Shelton, firefighter/EMT-I, Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department

Response: I applaud the Foundation for the 16 initiatives! However, I feel that it is sad that so many of our brothers had to perish before we as a “community” finally have had enough. The 16 initiatives are commonsense things we should have been doing all along! But better late than never. My department does not have a timeline or formal plan for documented implementation. However, we have been implementing points such as the following:

• Enhancing accountability for health and safety,

• Utilizing available technologies to produce higher levels of health and safety,

• Thoroughly investigating line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) and near misses,

• Providing counseling for firefighters and their families, and

• Safety as a primary concern for apparatus design.

Although not all of the 16 initiatives have been addressed, this is a good start. I do not know if we will formally adopt and implement the initiatives; that remains to be seen. I would think it would be incumbent on ALL leaders of fire departments, large or small, career or volunteer, to carefully consider what they can do to implement the initiatives.

It will take funding-and lots of it-for this to work. But what is the alternative if departments don’t try to put these 16 points into practice? The number of LODDs will continue to stay around 100 or more per year. What price do you put on the life of a firefighter? How do you tell a family it has lost a member? How do you tell family members that it may have been preventable? In my opinion, whatever it takes to implement the initiatives is considerably cheaper than adding to that 100 or more LODDs each year.

Bill Boehm, captain/safety and training officer, Dungan Volunteer Fire Department, Alamogordo, NM

Response: We adopted a dozen ways to address the 16 initiatives:

1. At weekly meetings, the current list of LODDs is updated with case-specific information, when available.

2. All primary response apparatus are equipped with defibrillators (AEDs), rescue breathing devices, and oxygen.

3. When firefighters are first certified in CPR, they are given a pocket, folding CPR mask to carry in their bunker gear.

4. Resuscitation drills are frequent and often unannounced.

5. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health firefighter fatality reports are distributed or posted on the company bulletin board.

6. Drivers and officers have accepted responsibility for seat belt use and enforcement.

7. Members with bad traffic citation histories watch a long time before they drive.

8. Significant calls and responses are debriefed at the next regular meeting.

9. Newsworthy fire responses from around the country, including safety issues, are presented weekly or as they happen.

10. In just two years, we luckily tripled our active membership and halved their average ages. There are now twice the number of female members and female officers. Training attendance is at an all-time high, and the testosterone effect is at an all-time low.

11. When brothers and sisters grumble about seeing pictures of dead firefighters and funerals, they must be paying attention.

12. Three generations of firefighters in our department mark the culture change. This helps keep each other out of trouble.

Jim Mason, lieutenant, Chicago (IL) Fire Department

Response: I can speak only as a company officer. The most striking part of the initiatives is the acknowledgement of the need for a cultural change with a focus on safety. It seems that the execution of this rests on the shoulders of the company officer. I think the best way to do this is to focus fire training on the basic tasks that need to happen at every fire so we can become very proficient at them. Examples would include mask confidence, safety in the tasks associated with engine and truck duties, and-most importantly-realistic size-up training for the respective response district.

The questions I ask fire services leaders are, “How do you size up?” and “How do you teach size-up to your new recruits?” The answers vary widely. A preplan drill standing in front of different types of residential and commercial buildings in the district to talk about hose stretching, search, ventilation, risks and benefits, construction recognition, and building performance while burning, for example, will go a long way to bringing them all home alive. This type of drill is especially important when the fire occurs on the vacation day of the regular company officer and there is a fill-in officer. After we start drilling on this type of size-up, the next step is to discuss why the decisions are made in favor of one tactic or another. We need to teach “why” more in the fire service. We can empower our firefighters to make good decisions based on risks, mentor them to be good future officers, and implement the initiatives by drilling in this manner. That’s what we do.

Jim Grady III, chief, Frankfort (IL) Fire District

Response: The initiatives should be viewed as an integral part of any organization. We plan on following them and already in many aspects do. The fact is that all of these initiatives are designed more as a follow-through by chief officers and leaders of our organizations.

We will participate in surveys where information is needed to address injuries and fitness and will continue to support laws that address sprinklers, as well as other national protocols that provide a safety net for our department members.

Whereas all initiatives listed are priorities, in my opinion, the two most powerful items are empowering firefighters to stop an unsafe practice and providing more resources for public education. These initiatives apply to all jurisdictions all year long. I view all 16 items not only as my responsibility as chief but also as a responsibility shared with our department officers: to make available to our personnel the best in equipment and training and to ensure that they know where to go and how to obtain assistance and information. Everyone goes home, and everyone should know what goes on within our fire department home!

Ron Terriaco, captain, Concord Twp. Fire Department, Lake County, OH

Response: Our chief has a mission statement: No firefighter will get seriously injured or die in the line of duty on my watch. From this statement he made several years ago, we have adopted guidelines and policies to make our job safer for us and mutual-aid departments that come to our township to assist us. The simple things include making sure our turnout gear and safety equipment are in good working order. If not, they are repaired or replaced. If we are not wearing our seat belts when we get into our rigs, the rig does not move. Our firefighters undergo physicals each year so that any health problems can be detected and treated early. The list goes on. It’s not rocket science. We have been following some of the initiatives and didn’t realize it. In the upcoming year and beyond, we will continue to bring aboard more of the initiatives locally and participate any way we can at the state and national levels to make these initiatives come true.

Tom Sitz, lieutenant, Painesville Twp. (OH) Fire Department

Response: Very few departments can work on all 16 initiatives at the same time. We have taken several large steps in addressing some of the most important ones.

• Encourage personal and organizational accountability for health and safety. We have assigned a health and wellness coordinator and sent him through the appropriate schooling. We have recently received a federal grant for enough money to equip all of our stations with the appropriate cardio and weight-training equipment. Annual physicals have become mandatory. On-duty firefighters can work out at any time of the day.

• All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices. All of our members know they have the right and are expected to stop unsafe practices.

• Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with incident management at all levels. All officers and career firefighters of the organization were expected to get national incident management system training within six months of its coming out. We have placed a greater emphasis on officer training in relation to risk assessment. We can say, “We will risk a lot to save a lot and risk very little to save very little,” but you have to have aggressive officers who are willing to say it and do it at the appropriate times.

Gerard Moroney, lieutenant, Jackson (NJ) Fire District 3

Response: Since the national stand-down, our department has encouraged the firefighters to spend at least an hour in the gym each day. Many of the firefighters have also taken up running and have begun a more healthful lifestyle. Because of the high percentage of cardiac-related deaths in the fire service annually, the department is looking into having our fire department physician administer stress tests to all members. We recently implemented a seat belt policy. It seems to be working well; most members have embraced the idea, although we are still striving for 100 percent compliance.

One thing our department has always believed in is empowering all of our firefighters to stop unsafe practices. Finally, our Fire Prevention Bureau has increased its public education. Instead of administering public education only to the elementary schools, we have begun educating the various senior citizen communities and civic organizations. The Bureau also has been busy placing safety items on our department Web site.

Gary Seidel, chief, Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: As requested on June 21, 2005, our department joined thousands of fire departments across the United States in a national firefighter safety stand-down. As we continue to strive toward full implementation of these 16 life safety initiatives, the department recognizes that the only way to succeed is through a full buy-in of all personnel. This begins with both labor and management working together in our wellness, health, and safety programs.

The department maintains a strong working Safety Committee focused on the integration of risk management at all levels within the department, as well as in our daily emergency management responses. In the emergency management realm, a safety officer or assistant safety officer is constantly used on all emergency operations. This is further enhanced in our department’s motto, which we borrowed from the Los Angeles Fire Department: “Train as if your life depends upon it … because it does!”

Our department also writes bimonthly articles, which follow the Federal Fire and Aviation Safety Team (FFAST) “Six Minutes for Safety.” These articles discuss current safety topics and relevant issues as a crew and as a whole in our analysis of past incidents or through our continued in-service training.

As I stated at the beginning, this needs to be our primary focus, and each of us must buy into all safety initiatives-not occasionally, but at all times in everything we undertake.

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