Power Couple: Near-Miss Reports and Rules of Engagement

While all of the components of the Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Health and Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival are consequential, at the foundation of each set of rules are the safety of firefighters/EMTs and the citizens in their communities.

Reports from the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System offer real-world experiences to support each of the Rules of Engagement. By taking the time to review near-miss reports with the Rules of Engagement, chief officers and company officers can strengthen their knowledge base and increase the competence and confidence of their members.

Rules for Firefighter Health

The first case study (Report #08-91) demonstrates that one of the best things fire service leaders can do is to lead by example. Showing our departments’ members that we value our own health and fitness level sends a powerful message.

Department member was participating in annual physical … Abnormality was noted during cardiac evaluation. The member followed up with a specialist and was confirmed to have a significant problem requiring immediate surgical intervention. Surgery was successful. The fire department physician’s evaluation and recommendation, along with the member’s immediate follow up, is credited with saving the member’s life.

Provide your department with an environment that encourages maintaining a high degree of wellness and fitness. The benefits of a good wellness and fitness program include a more efficient work force, reduction in injuries and decreased health-care costs.

At least three elements of the Rule of Engagement for Firefighter Health reinforced here:

  • Perform a personal size-up
  • Define clear tactics to achieve your health goals, including physicals
  • Maintain situational awareness of your health

If your department doesn’t have a wellness and fitness program, the time to start one is today. If you do have one, it’s important to continually review and improve it to be sure it meets the unique needs of our profession.

NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, and NFPA 1583, Standard for Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members, are good sources of information when designing exercise programs and physical exams to meet the specific needs of fire and emergency service personnel.

Rules for Firefighter Survival

The second case study (Report #10-217) shows how having a common guide to work from on scene is critical to responder safety:

We responded to a call that involved a vehicle into a building. Upon our arrival to the scene, we found a vehicle lodged completely underneath a double-wide mobile home. It was under the front porch with extensive damage to the vehicle and to the residence, with one individual trapped in the vehicle.

We maneuvered around the debris to access the victim and to start the extrication process. We then got the victim out of the vehicle and were packaging him up when we heard a lot of cracking and loud pops. We were able to get two feet from the vehicle when the front section of the residence collapsed, covering the vehicle. Luckily, we had just moved no more than 20 seconds before the collapse occurred.

The Rules of Engagement were created to provide personnel just such a common guide for operating on an emergency scene. By using near-miss reports to support the Rules, you and your members can see the operational validity of the rules. In the case study above, at least three rules are reinforced:

  • Rule #1 demonstrates the importance of sizing up the tactical area of operation. In this incident, it was critical to have tactical plans for the safety of the firefighters and the safety of the civilians. Although the plans are different, they were equally important to ensure the safety of the firefighters and the trapped civilian.
  • Rule #2 states that firefighters should assess the occupant survival profile. In this case, it was determined that the extrication was possible before a structural collapse.
  • Rule #11 requires responders to abandon their positions and retreat before deteriorating conditions can harm them. Once they heard the cracking and popping sounds, they knew to get out of harm’s way seconds before the collapse.

Applying the Rules During Safety and Health Week 2012

This year’s International Fire/EMS Safety and Health Week is the perfect time to use near-miss reports to support the Rules of Engagement. Encourage your company officers and department members to use a report from the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System and link the Rules to the report. This will encourage sound, deliberate command decision-making based on the lessons learned from other firefighters/EMTs who have submitted a report.

C.J. Haberkorn is the assistant chief with the Denver Fire Department and is a trainer for the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System. Captain Brad Van Ert is a 32-year member of the Downey (Calif.) Fire Department and is also a trainer for the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System.

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