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Safety Stand Down: How your volunteer members can reap the benefits

Six steps to help organize your department’s rehab practices, training and implementation


The 2021 Firefighter Safety Stand Down theme is “Rebuild Rehab,” directing focus on post-incident wellbeing, including cardiac health, mental health, nutrition, hydration, and management of exposure and heat stress.

Photo/John Tippett

The Firefighter Safety Stand Down is an annual event for fire departments around the country, with members encouraged to suspend all non-emergency activities during the week to focus their attention on a particular safety and health topic. This year’s theme is “Rebuild Rehab,” directing focus on post-incident wellbeing, including cardiac health, mental health, nutrition, hydration, and management of exposure and heat stress. The program is sponsored by the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section; the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC); and the NFPA.

The Safety Stand Down is often embraced by paid fire departments that have large membership rosters and can shuffle training time to accommodate a unique week of activities. But what about those departments that do not run duty shifts, where members respond to the station when the tones are tripped, and where training occurs in short periods after a call, or is regularly scheduled on a weekly or monthly basis? How can these departments apply the Safety Stand Down and reap the benefits of this important week? After all, the manner in which we respond and train may differ from paid departments, but the subject matter – and the consequences of ignoring it – are equally critical.

[Read next: Fire departments kick off Safety Stand Down week focused on ‘Rebuilding Rehab’]

Getting started on the stand down

Safety Stand Down Week may have snuck up on you. This may even be the first place you learned about it. That’s OK. Just because the week is already underway doesn’t mean you have to wait until next year to make the program work for your department.

As a volunteer officer, you’ve got the luxury of preparing rehab training and education for your members and getting it into your department’s training plan for the next monthly training cycle, or even the one after that. Or you can start working rehab into current training evolutions.

There are several ways you can approach Safety Stand Down week. The best place to start is the Safety Stand Down website, which offers many resources, but we’ll cover some tips to help your volunteer department have the best chance of success in implementing, training, and consistently employing rehab and wellness practices.

To start, use the following checklist to organize your rehab practices, training and implementation:

  1. Establish a safety committee
  2. Coordinate all planning and training activities with your HSOs and ISOs
  3. Develop health and safety policies
  4. Coordinate with specialty resources (EMS, etc.) that serve your coverage area
  5. Get to know NFPA 1584
  6. Develop a training schedule that addresses all of the following topics – then train!
    • Heat Stress/Hydration
    • Cardiac Health/Nutrition
    • Exposure Mitigation
    • Mental Health / Post Incident Stress
    • Rehab Support Operations
    • Proper use of related forms and documents

Let’s now detail each step.

1. Establish a safety committee

If you don’t already have one, establish a safety committee. Your time as a chief officer is transitory. Without an established, permanent committee charged with member health and wellness, any initiatives you start may find their way to the dustbin of fire department history. Include line officers, all safety officers, those with training responsibilities, and a mix of newer and veteran members.

A purpose statement for the committee might read: “The purpose of the XYZ Fire Department Health & Safety Committee is to develop and promote healthy and safe facilities, operational, and training environments for all members.”

The health and safety activities of the committee include but are not limited to:

  • Identifying unsafe work practices and conditions and suggest appropriate remedies.
  • Conducting health and safety inspections of operations and facilities, identifying safety hazards, and recommending corrective measures.
  • Reviewing accident/incident reports. Types of accidents, causes and trends shall be identified, and appropriate corrective action suggested.
  • Obtaining and analyzing available data on past injuries and illnesses and identifying trends and suggest appropriate corrective actions.
  • Developing, training on, and implementation of rehabilitation, and health and wellness-related policies and procedures.
  • Developing, training, and implementation of rehabilitation operations.
  • Developing, training, and implementation of health and wellness programs for members and their families.
  • Encouraging feedback from all members concerning health and safety-related ideas, problems, and solutions.
  • Ensuring compliance with relevant department policies and procedures, and any state or federal occupational safety and health regulations.
  • Acting as department liaison for all communications and site inspections conducted by state or federal occupational safety and health representatives.

2. Activate your HSOs and ISOs

Per NFPA 1521: Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer Professional Qualifications, a health/safety officer and incident safety officer position should be involved right from the get-go on planning, development, training, implementation, and monitoring of all health and wellness programs and activities. Engage them in any programs – after all, it’s their job!

3. Develop related policies and procedures

Whether you subscribe to Lexipol’s fire policy and procedure services, share with surrounding departments, or download from a trusted source and adapt to your department, put rehab and health and wellness-related policies in place.

At a minimum, your department should have policies and procedures addressing the following:

  • On-scene and training rehab
  • Hazmat decon and rehab
  • Heat illness prevention
  • Cold weather rehab
  • Critical incident stress
  • Health and wellness (physical and behavioral)
  • Illness and injury prevention

As with all policies and procedures, these should be the bedrock foundation of your safety programs. All training and practice should be based on their content.

4. Coordinate with specialty resources that serve your coverage area

I’m fortunate to be part of a department where the first aid squad was established to support the fire department. They are automatically dispatched to all fire calls and participate in training events. So coordinating with our first aid squad brothers and sisters is pretty seamless. However, depending on how your covering EMS is structured, you may need to reach out to invite representatives to provide input or see what resources they can provide. This work would include taking and recording vitals of members entering the rehab area, monitoring members for signs of physical and behavioral stress, and advising when officers should order members to be removed from operations.

Further, many first responders live in areas where rehab and hazmat resources are provided on a county or regional level. Consider inviting these resources for joint training, or to provide training to your members.

Regarding behavioral health and critical incident stress management, know what resources provide coverage to your department and how to access them quickly.

5. Get to know NFPA 1584

NFPA 1584: Standard on the Rehabilitation Process for Members During Emergency Operations and Training should be reviewed, at a minimum, by department safety officers, training officers, and line officers. The Safety Stand Down site shares an NFPA 1584 fact sheet and free access to the full standard.

6. Develop a health and wellness training schedule – then train!

It’s important to work rehab into your training calendar and execute training according to your department’s schedule.

Like incident command and communications, rehab can be trained on and reinforced at all hands-on training activities, regardless of the training subject. The department should conduct dedicated training on all health and wellness policies as well. Members should become familiar with rotating through rehab and how rehab may restrict their participation in operations.

Further, EMS personnel should be on hand to take and record vitals. Taking vitals and monitoring members under less stressful conditions will give members a good baseline on their physical health and may trigger formal medical evaluation and diagnosis that could save member’s lives and prevent a cardiac or other health-related line-of-duty death.

Prioritize rehab

Following the steps and practices outlined above will allow volunteer departments to accomplish the goals of this year’s Safety Stand Down. It may not happen in a week, but then, that’s not the point. The point is to make health and wellness a priority for department leaders and members.

Scott Eskwitt is the former director of fire policy and training content for Lexipol. He previously served as chief of the Fair Haven (N.J.) Fire Department, and was a member of the Fair Haven First Aid Squad and the Red Bank (N.J.) Fire Department. Eskwitt is an attorney and has spent his legal career advising municipalities and fire departments on risk management, human resources and labor relations issues. His undergraduate degree in Industrial & Labor Relations was received from Cornell University and his law degree from SUNY Law at Buffalo.