Safety Support for Firefighters

By Richard C. Maddox

I have always been the glass is half empty type guy, which I believe serves me well as a fire department safety officer. It is our job to look at every situation and figure out what is the worst possible thing that could go  wrong — and the actual possibility of that happening. 

After evaluating these possibilities, we then need to be able to report them to the incident commander in a concise, effective manner. In my humble opinion, the reason we don't have more safety officers operating on the fireground is that both the incident commanders and the safety officers themselves did not learn a very important lesson most of us were taught in kindergarten: playing well with others.

Since being appointed Safety Officer in 1992, I have worked with many chiefs and company officers. Some were easier to work with than others, but my guiding principal has always been firefighter safety first, everything else second.

My principal job is to protect firefighters' lives, and my secondary job is to make the incident commander look good, while doing my job first. If both incident commander and safety officer understand that simple rule, egos can be checked at the door and we can work together to ensure firefighter safety.

We must ensure that we have a trained and, if possible, a certified fire department safety officer on the scene of every structure fire, heavy rescue and special operations response. We owe nothing less to our firefighters and their families.

One only needs to look at the headlines of the major fire service publications to see the immediate need for the position of a fire department safety officer. This need is backed up by the actual requirement of numerous standards and regulations for the designation of a fire department safety officer.

The incident commander needs that second set of senses to help them evaluate the situation as it relates just to firefighter health and safety, so that he /she can develop the tactics to complete the task at hand.

My message to the chiefs of departments across the United States and Canada is to take a bold step and establish a safety officer program for your department.

You must ensure that all your safety officer candidates are provided with the appropriate levels of training and the tools to complete their task in an efficient manner, and encourage them to become certified Incident Scene Safety Officers (Fire Suppression). The Fire Department Safety Officers Association will be happy to guide you in the endeavor. Stay Safe.

Richard C. Maddox is the vice chairman of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association. He is a certified fire suppression incident scene safety officer and a health and safety officer. He has served with the Sayville, New York Fire Department for the past 32 years and is currently the department's health and safety officer and chairperson of its health and safety committee. He is the FDSOA current representative to the NFPA 1720 Technical Committee. Mr. Maddox holds an associate's degree in applied sciences, a bachelor's degree in health care administration and a master's degree in public administration. He is employed by the New York State Office of Mental Health as a clinical risk management specialist. He can be reached at

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