How we're changing the status quo

Efforts to reduce LODDs seem to be paying off for the U.S. fire service but more still needs to be done


American voters made a decision in the midterm elections in November this year. The decisions were based on a decision to change the status quo. The U.S. Fire Service apparently made a similar decision earlier in the year, too. The number of line-of-duty deaths recorded in 2010 is near the lowest in the past decade. The number of Safety Officers certified by the National Board of Firefighter Professional Qualifications (Pro-Board) through the Fire Department Safety Officers Association is at a record annual total.

The causes for the reduction in LODDs are not readily measurable. Although the number of deaths is down, the statistics do reflect a status quo or even regression in some ways. Statistics through November show that 68 percent of LODDs occurred away from the incident scene, or responding to the incident scene. Heart attack was the cause of 58 percent (46) of the deaths, vehicle collision 14 percent (11). Twenty-one firefighters who died were over the age of 61. The oldest was 86. Two firefighters were under the age of 21.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Everyone Goes Home Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives call for the certifications of firefighters. Perhaps the fire service is implementing and adopting this Initiative. The training required for certification may be a factor in the reduction of fireground deaths. However, 8 percent (6) of the LODDs involved firefighters losing their lives due to building collapse, being overtaken by advancing fire conditions or becoming disoriented.

The FDSOA, NIOSH, the IAFF and the IAFC all worked to reduce the number of LODDs in 2010. The FDSOA through safety officer training certification, NIOSH by investigating LODDs and making remedial recommendations and the IAFC's Rules of Engagement and the IAFF's Fire Ground Survival Program both show a commitment to reducing firefighter fatalities.

Technological improvements may be another LODD reduction factor. Several firefighters report "new" use of seat belts because of the strong reminders that come in the form of warning lights and buzzers in newly delivered apparatus.

Increased awareness of air management has changed the way departments treat low air warning alarms. Changes in roadway operations is apparent in most photos and videos, in the form of roadway safety vests on most (if not all) responders.

All of these improvements in safety operations and awareness may be contributing factors in the relatively low number of LODDs in 2010. Perhaps the "no fear" culture of the fire service is changing and we are entering a time when risk management prevails and we employ intellectual aggressiveness.
We still must address our biggest cause of LODDs — heart attack. We must look at age as a factor that increases risk. The Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative should receive a renewed effort.

The fire service is committed to reducing LODDS, but the efforts must seriously review the statistics and make the necessary changes.

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