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16 ways for firefighters to stay safe

Unless things change quickly, this goal of reducing LODDs by 50 percent by 2014 is merely a dream

The goal of reducing firefighter line-of-duty deaths is more than worthy of our attention — it is imperative. Today, the fire service has a tremendous opportunity to make an impact on the business that we love, for the ones we love. I can’t think of anything else more important.

I have many roles in the fire service, but one of my most passionate is serving as the Region IV Advocate for the Everyone Goes Home® campaign through the NFFF. I help to coordinate the efforts in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. But in the coming months, through this column, I hope to be able to reach out to the whole country in analyzing the 16 Life Safety Initiatives and how they can be implemented in your department.

The first step in the process is to make you aware of the Initiatives. What are they? Where did they come from? What do they mean? And how will they reduce firefighter line-of-duty deaths?

The Initiatives were derived from the first Life Safety Summit that was held in Tampa, Florida, in 2004. Fire service professionals from various domains gathered and tried to identify ways to reduce the number of LODDs we experience every year. Thousands of LODDs were reviewed and the group identified 16 Initiatives from six domains to meet the goal of reducing LODDs by 50 percent over a 10-year span.

Through funding by Fireman’s Fund Insurance and the Department of Homeland Security, the NFFF launched the Everyone Goes Home™ campaign. It consists of training, interactive media via the Web and DVDs, an intensive marketing campaign, and a network of safety advocates to promote the program. It is spreading throughout our profession — but not nearly at the rate we would like to see.

No decline
Since 2004, the LODD numbers haven’t declined as hoped. The fire service continues to lose approximately 100 firefighters every year. Why aren’t we making a significant difference? While enactment of the PSOB program has introduced additional cardiac events into the numbers, we are still having a high number of combat (firefighting) related LODDs even though we are supposedly fighting less fire.

Unless things change quickly, this goal of reducing LODDs by 50 percent by 2014 is merely a dream. In 2007, we documented 115 LODDs. Despite the Charleston event that took nine of our fellow brothers, we still had 106 others who fell. But this isn’t Disneyworld or fantasyland where we can wave a magical wand to make LODDs go away. It’s going to take hard work, commitment and change.

Beginning with my next column, I will focus on a single Initiative as they are not in ranked order, nor is any one more important than the other. The 16 Life Safety Initiatives are as follows:

1) Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety, incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability, & personal responsibility.

2) Enhance the personal & organizational accountability for health & safety throughout the fire service.

3) Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with incident management at all levels, including strategic, tactical, & planning responsibilities.

4) Empower all firefighters to stop unsafe practices.

5) Develop and implement national standards for training, qualifications, and certification (including regular re-certification) that are equally applicable to all firefighters, based on the duties they are expected to perform.

6) Develop & implement national medical & physical fitness standards that are equally applicable to all firefighters, based on the duties they are expected to perform.

7) Create a national research agenda & data collection system that relate to the initiatives.

8) Utilize available technology wherever it can produce higher levels of health & safety.

9) Thoroughly investigate all firefighter fatalities, injuries, & near-misses.

10) Ensure grant programs support the implementation of safe practices and/or mandate safe practices as an eligibility requirement.

11) Develop & champion national standards for emergency response policies & procedures.

12) Develop & champion national protocols for response to violent incidents.

13) Provide firefighters & their families access to counseling & psychological support.

14) Provide public education more resources & champion it as a critical fire & life safety program.

15) Strengthen advocacy for the enforcement of codes & the installation of home fire sprinklers.

16) Make safety a primary consideration in the design of fire apparatus.

So what else are we doing besides the Initiatives? Well, that takes us back to the Everyone Goes Home® campaign. I would encourage you to visit This interactive web site has an abundance of information including interactive training, lots of free stuff, and all the contact information you need to find the advocate for your state and/or to learn more about the program. There is so much information to share with you about the program, I’m afraid I would leave something out.

With programs such as these, you could say firefighter safety is am emerging issue. Well to me, firefighter safety is not something new in itself. I would have hoped that we have always had the wherewithal to be safe in our operations. But just as the fire service began focusing more on EMS, hazmat and terrorism — and called them emerging trends — the same is to be said about the emergence of the greater focus and emphasis on firefighter safety.

Not including the Everyone Goes Home® campaign, we have seen the development of the Health & Safety Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Near-Miss Reporting, National Seat Belt Pledge, and more and more programs on firefighter safety offered at national and local conferences, just to name a few.

Billy D. Hayes retired as fire chief for the City of Onalaska, Wisconsin, in 2020. He previously served as the fire marshal for the University of South Alabama, vice president of university relations for Columbia Southern University, the director of community affairs for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department, and as the fire chief and emergency management coordinator for the City of Riverdale, Georgia. He is a graduate of Georgia Military College and Columbia Southern University, the NFA’s Executive Fire Officer Program, and has a certificate in local government management from the University of Georgia. Hayes is a past president of the Metro Atlanta Fire Chiefs Association and past chairman of the board for the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation. He authored the Public Fire and Life Safety Education chapter of “The Fire Chief’s Handbook” (7th Edition). Hayes is a member of the Fire Chief/FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board. Connect with Hayes on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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