Fire service wishes in the new year

Reducing LODDs, improving equipment caches and reducing major wildland fires top the list

It is that time of the year again where we ring out the old and ring in the new year.

For many, the tradition of ringing in the new year means determining New Year’s resolutions – lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, save more money.

The new year is a time for wishes. And with that in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to make wishes for the upcoming year for the fire service. Here are just a few of my wishes for 2020:

Firefighters battle the Cave Fire burn as it flares up along Highway 154 in the Los Padres National Forest, above Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019.
Firefighters battle the Cave Fire burn as it flares up along Highway 154 in the Los Padres National Forest, above Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Wish #1: Zero firefighter deaths

Some of you may have rolled your eyes when you saw this wish. I’ll remind you of the quote, “If you aim at nothing, you will definitely hit it.”

We’re doing better than we use to do. Compiled data from the U.S. Fire Administration and the NFPA dating back to 1977 indicates that there were 156 firefighter deaths in 1977 and it peaked in 1978 with 169 deaths. Since 1979, there has been a downward trendline, with peaks and valleys, and the anomaly of 2001 when 343 firefighters died the World Trade Center attacks. In 2018, there were 64 firefighter deaths. That’s about 100 fewer firefighter deaths per year than the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, NIOSH listed firefighting as the second most dangerous profession behind the mining profession, with an average of 26 deaths per 100,000 workers.

Today, firefighting does not even make the top 25 most dangerous professions.

Yes, it is possible, maybe not in 2020, but we can continue to strive for zero. I am hoping my IAFC presidential initiative, “If you don’t feel well, don’t make it your farewell,” makes a difference in these efforts. (Note: The full initiative is scheduled to be rolled out in spring 2020, with websites, social media messaging and videos.)

About half of all firefighter deaths are cardiac in nature. Many occur after an operational or training incident. Typically, the firefighter will complain of not feeling well, saying things like, “I don’t feel right” or “something is wrong.”

We must change the culture of telling firefighters who make these comments to go lay down in the bunk hall or go home. These firefighters clearly know something is “off” with their body. We would never tell a citizen who walked into the fire station to simply lay down or go home and rest after complaining of being ill and not feeling right. Why do we tell our fellow firefighters to do this?

[Also read: ‘Get below 50’: The push continues for record low LODDs]

Wish #2: Every fire department has the latest and best equipment it needs

According to the NFPA U.S. Fire Department Profile 2017, released in March 2019, there were 29,819 fire departments in the United States in 2017. Of these, 17% were all or mostly career departments and protected 69% of the U.S. population. The inverse of that means that 83% of all fire departments were mostly volunteer, protecting 31% of the population.           

Many volunteer, and even some career, fire departments struggle to have the latest and best equipment to protect their firefighters and their communities. I have even heard stories of the fire chief using their personal credit card to put gas in the engine, hoping there is money to get reimbursed from the department at the end of the month.

Other fire departments struggle to get new personal protective gear, SCBA, fire apparatus or other equipment replaced within its life expectancy. Some volunteer fire departments take whatever donations they can from career fire departments that surplus materials after they have made a purchase.

Assistant to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program grants starting from the early 2000s have helped, but I am amazed at the number of chiefs who tell me they apply for a grant year after year and are unsuccessful. The only thing I can tell them is that if you keep doing the same thing over and over, and getting the same results, maybe you need to look at what you’re doing and learn to do something different when applying for a grant.

With this in mind, one of my wishes for 2020 is that every fire department and all firefighters have access to the latest and best equipment to protect them and give them the ability to serve their community.           

Wish #3: Massive wildland fires disappear

It seems like there is no longer a wildland fire season but rather a wildland fire year.

A study conducted by the NFPA from 2009 until 2018 showed wildland/urban interface (WUI) fire topped the largest fires in the United States in terms of the estimated loss. And 2018 was one of the worst. There were six wildfires identified as large-loss fires in 2018, resulting in a total loss of more than $12.35 billion. These incidents destroyed 22,454 structures, burned 903,782 acres, and resulted in 97 fatalities.

There were many other wildland fires in 2018, but we’re at a point where wildland fires account for over 90% of total fire loss in the United States every year. And we are beginning to understand this is not limited to just the Western states. Florida, Tennessee and other states east of the Mississippi River are starting to see their share of wildland fires.

Unfortunately, this wish seems lofty, but we have to start somewhere so we can keep pushing those numbers down.

Those are my wishes for 2020. What are yours?

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