Let's share, learn from our near miss experiences

As I walked through a large shopping mall, I passed someone wearing a Maltese cross on his jacket. I waved and said hello; he acknowledged. Do I know him? No, but he belongs to a special group that I also belong to — the fire service. When I attend conferences or meetings, we talk to each other. Do we know each other before this meeting? We might, but probably not. When I go on vacation and pass a firehouse or see a rig ramble down the street and stop nearby, I go see what’s happening. Regardless of the situation, we usually speak to our fellow firefighters — even the ones we don’t know — when we run into each other. Considering this, it’s hard to see why we ever have problems communicating.

Firefighters are both great communicators and the worst communicators. However, a group of dedicated fire service leaders are trying to change this by launching the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System. Based on the concepts developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), this system promotes the sharing of information so we can learn from the collective experiences of our brothers and sisters. The system has proven successful for the FAA for more than 25 years, and we hope it can prove as effective for the fire service.

The system focuses on what FDNY Chief Vincent Dunn has always preached to us: If we don’t respect history, we are damned to repeat it. With the help of the reporting system, we hope to never stand in a firehouse in Any Town, U.S.A., and look at each other and say, “If we only … ”

The premise of the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System is to encourage firefighters to report their own near-miss experiences so others can learn from them.  According to the system’s Web site, www.firefighternearmiss.com, a near miss is defined as “an unintentional, unsafe act that could have resulted in an injury, fatality, or property damage.” It continues: “Approximately one million of these near-misses occur each year. By collecting and analyzing information on near-miss events, improvements can be made in firefighter education, operations and training.”

The National Fire Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System is administered by the International Association of Fire Chiefs. It is a confidential, secure, non-punitive and strictly voluntary system. This is not a time-sensitive program, so it doesn’t matter when the near miss occurred. A program of this magnitude is not possible without the financial support of some very loyal and dedicated organizations and companies. Grants have been provided by the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program and Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. It is also supported by FirefighterCloseCalls.com.

Whether you have been in the fire service for more than 50 years or just 24 hours, chances are that you have or will experience a near miss. What a great feeling it would be knowing that you made a difference in other firefighters’ lives. Now you can simply by submitting a near-miss report and sharing your experiences with others throughout the country.

We work in a dangerous business, but there is no reason we should put ourselves in extreme danger when we can prevent it. The painful reality is that firefighters are dying all the time, and the fundamentals are often lost on many of them. We can conquer this if we do it together. By now you should all know the significance of June 21, 2006. The International Fire Fighter Safety Stand Down is now in its second year. This year’s Stand Down provided us with the opportunity to focus on firefighter safety. Additionally, we do not have to limit this program to the prescribed date; we should train on safety whenever we have time. For more information, visit www.iafc.org/standdown.

If we accomplish one thing as we enjoy the fire service ride we are on, it should be to make sure that we all go home safe. I am confident we can; we just need to participate in programs like the Stand Down and communicate with each other via the near-miss reporting system.

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