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Six Years and a Lasting Legacy: A Case Study in IAFC Program Success

As the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System approaches its sixth anniversary, the lessons learned from the delivery of this safety initiative are as important to examine as those learned from individual reports.

The Near-Miss Program is the framework in which individual firefighters/EMTs can play an active role in the dynamic change involving firefighter/EMT health and safety.

The Aviation Safety Reporting System, used as the model for the Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System, has transformed individual involvement in its program into systemic changes in the aviation industry over the course of 35 years.

In just six years, the Near-Miss Program is already building a similar living legacy.

The investment in the Near-Miss Program has produced a trusted source that turns real-world experiences into lessons for the fire and emergency service community. While the role of the program continues to be defined by those using it, there are three key areas to examine now regarding the program’s impact.

Learning from Each Other

Involvement in near-miss reporting is contributing to measurable change in firefighter decision making. In June 2010, an online questionnaire asked respondents if they acted differently because of information from the weekly training email, Report of the Week (ROTW). More than 75% of respondents reported that they act differently because of what they’ve read in ROTW.

The lessons illustrated in the ROTW aren’t groundbreaking ideas. They incorporate concepts taught in recruit school, reinforced in training and outlined in department procedures and guidelines. But the intangible potency of one firefighter sharing a story with another is invaluable. Before the near-miss program, these stories weren’t told beyond a firehouse kitchen table. Now, through the Near-Miss Program, these stories can be shared across all of the fire and emergency service.

Working Together

There’s no one individual, organization or program that has full ownership of firefighter health and safety.

The IAFC brought all stakeholders to the table to develop the Near-Miss Program; this collaboration is critical in ensuring a safer workplace for America’s firefighters. The near-miss program illustrates the value of working together toward the common goal of improving firefighter health and safety.

For example, the International Association of Fire Fighters has supported the Near-Miss Program since its inception. IAFF provides support on IAFF.org through a monthly case study, in its magazine in a bimonthly article and by using near-miss reports as case studies in its Fire Ground Survival Program.

In addition, the Fire Department Safety Officers Association offers continuing education credits for individuals participating in the ROTW.

Most recently, the Near-Miss Program is working with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation on it new website for the Life Safety Initiatives. Each initiative will be partnered with near-miss reports related to the initiative.

Near-miss reporting is providing resources for other organizations in the arena of firefighter health and safety.

Program Model

The Near-Miss Program began with an understanding that it had to be built with consideration of the frontline firefighter. To accomplish this, the development phase consisted of conducting focus groups, pilot department testing and user feedback surveys.

Three themes kept surfacing during the development phase; these themes are now used in the development of other IAFC programs, and they continue to govern improvements to the Near-Miss System.

The first was to keep the program firefighter-friendly by providing an easy-to-use website to share information.

Second, it was important to provide products based on the input of information. Firefighters need to see a result of their efforts, which the program offers in the form of the weekly Report of the Week, the monthly e-newsletter Near-Miss Matters and the annual training calendar.

Third, the program needs to recognize the importance of not stove-piping information since today’s fire and emergency service is all-hazards. This was a challenge for the Near-Miss Program because of the name of the program—many first believed the program to be only for structural firefighting near-miss reports.

However, in 2010, that began to change. While 50% of the reports were from fire emergencies, the remaining 50% were from training, vehicle, non-fire and other event types. This is a statistic the program will continue to monitor in the coming year.

Just as the IAFC looked to the aviation industry as a model, other organizations are now looking at us. Near-Miss Program managers and advisory board members have been invited to share these and other lessons learned with others, including public works, bakeries and pipeline-management industries.

While the cost benefit of near-miss reporting is difficult to measure, the investment in this program allows every stakeholder to directly and easily contribute to and benefit from a proven model that can change outcomes at each incident a firefighter responds to. It’s the collective responsibility of organizations, departments and individuals to play a role in the future of a safer workplace.

The National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System, under the management of the IAFC, offers the most affordable way to do this by capturing real-world experiences for all in the fire and emergency service community.

Amy Tippett is the program manager for the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System.

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