Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Print Comment RSS

Firefighter Safety: Use Your Initiative
by Billy Hayes

The next step in reducing firefighter deaths

The eerie timing of the firefighter safety summit and the Houston tragedy are a reminder push for greater firefighter safety

By Billy Hayes

At 2:00 p.m. (EST), on May 30, the 2013 Curriculum Summit conducted by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation concluded in Columbia, S.C. Twenty-four hours later, the tragic reports out of Houston came pouring in of a raging hotel fire that had injured several firefighters, which we all now know claimed the lives of four of Houston's bravest.

It's not ironic that this event occurred the day after the NFFF meeting. It's recognized that it could occur at any time and after any meeting on any day. The American fire service is a dangerous profession with complex issues facing us. The event in Houston was affirmation that we should take every opportunity that we can to identify methods to reduce firefighter line of duty deaths.

The NFFF invited nearly 50 professionals throughout the fire service representing a diverse spectrum of agencies and associations. The goal was to discuss the state of the service since the summit of 2004 that was held in Tampa, Fla., where the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives were developed.

As one might imagine, there was a great deal of discussion about what we can do differently. The opinions varied, suggestions were abundant, and even on occasion emotions ran high, which was good because it meant that there are people passionate about the issues that lie in front of us.

Intriguing dialogue
There was intriguing dialogue about the role that standards and training plays. Many believe that we aren't providing enough life-saving training early in the new recruits' careers. While some are in favor of changing the mindset so that every fire should be conducted externally unless life safety considerations are presented.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology was also in attendance to offer their input on the many burns they have conducted with FDNY, Chicago, and in Spartanburg, S.C. in regards to flame spread and hose stream application. Their findings will have an impact on the future of suppression techniques.

Other discussion items included identifying who are the change catalysts in the fire service? While we may have many legends who have laid a foundation, should we challenge them with a new way of thinking or should we build upon what they have contributed?

Who will lead?
The group also looked at what role the new generation of firefighters play; how to reach the senior firefighter and their way of thinking; and how can to lead the charge with those at the company officer level.

We also addressed the issue of how do we train firefighters virtually and realistically. Some of the training-related questions that face the fire service are: how do we give them true live-fire training that is real to what they will see and not those fabricated in burn buildings with limited resemblance; how do we engage training officers to lead the way; and are we giving them the right tools such as consistent curriculums to teach from?

And finally, it was agreed that somebody has to step up to lead the charge. While everyone in attendance believed it should be the United States Fire Administration, we also all realize that it is a victim of government bureaucracy and have limitations to take on a task as critical as this.

Being such, who are the stakeholders to help and is the NFFF the agency that will lead the way?

The outcome of the two day meeting, were several action items that will help become a road map for the 10 year anniversary of the 2004 Life Safety Summit. A full report will be forthcoming that will outline the many highlights of the South Carolina meeting and where to next.

In 2004, a goal that was set forth to have a 50 percent reduction of LODDs within 10 years. Although we have fallen short of that, we have made a significant impact with a 27 percent reduction thus far resulting in the lowest numbers we have experienced.

However, any celebration should be short lived considering what just occurred in Houston. In fact, of the 37 LODDs reported by USFA, 13 have occurred in the Lone Star state in three separate multi-fatality fires.

To say the least, we can never let our guard down and lose focus of the mission of everyone goes home.

Be Safe!

About the author

Billy D. Hayes has served as the Director of Public Information and Community Affairs for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department and as the Chief of Fire Services for the City of Riverdale, Ga., and is a past-president of the Metro Atlanta Fire Chiefs Association. He is a graduate of Georgia Military College and the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. He additionally served as the Advocate Program Manager for the Everyone Goes Home campaign through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, where he was also a State and Region IV Advocate. Billy frequently writes and speaks on the topics of firefighter safety and fire prevention. In this column series, he will be outlining the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives – and what they mean for you and your department. He can be contacted via e-mail at

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Richard Anderson Richard Anderson Monday, June 10, 2013 8:21:42 PM For the record I would be glad to re-dedicate my life to the cause working with the NFFF team of experts. Billy, as you know my beliefs are untraditional because in addition to being in the public sector I was Corporate in the Private Sector. We had to answer to metrics. We were counting near misses not deaths. A lot of things are in place. The one thing that remains the same and will be the most difficult to change was articulated by Chief (ret) now Dr. Pessimier. The Fire Service is proud of its tradition one of those traditions that is we save lives and property and it’s a dangerous job. If you are afraid of danger get another profession. Dr. Pessimier illustrated Safety culture can be analyzed in the same way as organizational culture, by examining safetyrelated behaviors and practices, determining safety-related values and beliefs, and uncovering the underlying assumptions related to organizational safety (Cooper, 2000). Safety behavior and practices can be measured using checklists, peer observation, self-reports, or safety outcome measures. Values and beliefs can be measured using any of a number of safety climate questionnaires or surveys. Underlying assumptions are difficult to examine because they are unconscious. However, these assumptions are manifest through the values, beliefs, behaviors and practices that are held by organizational members or that occur within the organizational context. Representations of the underlying assumptions of the safety culture are reflected in the policies, structure, control systems, and management practices of the organization. I know sounds like a lot of paper work. No one said it was going to be easy. This work was began the end of my leadership of the Everyone Goes Home Program. A survey was performed of Tampa and Miami Fire Departments as a pilot. This work needs to be revived and continued. In almost every case of a firefighter line-of-duty injury or fatality, a root cause analysis indicates that a lack of leadership contributed to the outcome. The leadership that is essential at the chief level is about setting the tone, establishing the vision, motivating and inspiring those in their organization to perform safely and effectively. If the Chief establishes an expectation of safety and creates an environment where everyone is motivated to behave accordingly, the department will follow suit and operate in a safe manner. The company officer’s responsibilities include, supervision, effective decision making, problem solving, planning, delegating, organizing of crews, training, mentoring, managing performance, ensuring conformance to standard operating guidelines, policies and other internal regulations. These are all essential to the safety performance of the department. The leadership of the company officer is present in how these responsibilities are carried out. If the company officer wants his/her crew to wear seat belts they will wear seat belts, if they allow unsafe behaviors to prevail the consequences will eventually result in an injury or, depending on circumstances, a line-of-duty death. Equally important are the management functions which include; planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling and problem solving. These essential functions enable the vision of the Chief to be fulfilled and provide the necessary resources to the Company Officer. If we’re really going to change the culture that is causing firefighter injuries and deaths, Company Officers must first address unsafe learned behaviors. Safety engineers agree that unsafe behaviors become acceptable because they don’t always result in undesired outcomes or accidents. They become an accepted way of doing things. After a recruit firefighter completes their training, their first step will be gaining the acceptance of their crew. It’s then up to the informal leader of the crew (the veteran), and the company officer to reinforce the “Everyone Goes Home” philosophy. If it is the “culture” of their peers to be fit for duty, to know their job, to avoid unsafe behaviors, wear their all their protective equipment all the time when hazards are present, etc., and they accept personal responsibility for these decisions, then more firefighters will return home without injury. Conclusion Changing a culture takes many years, as behaviors are learned over time and passed down, much like a tradition. Fire Department culture has been passed on from generation to generation and from crew to crew. There must be a concerted effort to re-examine behaviors and to replace the ones that will result in line of duty injuries and deaths. For over 100 years the culture of the Fire Department has been saving lives and property. If we are to change the annual outcome of 100 firefighters dying and 80,000 injured then it time to do something different. It’s time for the leaders in the department to change the culture from saving just lives and property to additionally ensuring…Everyone Goes Home. This can happen when we do what Corporate America does understand the problem and then apply known systems to remediate it. Chief Richard R Anderson, C.F.P.S., IAFC member since 1990 was director-at-large for the Safety, Health & Survival Section, as well as a member of the Leadership Team for the Industrial Fire and Safety Section. He was an Industrial Chief Fire Protection/Loss Prevention Engineer for more than 25 years for a Fortune 50 Pharma Company and concurrently served as a chief officer for the Woodbridge Township District 12 Fire Department New Jersey. He served as the initial director of the Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives Program and Chief of fire safety and loss prevention for the Professional Association of Innkeepers International and Leader of the Lodging Industry Committee for NFPA and Loss Prevention Committee for the American Hotel Lodging Association. Currently Senior Loss Control Consultant Core Risks Ltd.
Jeff Bailes Jeff Bailes Tuesday, June 11, 2013 6:53:29 AM The safety of our first responders must always be the first priority throughout the entire incident!
Billy D. Hayes Billy D. Hayes Tuesday, June 11, 2013 8:55:00 AM Chief Anderson thank you for your post. Well written and expressed. As you well know, I first learned the Courage To Be Safe program from you in Raleigh, NC when there were only about 20 adovates at that time which I think was 2006. My how times have changed...Tim Sendelbach wasn't able to make the meeting but sent us some words to think about while we were there. Challenge the traditions, and the legends who made them. I would say we take it a step further, and we should challenge ourselves and our profession. I agree with what you say about this is a dangerous profession. It will take true leadership at every level, not just the Chief(s) to make the changes. For the record, I also want to say that for long term change, we must stop thinking that responding to fires is our job and we must start understanding and practicing that preventing them is. Fires will continue for years to come from poor planing and implementation of protection systems, lack of community education, and a general lack of interest in our society. But if we as a profession don't embrace European standards of prevention and as Kevin Quinn at the meeting said (look outside our boundaries and just because it's not an American idea doesn't mean it's not right) and make those traditional challenges and changes, we will continue to get what we always got.
David J Rozanski David J Rozanski Thursday, June 13, 2013 7:13:02 PM I have forty-seven years in the fire service. Not a record but a pretty good run. For the last 30-some years of conducting training, I open and close my training sessions discussing that of all of my years of service, we are still killing firefighters for the same reasons. We have blamed everything and sometimes ourselves for what is happening. We have a very dangerous profession and sometimes take chances to do the best job we can do but almost all of the firefighter deaths are the same as before. Technology and training is our best defense but still does not stop that "over the edge" challenge required of the job. Old firefighters make young firefighters grow old. My job as an instructor for the state is to make sure every firefighter is taught how to do the job as safe as possible and hope I never have to attend another LODD. I hope this is the next step in eleminating LODD for all firfighters.
Greg McIntyre Greg McIntyre Monday, June 17, 2013 5:31:29 PM Quite correct - dead and injured fire-fighters cannot help anyone!
Kothanda Raman Raman Kothanda Raman Raman Wednesday, June 19, 2013 7:32:08 PM As most deaths of Fire fighters occur in side buildings due to back draught and smoke training sessions should cover this aspect.Regular exercises at areas and rotated will improve the coordination with all the agencies involved.A day after major incidents a discussion involving all the teams taken part should pin point each members flaw and appreciate those who helped to successfully complete thye task.

FireRescue1 Offers

Company Officer Development
Company Officer Development

Connect with FireRescue1

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google+

Get the #1 Fire eNewsletter

Fire Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
Enter Email
See Sample