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Being a Champion of Safety

By Michael Petroff
Retired battalion chief/training officer

The 2008 Summer Olympics produced all sorts of champions. Swimmer Michael Phelps proved to be the “champion of champions,” returning with eight medals while Mark Spitz was the champion of graciousness as he accepted that his record was bested and a new swimmer reigned. There were many other champions, even those who left Beijing empty handed.

The fire service, too, has many champions. Their names are recognized and their words and lessons repeated often. Brannigan, Brunacini and Dunn are contemporary champions, along with Dodson, Salka and Mittendorf to name but a few. Champions from the early days of my career include Layman, Walsh, Kimball and the Iowa team of Royer and Nelson. These men “did battle for another’s rights.” That right was fireground safety. The message of these champions varied in flavor from building construction and fire flow to strategy, tactics and incident command. But the underlying message always came back to fireground safety.

Brannigan spoke of the building as being the enemy, and gravity as its greatest ally in the effort to literally smash the warriors. Battle plans from early times speak of commanders and divisions trying to overpower enemies with superior force (remember Brunacini’s “big fire big water” concept?). Royer and Nelson helped determine what “big water” meant. Walsh and Kimball aligned troops in battalions and set a battle plan.

But what can you do to become as much of a champion as these individuals? Publish a book? Host seminars? Write volumes about your expertise and get someone to publish the material in a national magazine?

The answer is an emphatic no. To be a champion for safety, you just need to do the right things. The list of “right things” is available readily. The Everyone Goes Home Life Safety Resource Kits (Volume 3 is due any day) and web site downloads are a readily available free resource. The FDSOA has available study guides for safety officer certifications and can provide safety related information and procedures. And the U.S. Fire Administration will send free safety-related publications to your department. There is no excuse for not knowing where to find out what you need to know to be safe.

However, the next step is the hardest — actually implementing this safety concept. Labor and management must be in agreement on the goal and must work toward that goal. Policies and procedures must be established and enforced. Training must emphasize safety. The FDSOA can assist you in all of these aspects of a safety program. From National Certification as Incident Safety Officer and Health & Safety Officer, to providing training at annual conferences, recertification and continuing education to partnership with other National organizations, the FDSOA is safety.

Join the FDSOA, become a certified safety officer and in turn become a true champion of safety.

Michael Petroff is a retired battalion chief from the Ferguson Fire Department of St. Louis County, Missouri. BC Petroff served for more than 32 years, progressing through the ranks. He served on the St. Louis County Overhead response team, and is an instructor for national, state and local fire agencies. BC Petroff is a western region director for the Fire Department Safety Officers Association, a member of the National Fire Protection Association 1021 Committee, a member of the Thomson Delmar Fire Advisory Board, and serves as the region VII regional advocate for the Everyone Goes Home Life Safety Initiatives Program.

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.