Researching injuries and near misses

New data gleans some not-so-surprising information about how firefighters are injured


CHICAGO — EMTs are assaulted and firefighters are often nearly hit by motorists were among the findings reported during an Fire-Rescue International educational session that examined the causes and frequency of firefighter injuries and near misses.

Lead researcher Jennifer Taylor told the group those and other findings surprised researchers. But, it likely confirms what many fire service professionals have long known or suspected.

Taylor is an assistant professor at Drexel University School of Public Health and is working on the Drexel Firefighter Injury Research Project.

As part of the presentation, Taylor posted actual near-miss scenarios and had the attendees work in small groups to determine what engineering, educational or enforcement tactics could be used to prevent that incident.

In the scenario of firefighters nearly being creamed by speeding motorists while containing a roadside brushfire, officers from Louisiana shared two innovative approaches that they have in place.

One was installing blue rear-facing lights, which motorist mistake for police lights and slow down. Another was to specify rigs with pump-and-roll capabilities so roadside fires can be hit without the crew leaving the relative safety of the cab.

When researchers examined the Philadelphia Fire Department's injury and near-miss data they found something surprising, Taylor said. Females accounted for 22.3 percent of the struck-by injuries, while their male counterparts accounted for only 9.2 percent. A closer examination showed that most of these incidents were EMS runs and assaults on the medics.

Not surprising to those in the field, the medics reported being punched and having patients point weapons at them; they also reported assaults from the patients' family members. They did express the need for more "curb-side manner" training as a way to help them diffuse potentially violent situations.

Taylor said the top three most common causes of injuries were falls, struck-by and burns, respectively. Those same three categories topped the list for near misses as well.

Electrical-current hazard came up high on the list of near-miss causes, but did not show up high on the injury list, she said. One attendee speculated that this is likely due to it being much easier to isolate an electrical hazard than it is a fall or burn hazard. You can't disconnect the fire, he said.

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