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Research Begets Innovation for the Fire and Emergency Service

Return to the February 15, 2012 issue of On Scene

IAFC On Scene: February 15, 2012



According to Wikipedia, innovation “is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments and society. Innovation is usually thought of as the father of progress and change.”

Just as in many professions, in the fire and emergency service innovation is born out of employees creating process enhancements to improve efficiencies, safety and productivity. However, the fire service is a profession that requires physical performance and endurance, faces extremes of conditions and is increasingly guided by technology intuition and seasoned lessons learned, often called empirical data.

As a result, our profession increasingly requires scientifically based, peer-reviewed research to bring in innovation. This isn’t unique, as prehospital emergency care has also continued to evolve from empirical conclusions to a more-robust, scientifically validated basis for operating.

Today’s fire service cannot and should not be bound by traditional methods, equipment and thinking that isn’t well validated and well tested. Doing so only institutionalizes unvalidated knowledge that may shortchange the fire service.

But now, we’re building an innovative foundation as we begin to embrace peer-reviewed scientific research.

One example of this is the National Institute for Standards and Technology Firefighter Safety and Deployment study, which validated through scientific processes that four- and five-person suppressions were able to complete necessary critical tasking on the fireground 25% more efficiently and quickly than three-person suppression companies.

Since the creation of the 16 Life Safety Initiatives, a lot of effort has been aimed at preventing line-of-duty deaths and disabilities. These efforts spawned the 2005 and 2011 National Fire Service Research Agenda initiatives with the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation.

The National Fire Academy has incorporated applied research into its Executive Fire Officer curriculum. Other sentinel studies underway include the National Institute of Occupational Health & Safety’s cancer study, which involves some 30,000 firefighters from San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia Fire Departments.

Successful and learned organizations—both within and outside the fire service—embrace research as part of their culture, decision making and daily processes. More-recent examples include fire departments’ work on wind-driven fire and the dynamics associated with this phenomenon to better understand results, subsequently incorporating the information into new technologies, tactics, strategies and behaviors.

Departments that have participated in technological research for firefighter locating and tracking systems on the fireground aren’t just embracing the current situation; they’re defining the future.

While many larger departments have invested personnel resources into research and development, it’s incumbent on all of us to more fully engage in evaluating our current practices, technologies and tactics and to maintain a watchful eye on research and findings and to determine how they can apply to the fire service.

Much advanced technology is first defined and refined for use within the military and defense sectors, given their significant investment in innovation. To that end, the American fire service has made significant inroads to ensuring that, as the saying should now go, “two hundred years of tradition” are finally looking forward, guided by research and empirical data.

The challenge to chief fire officers is this: Are you locked into maintaining old anecdotal traditions of the past that may in fact not be working? Or are you and your organization guided by the new knowledge base this research and innovation will undoubtedly yield?

Todd LeDuc, MS, CFO, CEM, MIFireE, is an assistant fire chief for Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff Fire Rescue. He’s also a director at large for the Safety, Health and Survival Section and a member of the IAFC On Scene editorial advisory board.


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