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How fire student research can help your department

There's a vast amount of good research that can solve fire department dilemmas

Forty years ago the U.S. Fire Administration was formed as part of the recommendations outlined in the America Burning report. Its campus in Emmitsburg, Md., now houses the National Fire Academy, the National Emergency Training Center and the Learning Resource Center.

The goals of USFA included a reduction in the incidents of fires and fire deaths by increasing the awareness of the American people to the issues of fire prevention and life safety. USFA also set out to transition the American fire service from being a vocation to being a profession.

Several early visionaries knew that to make this leap would require data and statistics in the form of National Fire Incident Reporting System, advanced educational opportunities through the National Fire Academy, and a repository for advanced research studies at the Learning Resource Center.

Over the years, we have seen the development of the Executive Fire Officer Program, the Chief Fire Officer Designation, the NFPA Professional Standards and the introduction of such professional groups as the Institution of Fire Engineers — USA Branch that each has set criteria to raise the fire service to a true profession. 

Professional development
Many individuals, whether career or volunteer, have chosen to pursue their individual professional goals through the NFA. But a majority of firefighters have not.

That may be a matter of priorities such as time, opportunity and finances. But it also concerns the degree to which an individual wants to learn how to excel in our profession. 

Sometimes raising our professional awareness doesn't require a lot of our time or money. When was the last time you read one of the new reports concerning ventilation and hose stream placement, the white paper Fire is Everyone's Fight, the Vision 20/20 interim report and goals, or any of the studies on the roles of fire and EMS during an active shooter scenario? 

I'm not just talking about skimming the executive summary, but looking into how these studies were conducted, who were the principals or organizations involved and what impact the study has on the operation of your department and personnel.

Untapped resource
How would you conduct the research your city manager may ask you to do on response time or crew size? How can you research these issues to include best practices or new ideas that are being shared within the fire service?  

One of the little known gems at the USFA is the Learning Resource Center. Since the 1980s, this has been the repository of knowledge for anything affecting the fire service from major disasters to innovative rural water supplies. 

It is also where the latest and best EFOP student research papers are available. Here are two outstanding examples of recent EFOP papers that I've read.

Response time
Div. Chief Allen Walls of the Colerain Township (Ohio) Fire & EMS wrote a third-year EFOP research paper entitled, "An Analysis of Response Times for the Colerain Township Department of Fire & EMS." It delves into the components or increments of time that make up the total fire or EMS response. 

While you may think that is elementary, it is really a complex series of individual times. Surprisingly both these increments and their definitions differ among several national organizations that use response time as criteria of fire or EMS service efficiency.

Chief Walls compares these differences before recommending uniform statistical criteria for departments to make comparisons. For example, one organization starts the clock with the onset of a medical condition to its recognition by the patient or observer or from the ignition of a fire to its discovery.

Then there is a separate increment from the discovery of the incident to the acknowledgment for the need of EMS or fire assistance; a third increment starts from the recognition to seek aid to the receipt of a call by a 911 or dispatch facility. 

Start the clock
Most department criteria may start with the receipt of a call at a 911 center, while others only start with the actual dispatch or notification to the responding department. 

Through this process of evaluating which increments to use, Chief Walls assesses the pros and cons of the decision by indicating which items can be controlled or improved by the department, and which are outside their control when evaluating overall response times.

Once these criteria have been selected, he looked to published national standards before beginning the comparison of his department with both the response times of other similar departments and the recommended national standard on response.

Low air
The second recent paper was from fourth-year student Capt. Todd Rielage of the Fishers (Ind.) Fire Department. His paper was entitled, "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Breathing Methods During a Firefighter Out-of-Air Emergency." 

Capt. Rielage used Action Research to evaluate six commonly taught fire service out-of-air breathing methods that may provide a firefighter with additional time to survive prior to RIT's arrival.

Using precisely calibrated meters, he measured the time, temperature and amounts of CO and HCN present in the ambient fire atmosphere and inside the sealed mask worn by MART-E (Mannequin for no-Air Testing and Evaluation) in fires conducted at the Fishers' hallway simulator.

By comparing these methods to the time it took to reach non-tenable levels within the mask, several of the methods were eliminated as having little or no value. Others were ranked in a descending order of preference as a last chance for survival while awaiting the RIT.

Ongoing work
Both of these papers show the level of original research conducted in the EFO program and what is available upon request at the Learning Research Center. These papers can also serve as benchmarks for further research that may continue to benefit the fire service. 

While both EFO candidates hope they can conduct additional research on their topics, they also hope that other EFO candidates or fire service organizations will contribute to the discussion and thus add to the overall body of knowledge on these subjects.

So what questions do you need answered to help your department evaluate a problem, assess an issue or improve the safety and survivability of your firefighters? 

Chances are there is research available for you to use from the Learning Research Center. It may be as easy as a phone call 800-638-1821.

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