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A Decade Dedicated to Safety

By Michael Petroff
Vice Chairman of the FDSOA Board

The U.S. fire service met the dawn of a new decade and the end of the 20th century on a somber note. In December 1999, nine firefighters died at fires in Worcester, Mass., and Keokuk, Iowa. In both incidents, crews were attempting rescue.

As we look back on the “decade of zeros” itself, statistics show that approximately 1,500 firefighters died in the line of duty. Injuries reported totaled nearly 500,000. Some incidents that claimed the lives of firefighters and civilians remain as vivid in our minds today as the day they happened -- the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Esperanza fire, the Sofa Super Store fire, the Station Night Club fire. But of course each and every loss of life holds as much significance for someone, somewhere.

The decade of zeros also saw the beginning of efforts to support fire departments financially, reduce the number of line-of-duty deaths and increase emphasis on training, certification, continuing education and review of incidents.

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program began in 2001 and has since awarded millions and millions of dollars to fire departments across the country for equipment and vehicles. Grants programs have also been expanded to include support for fire prevention, staffing and station construction.

As the decade moved on, 2004 holds particular significance from a safety perspective. It was during this year that the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation brought together the fire service to develop a plan to reduce firefighter injury and line-of-duty death. The Life Safety Summit that was held in Tampa, Fla., led to the development of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. Subsequent summits in Novato, Calif., and then in Emmitsburg, Md., focused on delivering and implementing these Initiatives.

Initiative number nine calls for the investigation of firefighter near misses, injuries and fatalities. The Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System is a direct product of this.

Some more stats that reflect well on the increasing recognition of safety and training within the fire service: since 2000, the Fire Department Safety Officers Association has certified more than 3,600 Incident Safety and Health and Safety Officers. Regular recertification is an integral part of this process. In addition, in just 2008 alone, more than 110,000 firefighters received training from the National Fire Academy.
While the decade of zeros began on a somber note, the past 10 years have seen the genesis of programs designed to keep firefighters alive and well. As these programs develop, and continue to receive support, a brighter future awaits.

Learn how to lead your department’s safety initiatives in, ‘S.O. Sidelines,’ the Fire Department Safety Officers Association’s FireRescue1 exclusive column. The FDSOA, an 18-year-old fire safety organization, teaches important lessons in how to be an effective fire department safety officer.