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IAFC’s Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System: More Relevant Today Than Ever Before

In 2005, the Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System was launched by the IAFC, Firemen’s Fund Insurance, and through funding provided by the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. At the time, near-miss reporting was relatively unknown in the fire service community, and only through the hard work by those initially tasked with developing the system, such as Chief John Tippett, Amy Tippett, Chief Billy Goldfeder, Mr Gordon Graham, and several others, did the idea of capturing near misses and discussing close calls come to fruition.
In 2012, the Firefighter Near Miss website underwent some substantial changes in capturing near-miss incidents. More dynamic questions reduced the burden of reporting and allowed for better user experiences. Something also changed with regards to near-miss reporting, the number of submitted reports dropped. However, does that constitute a failing system?
At the onset of the program, and rightfully so, the program management used outreach and marketing concentrated on collecting as many stories as possible. The push for quantity helped to drive trust in a system that asked people to admit mistakes and post events that, in many departments at the time, would have led to disciplinary action. At the height of this marketing strategy, the Near Miss website collected over 1,500 near misses in a single year. This was a success at what was the goal of the program at the time, which was to establish trust in a system that promoted sharing lessons learned from events that may have been embarrassing or led to ridicule.
As the second version of the Near Miss reporting system was published in 2012, so came a change in marketing. While several hundreds of reports were streaming in from outreach programs, the quality of the near-miss reports led to disheartened researchers, readers, and users trying to establish best practices from these events. Many of the stories were just a few short sentences that described the incident, and several of them did not inspire change in operations or training. Reports existed that were high quality and encouraged discussion at the kitchen table but finding those reports among the less informative was difficult.
Since 2015, the Near Miss Reporting System continues to receive between 100 – 150 reports submitted a year. These reports are provided voluntarily by those who feel passionate enough of their near-miss event, that they think it pertinent to share at the national level. While the number of submitted reports have dropped, the quality of reports has increased. Reports submitted and published to the system today provide meaningful lessons and event narratives that can spur discussion at most firehouses.
Through the generosity of Envisage Technologies, the company that oversees both the Acadis Suite and FirstForward Training Market Place, the Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System is being redeveloped yet again. While the redevelopment could increase reporting numbers, this development is being done cautiously so to not revert to a “quantity over quality” methodology. Concepts such as the local level near-miss reporting system are designed to reduce the burden of reporting near misses, injuries, and accidents, streamlining the track of information to administration, city risk management, workers compensation companies, and insurance groups. By streamlining the process of these unwanted events, firefighters can share valuable lessons learned and contributing factors across the globe all while reducing the reporting process at many fire departments. Firefighter Near Miss is in the final stages of development and hoping to have the local application launched in 2020.
While near-miss reporting continues to be proven in multiple industries to reduce injuries, accidents, and fatalities, there is another concept that the Firefighter Near Miss program is spearheading, showing its continued relevance in today’s fire service. Like several other industries that champion near miss reporting, such as the nuclear and electrical industries, aviation, and medical industries, through near-miss reporting, it’s discovered that most contributing factors of near misses stem from good people making poor choices or committing human error. Human error plagues us all. It’s part of our daily life. No matter the level of training, the policy or procedure adopted, the years of experience, we all commit errors regularly. There is no “cure” for human error; however, there is a mitigation strategy that can curb the unwanted effects.
If you have not heard of Human Performance Improvement (HPI), you are not alone. Not unlike those who never heard of Near Miss reporting before 2005 in the fire service, HPI is a relatively new concept in our industry. However, these other industries that have become highly reliable organizations which reduced injuries, accidents, and unwanted events in high-stress environments, have developed HPI as a strategy to address the human component of any system. Training programs such as Leadership Under Fire and O2X Human Performance are addressing several of the concepts included in Human Performance Improvement. The National Fire Academy, Fire Department Safety Officer’s Association, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs are all looking at developing further training to offer to the masses of the fire service, but those programs are still being designed. Addressing human error in your fire department can not be accomplished without capturing and analyzing near misses, injuries, and accidents.
The Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System continues to work on delivering lessons learned from actual near miss, injury, and property damage accident events. Their listing of contributing factors associated with these events will be driving industry research. HPI will soon be a common term in the fire service and will make a substantial impact on fire department operations as a whole. If you are interested in being a part of this process, reach out to the Firefighter Near Miss reporting system via email at NearMiss@iafc.org. They are currently looking for volunteers to drive this life-saving initiative and bring it to the community fire service. By sharing lessons learned globally, the fire service will also be considered one of a highly reliable organization.
John Russ is an eighteen-year veteran of the fire service, currently working for the Brentwood (TN) Fire & Rescue Department as a Lieutenant/ Paramedic. He has been the Program Manager for the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System since January 2016. John has worked in various facets of the Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System since its inception in 2005. John also has worked for numerous career and voluntary fire and emergency service providers to include pre-hospital emergency medical service providers, specialized technical rescue organizations, along with risk management and prevention entities. He has a Master’s Degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Professional Studies and two Bachelor’s Degrees from Eastern Kentucky University; one in Fire & Safety Administration and one in Pre-Hospital Emergency Care. John also is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.


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