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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

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