Take the Initiative in Promoting Firefighter Safety
"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare." Mark Twain, 1835-1910
By Michael Petroff
Many conversations have been held concerning implementation or "deliverables" related to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation 16 Life Safety Initiatives. To further the cause, more than 100 movers and shakers of the U.S. fire service attended a summit earlier this month at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg to look at ways of implementing these initiatives.
The largest group in attendance was the state and regional advocates of the initiatives program, of which I am one. Facilitation strategies were discussed to help meet the overall goal of reducing firefighter death and injury. What's pleasing, and of particular note to safety officers, is the fact there are organizations out there that are already implementing the initiatives as a course of their daily operations.
The FDSOA is an organization that can be a resource for initiative implementation. Initiative #5 calls for national firefighter training and certification along with recertification. Our group has long been a certifying agency of the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (Pro Board) for certifying and recertifying incident safety officers and health and safety officers.
But we're not the only organization that can assist in implementing this initiative. NFPA standards exist in all duty categories in the fire service from entry level firefighter to executive fire officer. In addition, the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress, the Department of Defense and state fire training entities are all resource agencies that can assist in implementing certification at all levels of the fire service.
Initiative #6 cites development of medical and physical fitness standards based on firefighter duties. NFPA 1582 Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative and the National Volunteer Fire Council Heart Healthy Firefighter program are all resources for implementing this initiative.
Initiative #7 — creating a national research agenda and data collection system — can be linked to participation in the National Fire Incident Reporting System. The system was created under the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-498) to "gather and analyze information on the magnitude of the nation's fire problem, as well as its detailed characteristics and trends." Assistance in implementing Initiative #7 is available from the USFA and state agencies involved in NFIRS.
Initiative #9 regarding the investigation of firefighter fatalities and injuries along with near misses is an area being addressed by NIOSH along with the USFA. The National Fire Fighter Near Miss Reporting System is another effort to gather data regarding firefighter injuries, while Chief Billy Goldfeder's Firefighter Close Calls provides an informal method of reviewing incidents.
Initiative #15 — advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers — while toward the bottom of the list numerically speaking, may be the single best implementation to achieve the goals of the program. Sprinklers work. With automatic sprinklers, fire stays small or is extinguished. Less fire equals less firefighter risk;.less risk equals less death and injury. The National Fire Sprinkler Association can provide resources necessary to aid in implementation of the initiative. In addition, fire chiefs need to publicly acknowledge the value of fire sprinkler systems at every opportunity.
The USFA's AFG program, Responder Safety , Fire 20-20, the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and a host of other organizations can assist with implementation of the initiatives. But the implementation of these initiiatives, even with the assistance of these partners, will not be easy. If a firefighter does not meet physical standards for instance, what options are available to that firefighter — retirement, termination? Home builders associations regularly and vehemently oppose residential sprinkler ordinances. One fire district in Missouri even sent fire inspectors to a national meeting to oppose residential sprinkler action. It's vital to bear in mind that no one said this journey would be an easy one. But consider the alternatives — another flag at half staff at Emmitsburg and a grieving family in your town. Have the courage to be safe.
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.