TRAINING AS A RISK MANAGEMENT TOOL
BY MURREY E. LOFLIN AND JONATHAN D. KIPP
In the February 1997 issue of Fire Engineering, we discussed the development of a risk management plan for your fire department. The department`s risk management program plays a significant role in reducing the liability and risks against the department and its members, improving the efficiency of daily operations and strengthening the firefighter safety and health process.
As part of the risk management process, we look to several key areas to help us reduce the risks to our members. For this to work, we assemble tools that will enable us to meet this goal. The easiest way is to put these tools in a toolbox and use them as needed. And at some point in time, they will be needed during the pre-emergency phase and the emergency risk management phase.
TRAINING AN IMPORTANT TOOL
One of the most important and significant tools in the risk management toolbox is training. Other components of the risk management toolbox include standard operating procedures, preincident planning, protective clothing and equipment, incident management system, and personnel accountability. This group of tools is vital to the success of the risk management program.
Training is very crucial to the successful outcome of any incident. It is the key ingredient to any effective and competent operation.
Let`s use a sports analogy to demonstrate the importance of training. If the Green Bay Packers trained once a month on each of their offensive, defensive, and special teams` plays, do you think they would be the champions of the National Football League? The answer is no. Based on the strategy and tactics of the coaching staff, the organization develops a commitment to winning. Training plays an integral part in this process to ensure a successful outcome each week. Based on the planning for each opponent (preincident planning), the review of past games (postincident analysis), and forecasting, the coaching staff develops short-term and long-term strategies for the season. The fire service must take the same approach: develop short- and long-term strategies for training based on each position/function, accident and injury data, the department`s current needs, and forecasting.
The following excerpt from the preface to Firefighting Tactics by Lloyd Layman (National Fire Protection Association, 1951) emphasizes the importance of training. Chief Officer Massey Shaw, chief executive officer of the London Metropolitan Fire Brigade, offers this opinion based on his observation of the American fire service: “When I was last in America, it struck me very forcibly that although most of the Chiefs were intelligent and zealous in their work, not one that I met even made a pretense to the kind of professional knowledge that I consider so essential. Indeed, one went so far as to say that the only way to learn the business of a fireman was to go to fires. A statement about as monstrous and as contrary to reason as if he had said that the only way to become a surgeon would be to commence cutting off limbs without any knowledge of the human body or of the implements required.
“There is no such short cut to proficiency in any profession and the day will come when your fellow countrymen will be obliged to open their eyes to the fact that, as a man learns the business of a fireman only by attending fires he must of necessity learn it badly. Even that which he does pick up and may seem to know, he will know imperfectly and be incapable for imparting to others. I consider the business of a fireman a regular profession requiring previous study and training as other professions do. I am convinced that where training and study are omitted and men are pitchforked in the practical work without preparation, the fire department will never be found capable of dealing satisfactorily with great emergencies.”
These observations originally appeared in an article written by James M. Bugbee in the July 1873 issue of the North American Review. Has the fire service changed since this opinion was formed 124 years ago?
Training is a systematic approach to maintaining the education, knowledge, abilities, and competencies that all members of the department require. Training must be outlined in a matrix that all members can understand and strive to complete. The basis for this process is outlined in standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for a variety of positions. Other standards-making organizations also require levels of competency. Examples are state fire and EMS curriculums, OSHA mandates, consensus standards, and individual department requirements.
How effective is your department`s training program? Does the department commit to and emphasize the training process in the department? How much emphasis is placed on training? Think about how much time is allotted to training for the following:
–fire education specialist
Officer candidate school/certification.
Officer retention and enhancement.
As your department establishes its training program, keep in mind that the training must be in relation to the type and frequency of incidents to which the department responds. There are mandates for awareness training regardless of the department competency levels regarding hazardous materials and confined space incidents. If the majority of a department`s responses are EMS, the training should reflect that.
Risk management must be incorporated into all aspects of the training process as well. The risk management program is a continuous, proactive approach that must be a part of all department operations. Training is the best avenue for developing, implementing, and managing the risk management process.
When a new procedure or policy is introduced into the department, it must be done under nonemergency conditions. An example is implementing a personnel accountability system in a fire department. The system must be used at all incidents and is a vital component of the risk management toolbox. To understand each component of the personnel accountability system and to learn how to effectively operate the system, all members have to train with the system before it is used during emergency operations.
COMMITMENT TO TRAINING
As with the safety and health program, the first issue to be addressed is the organizational commitment to departmental training. The training program is the most important program a department can develop, implement, and manage to maintain effective and efficient members. The fire chief and staff must have the insight and vision to recognize the important aspects of a training process. The NFPA provides the foundation for a strong recruit, firefighter, pump operator, and officer through the Professional Qualifications Standards. These standards are the minimum requirements for each of those positions. The key factor is for the department to develop a comprehensive training package for each rank and/or function to ensure members are well-trained and well-educated. You also must address EMS certification through the training matrix. Most departments require a minimum certification of emergency medical technician (EMT) and additional certifications based on duties and qualifications. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires minimum awareness training in the following disciplines:
29 CFR 1910.120, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response.
29 CFR 1910.146, Confined Space Operations.
29 CFR 1910.1030, Bloodborne Path-ogens.
Also, there are training requirements defined in 29 CFR 1910.134, Respiratory Protection, that must be met annually.
STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES
There is a direct correlation between the operations conducted during an emergency incident and the manner in which you train. If you do not use the proper procedures and practices during training, then you certainly will not use them during emergency operations. Department standard operating procedures (SOPs) play a large part in how you operate. They describe what is required of department members. SOPs deal with administrative issues, training, risk management, emergency operations, and many other important issues that are required to manage an effective organization. Without competent SOPs, an organization`s daily operation will be an out-of-control mess. As a department develops or revises SOPs, especially those involving emergency operations, members must have an opportunity to train with them under nonemergency conditions to become familiar with them and correct mistakes.
TRAINING AND SAFETY
Training and safety go hand-in-hand. You must stress safety to new members from the very beginning of their fire service careers. There is no better time to emphasize safety than during the training process. The fire service has had a terrible problem changing its attitude toward safety. This is very evident from the an-nual firefighter fatality and injury statistics. Hopefully, through the change in attitude, organizational commitment, and liability, this problem will no longer be an issue.
An excellent example of risk management involved in training came about as a result of a serious problem that occurred during live fire training. In 1985, the NFPA passed 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training, detailing the minimum requirements for live fire training, after several firefighter fatalities and severe injuries occurred during live fire training evolutions in the early 1980s. These requirements outline exactly how to safely conduct live fire training in an acquired structure. Before NFPA 1403, the safety of members during live fire training depended on the staff conducting the training. This standard proves that you can conduct successful training without injuring the participants.
When we discuss forecasting, it is in the context of what we predict or envision will possibly happen or what has happened in the department as it relates to training. Forecasting identifies the training needs of the department through several means. One source is the accident and injury data for a department, which highlights weak areas that might require training or retraining programs. One example is vehicle accidents, which might indicate the need for driver training. Another example is injuries associated with failure to wear–or wear properly–protective clothing and equipment. The health and safety officer must work with the training staff to ensure that these training needs are corrected.
The department`s risk management plan is another excellent source for forecasting training needs. As new laws, codes, and standards are introduced, the department has to meet the training requirements. OSHA`s bloodborne pathogens standard is a good illustration of forecasting–it requires fire and EMS organizations to identify short- and long-term goals for meeting its requirements. Training, protective clothing, financial concerns, housekeeping, health maintenance, and other issues have challenged departments to develop compliant programs to ensure members` safety and health.
Another forecasting tool for training is the use of incident response statistics. What is the total number of incidents to which the department is responding? What percentage are fire-related incidents? EMS incidents? Hazardous-materials incidents? Special operations incidents? These statistics allow a department to pinpoint the type of training members need to be proficient in their positions. Even if you do not respond to many working structure fires, you should still train in interior structural firefighting. EMS is becoming a large part of our business, and we need to develop and maintain our proficiencies in the delivery of our services. With hazardous materials and special operations response, we have to provide the level of service based on our competency levels.
While postincident analysis can be considered a forecasting tool, it warrants a separate heading. It is one of the most important methods for identifying training needs. As a department conducts a critique or postincident analysis after a significant incident, one question that has to be asked is, What are the training issues? How competent were members in using the incident management system? Personnel accountability system? What were the safety issues or concerns? The postincident analysis helps you to identify issues that need correcting. If problems are ignored, then the little mistakes turn into big mistakes, and big mistakes seriously injure or kill firefighters. A department must seize the opportunity to look at itself and ask what went wrong and how to correct it.
As you continue with the risk management process, you will recognize the importance of training and how critical it is to ensure the safety and health of your members. There is a clear and distinct advantage to developing and maintaining a proactive training program. This is one piece of the puzzle, but it is a very vital one. n
(Left) Training reinforces safe, proper fireground operations in a nonemergency situation so procedures will become second-nature at an actual incident. (Photos courtesy of authors.) (Right) A postincident analysis helps the department identify training needs and safety and health issues and improve operations at the incident scene.
MURREY E. LOFLIN is captain and safety officer with the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department. He has been a member of the NFPA Fire Service Occupational Safety and Health Technical Committee since its inception and was a contributing author to the NFPA 1500 Handbook (National Fire Protection Association, 1993) and coauthor of Emergency Incident Risk Management (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996). He is a frequent speaker and instructor on firefighter safety.
JONATHAN D. KIPP is loss prevention manager of Compensation Funds of New Hampshire, an organization that provides workers` compensation pooled self-insurance services for cities, towns, counties, schools, and other public employers in New Hampshire. He has been a principal member of the NFPA Fire Service Occupational Safety and Health Technical Committee since 1989. He was a contributing author for the NFPA 1500 Handbook (National Fire Protection Association, 1993) and coauthor of Emergency Incident Risk Management (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996).