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Fire & Life Safety: Preventing the Predictable

Will you prevent the predictable? Yes, you. Will you?

Begin with the foundation: Firefighting is a profession—a trade—that requires a lot of time invested in training, preparation and incident response to attain and maintain the level of knowledge, ability and experience provided by our departments—it's who we are.

So what are we? According to FEMA, via its voluntary census program, there are about 26,482 departments as of January 2012; the NFPA estimated the number at 30,125 in 2010. The FEMA report also indicates we operate out of around 48,800 fire stations with about 1.2 million personnel. Sadly, I'm not so sure that number would hold up today.

That's a simplistic statistical view who and what we are. Based on our business model, we leave the decisions of where and when in our communities' hands. While we "wait for the red phone to ring," we maintain a state of readiness; that is our norm—continuously maintaining what we have, improving on things we have developed and adapting to new and changing things.

Over the past years, we've been challenged with some system-altering growing pains that tested our ability and creativity—hazmat, technical rescue, lightweight, tilt-slab, "green," PV systems and boron steel, to name just a few—and we succeeded.

At the same time, we continue to wrestle with some big questions of why: mountains our firefighters and our communities and those we've sworn to serve deserve to have moved. The good news is they're simple:

  • Best practices for photoelectric and ionization smoke alarms; it's not about cost.
  • Rewrite the time to escape and aggressively reinforce "close bedroom doors."
  • Circle the wagons and get this home-fire-sprinkler thing done—now!
  • Listen, learn and apply what our friends at UL and NIST are telling us.
  • Prevent at least a third of LODDs through ongoing physical ability testing and medical monitoring.
  • Rescript RIT/RIC and ISOs; they must be part of the system.

See, they're simple. Not easy, just simple.

However, most of these mountains have been wrestled significantly at the national and state levels with some success and many best practices and recommendations. Communicating, supporting and implementing them at the local level—at all 48,800 fire stations and their communities—is where the real work needs to be done.

Get plugged in to the national and state groups and the Fire & Life Safety and the Safety, Health & Survival Sections and bring it home: think globally, act locally.

We can do this; in fact, we're the only ones who can. The people who can make these things happen are reading this article. It will take leaders who are committed and passionate about moving each of these mountains—leaders like You. Together, we can close these gaps and move our profession and communities forward in a markedly positive way, leaving a stronger and better fire and emergency service to the next generation.

If we don't, the results are predictable. We can prevent it. It can be done on our watch. Will we?

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