In light of Fire Prevention Week, I encourage everyone to take the time to go to the NIOSH website to review the latest firefighter fatality investigation reports. As you look at the deaths outlined, issues such as a lack of continued training and poor command and communications will all be things that contributed to the deaths of these fine individuals.
But the first and foremost killer was the fire. If no fire occurred, then there would have been no reason to respond and the firefighter wouldn't have perished that day. It's really that simple.
The term "safest fire" seems like an oxymoron, and indeed it is. In basic terms, the safest fire is no fire at all. But fire prevention in many fire departments and to many individuals in the fire service is also an oxymoron.
There really aren't many industries that dedicate the time, funding and energy to putting themselves out of business the way that we do. Of course how many industries also are truly appreciated when they fail in the public eye as we all do from time to time?
I often listen and to some extent sympathize with the recruits in our department longing for some "action." I've also grown accustomed to my wife's sideways glare at me if I mention a "good fire" I was at. In her youth, she lost all her family belongings in a fire and spent quite a few months waiting for their home to be rebuilt while living at the local church's rectory.
Clearly just as no fire is safe, there is no good fire. At the end of the call we get to go home — but the property owners are left struggling with the loss.
Clearly our role in the community is not only to ensure that if fires occur they are mitigated quickly and professionally, but that we do all within our power to help ensure there is no fire to begin with. Unfortunately not everyone in the fire service sees fire prevention as a role for them, yet it is everyone's responsibility.
Lead by example The fact you're browsing this website and reading the articles posted here clearly shows you're committed to being a leader regardless of rank within your department. Just as you can lead by example during drills or training, you can also lead by example in fire prevention efforts.
Not every aspect of the roles we play in operations during an emergency is our favorite exercise nor what we feel most comfortable with, but we still realize the evolution needs to occur. The same is true with fire prevention efforts; get involved and help support the individuals who are working toward this goal.
Like most things in our industry, recruits will only learn the value of prevention through the importance each of us places upon it. If you don't act like you value the programs, then they won't either. You can play a positive role simply by having a positive attitude toward your department's efforts and those individuals carrying this important goal for your organization.
We can all play a better role in getting out our message. How many of us practice EDITH in our own homes? My children know the sound of our smoke detectors, multiple exits and where our meeting place is. But do we all talk to our parents, friends and neighbors to let them know that we practice fire safety?
We can also play a part by going to meetings on building code improvements or zoning board meetings in our community to ensure that our public officials know what we need to keep both citizens and ourselves safe. Most of us wear many hats in this life and with a little bit of vision you can probably find a spot to be vocal about fire safety in each of these areas.
As the week of fire prevention arrives, we all pay more attention to community safety. But for each of us, fire prevention must last all year round, not simply when the leaves start to fall.
The citizens we protect can have a lot on their minds or sometimes seem to be not thinking at all. We must be vigilant in protecting their property and well-being as well as ourselves with a year-long message.
Fire prevention through education, building code development and all of our support may mean we encounter the "safest fire" when we respond.
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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