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The Safety Baton Has Been Passed

One of the highlights of Fire-Rescue International 2015 was the celebration of 10 years of the IAFC’s Safety, Health and Survival Section. At a celebratory dinner at the Jimmy Carter Center and Presidential Library, current section leadership took the opportunity to do what they often do: recognize the achievements of others.

In this case, the section recognized the chairs of the section’s precursor, the IAFC Health and Safety Committee:

  • Harvey Anderson (deceased)
  • Tom L. Siegfried
  • Dennis L. Rubin
  • J. Gordon Routley
  • William Peterson
  • Bruce H. Varner
  • Gary Morris
  • David Daniels

During the event, past chairs were given the opportunity to share their perspectives on how things had changed in the 20 years before the formation of the section.

It was interesting to hear of how difficult it was to get the safety committee established in the 1980s. It was suggested that the movement to establish NFPA 1500 was at least partially connected to the challenges the committee had getting support from the IAFC board of directors.

Often, it was difficult for the committee to get traction on any issue of substance, again due to lack of support in the association as a whole and lack of support from the board members representing the divisions and sections.

As the only person to have had the honor of serving as chair of both the Health and Safety Committee and the Safety, Health and Survival section, I can attest to the tremendous change that has occurred with respect to the focus on safety in the leadership of the fire service. It’s also very apparent that the established foundation envisioned by the Health and Safety Committee has truly come to pass.

At my first meeting as committee chair in April 2004, the committee established an aggressive agenda that included these goals:

  • Support the adoption of 16 firefighter health and safety initiative initiated by the NFFF – The support of the committee, the section and the IAFC, along with the steadfast work of the national Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation, has helped the 16 Life Safety Initiatives become likely the most consequential piece of work done on fire service health and safety in history.
  • Complete, support and champion crew resource management for the fire service – An entire book has been written about CRM.
  • Near-miss reporting: Improve NIOSH authority to investigate and assign responsibility – The section was instrumental in establishing the National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System as well as a report that NIOSH used to revise its LODD investigative process.
  • Develop policy statements about firefighter safety and health issues and propose to the IAFC board of directors – A number of policies, which have been not only proposed but supported and implemented, have changed how safety is viewed in the IAFC.
  • Develop and promote partnerships with other organizations involved in firefighter safety and health – The section now has liaisons from a number of organizations focused on health and safety.
  • Finalize a fire service health and safety award – The SHS section now gives four awards annually that recognize the safety, health and survival-focused achievement of individuals and organizations across the fire service.
  • Plan and conduct an IAFC Health and Safety Conference – In 2016, the section will work with the Fire Department Safety Officer’s Association on a joint safety-focused conference.
  • Develop and publish regular articles devoted to firefighter health and safety – This is yet another article in that now ongoing column in IAFC On Scene.
  • Petition section status at FRI 2004 – The petition in 2004 was successful and the section was born a year later.

The Safety, Health and Survival Section has built a reputation for fierce advocacy for safety in the fire service. However, it stands on the shoulders of chief officers who fought for safety when it wasn’t easy or popular.

The baton of safety has been passed to a new generation of safety professionals, and there’s much more progress to be made!

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