Unless you're living under a rock — and sometimes I think many of us in the fire service are — you should be aware that this week is the Fire Safety Stand Down.
Initiated by the IAFC several years ago, the Stand Down is based on a military concept that when a critical failure in safety leads to injury or death, the unit/division will stand down from active service to review how to ensure that such activities do not occur again.
The continually high and seldom wavering number of line of duty deaths and injuries in the United States, and in my home state of New York particularly, is clearly distressing. What is unacceptable is the lack of dedication by some who call themselves leaders in focusing on these vary issues.
This year's stand down, "Ready to Respond," is based on the concept that there are many aspects to our being prepared to safely respond to a call. Everything from proper training on equipment to personal health and safety can be reviewed. There has been plenty written on the concepts of firefighter safety — many seminars, books and organizations exist to provide information, all of which can be used to increase the value of this event.
Easy process The process is really very easy, this year in particular as it has been increased to encompass an entire week. By making this change from a single day event, it allows multiple shifts in career departments as well as volunteer departments with weekly drills to benefit from this program.
But many are confused about the real strength of the Safety Stand Down concept. It will take leadership to create a culture of change focused on safety. Although the Safety Stand Down provides excellent opportunities for learning and self-inspection on our readiness to respond, that's not the point.
As I discussed in my previous article, the leadership required to invoke necessary change or stand up for what is right doesn't always exist in every agency or at all levels. Several years ago, we gave our Chief of the Year award to then Chief of Department FDNY Peter Hayden for his leadership in the chambers of the city council, not the fireground. At that point, we noted that not every white hat sits atop a leader and not every leader wears a white hat.
Most people are afraid to be that first person to stand up for a new concept — it is a natural instinct to retract from change. You can see it in children and adults, from classroom to boardrooms. Nobody wants to be the guy who sticks out his neck for change only to have it cut off. But it's fairly clear that change must occur. We need folks of every rank to exhibit leadership and talk about safety and the stand down.
The point is if you're reading this article and care about safety, you have a great chance this week to effect change in how we think about safety. If you are a chief, you can show the entire department your desire for each member to go home after every shift, tour or call. If you are a line officer, you can take time during the day or drill to discuss the issues of "Ready to Respond" and the Safety Stand Down. And if you're a firefighter, you too can have an impact — find a safety subject you care about and mention the stand down to your fellow firefighters.
Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.
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