Using Safety Resources: Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me!

The fire and emergency service at large has worked hard toward the safety of all its members.

With threats that the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System would lose funding, the IAFC stepped forward with a short-term plan, working toward a long-term solution. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Everyone Goes Home Program works to prevent line-of-duty deaths and injuries through the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives.

Billy Goldfeder developed his Secret List in 1998 to begin bringing to light firefighter close calls. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigates and publishes its findings on every firefighter fatality. And the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), along with fire service unions, organizations and trade publications, send out firefighter fatality notifications.

My question is, is it all worth it? That is, with all these resources, is it making a difference?

Information overload is prevalent today. Most of us get multiple notifications on the same line-of-duty death and sometimes even the same near miss. We often find ourselves rereading the same information from various sources.

What are we doing with all the information we read? If it's staying in our inboxes and not being used as a resource, why are we fighting for funding? And if we're simply forwarding it to others, I submit we're only adding to others' information overload, and it's questionable that the information is truly being utilized.

Are the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives posted in your firehouse? Are they part of the training curriculum? Do you give them to every probationary firefighter the day they walk in the door?

Post USFA firefighter fatality notifications in every station so they serve as a reminder of the dangers every day we report to duty and on every call we respond to. Incorporate close calls and near misses—especially those where we say, "That could be us"—into daily training or briefings.

Following one NIOSH firefighter fatality report, one of our officers conducted a whole drill based on one incident. There were many examples he could have chosen; he chose this one because the department profile and response was almost identical to our own. It could have easily happened to us.

Look at the similarities, time and time again, of those injured or killed in motor-vehicle crashes—the second leading cause of firefighter deaths. Dr. Burt Clark, who created the firefighter national seatbelt pledge, is now conducting research on the organizational culture of firefighters and the use of seatbelts: Firefighters still aren't using them!

Yet the USFA is still sending out firefighter fatality notifications and others send out reports of close calls and near misses that feature driving and responding.

After Dr. Clark's presentation at the 2012 Executive Fire Officer Symposium, I advocated that the fire service start to adopt a speed-limit-only policy, even though it's controversial. I submit to you that even with such a policy, our department's quint aerial, weighing some 72K pounds, is still going too fast in most areas on most responses.

As departments continue to adopt no-lights/no-sirens responses and policies, we're learning that delay in actual travel time isn't as critical as we once thought. But more importantly, it's another step in reducing risk.

Leaders in the fire service have worked hard to develop these reporting programs—programs designed to learn from the misfortune and sacrifices of others. If, as chief or senior officers, we're not utilizing these resources, then "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!"

For my part, I'll work harder to practice what I've just preached.

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