Minn. Chief: Culture puts firefighters at risk every day

By Jamie Thompson
FireRescue1 Editor

DALLAS — The belief that near misses are acceptable and "the need for speed" are cultural factors that need to be addressed to reduce LODDs, a Minnesota chief told FRI on Thursday.

During a session at the conference, Chief Richard Kline, of the Plymouth Fire Department, outlined how the link between culture and resulting behaviors has been overlooked in the quest to reduce firefighter fatalities.

Photo Jamie ThompsonChief Richard Kline outlines concerns with firefighter culture.

Photo Jamie Thompson
Chief Richard Kline outlines concerns with firefighter culture.

Citing a range of "cultural impediments," Chief Kline said one of the biggest areas that needs to be addressed is responses to calls.

"We continue to kill a lot of people year after year," he said. "It's lights and sirens, pedal-to-the-metal type of thing for everything."

Chief Kline said the fire service has always naturally encouraged speed and to "get there first."

He went on to highlight the incident in Houston in March when two fire trucks collided, allegedly while both speeding to get to a call first, fatally injuring a cyclist.

"It's not only Houston, it's an endemic problem throughout the United States," Chief Kline said.

He told the audience he has sought to address overly aggressive driving within his own department, stressing the need for drivers to take into account the type of responses they are heading to.

Moving on to address near miss incidents within the fire service, Chief Kline said there is a need to take them more seriously and for firefighters to learn from close calls.

"It's how we are going to learn," he said, adding that too many people within the fire service consider near misses a routine part of the job.

Chiefs, officers and firefighters need to challenge the way they have "always done business," Chief Kline said, particularly when it comes to fireground risk management.

"We get away with doing a lot of stuff day after day, week after week without anything bad happening," he said.

"We tend to see ourselves as this superhero, a person who can get through anything because that's what happened before."

While the fire service is and should be proud of what firefighters do, Chief Kline said, there needs to be more questioning and analyzing of the way things have always been done.

"However, if someone does question that perhaps something is not appropriate, they are seen as being weak in an atmosphere that is testosterone driven," he said.

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