The National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System Program (Near-Miss) was launched in 2005 to capture the actual experiences of firefighters that had the potential for major injury or death (near misses) and share their lessons learned with others throughout the industry through a web-based platform.
Oklahoma City Fire Department had the opportunity to beta test when the program as it neared completion. As a chief and IAFC member, I was excited about what this program could contribute to reducing injury and death, but was also apprehensive. Would responders trust the department and the IAFC enough to contribute their mistakes to a national database? Would they be honest about the experiences they had and what they learned from them?
The resounding answer was yes.
Within a short time, Near-Miss was outpacing the models it was based on in other industries in both number of reports submitted and number of educational resources produced from them. Thousands of departments in the U.S. and Canada embraced the program and it became a staple of college-level fire science classes. Soon Near-Miss was a model other industries wanted to emulate.
Then, last fall, shrinking AFG grant funding threatened to derail Near-Miss, and for a time it seemed that sustaining the program would be at least difficult if not impossible. Many responded with sympathy, but there were few in a position to support the program financially. Some who were in a position to help made offers with commercial gain in mind. Others pronounced us dead.
A Time to Plan
The IAFC formed a task force to look at various options to maintain Near-Miss in the short term and to formulate a plan for the continued sustainment of the program. Again, trust became a critical factor; responders had put their trust in this program and the IAFC would not let them down.
For the short-term, the task force chose to seek partnerships that leveraged the power of smaller contributions combined to support a common goal. They stripped the program down to essential services to keep the overhead low but the integrity of the system and accessibility level of the data high.
With the remaining grant funding, coupled with the generosity and commitment of many IAFC components and IFSTA/Oklahoma State University, the Near-Miss program was able to maintain a steady course.
On the Rise
Stepping back from crisis mode, the task force came to two conclusions:
- The program had to change for it to remain viable into the future.
- The old funding model was a rut. The program had a robust following, but the steady grant funding provided little opportunity to enhance technology or expand value to the end user.
The situation presented the opportunity for improvement.
Thinking back, the IAFC fell victim to a pitfall many of us fall into, especially in this economy:
- We failed to see that service is also a business, particularly when investors are involved (even if it is the government).
- We expected that doing the right thing will somehow be enough to ensure we're there to help our community. It would be nice if it did, but it doesn’t.
The task force got to work under a more business-oriented approach that focused on technology enhancements, tangible demonstration of results, program sustainability and, most importantly, added value to the end user.
From Lessons Learned to Lessons Applied
A major component of this added value will be to enhance the purpose of Near-Miss in improving the safety culture through training rooted in real experiences rather than just information collection and sharing.
The new Near-Miss website will be available in early 2014; I encourage you to check it out at FireFighterNearMiss.com. The web platform has been designed from the bottom up and is responsive to whatever device you're using. Also, navigation has been streamlined for easier use and will provide quicker access to the data you need. In addition to an improved website, the Report of the Week will resume in a new format.
IAFC members will find additional value in bringing together technology platforms that support integration of program and member services for a smoother end-user experience and a better IAFC understanding on how we can improve services to you.
Most importantly, in early 2014, Near-Miss will roll out a new monthly training offering that will facilitate moving from lessons collected and shared to applying those lessons learned. This online training, based on real reports, will be designed to help fire officers leverage these effective learning experiences and tailor them to their organizations' needs.
I'm very proud that the Oklahoma City Fire Department has been a part of the evolution of the program. We truly appreciate the effectiveness of Near-Miss in cost and benefit to firefighters everywhere. I personally look forward to the improvements and encourage you to participate and support the new and improved Near-Miss.