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Who’s Really Responsible for Health and Safety in the Fire Service?

This seems like a straight forward question and one that’s asked every day. We can say it’s the responsibility of every first responder to see that they act in a safe and responsible manner at all times.

It’s also the responsibility of fire departments to make sure they initiate programs, actions and policies that let members know what’s expected of them.

Along with this comes the responsibility of the department to provide the proper equipment and training that hones skills that provide the best chance to come home after each and every call.

In an ideal world, this would be enough to ensure that all employees are taken care of, but is it?

The real responsibility to make sure the fire-department culture is one of safe practices and health initiatives falls to the fire chief and all chief officers.

Are you the ones who set the example that shows employees that this is an important topic that the department takes seriously, or do you provide “fake news” because that is what is expected of you in your position? Are you the one that says, “Do as I say, not as I do”—with either your words or your actions?

Now, what do I mean by that last question?

Are you that chief who needs to lose 10 to 50 pounds to be able to complete the training you require of your members? Can you run through a 45-minute air pack while working and come out for another as you expect your crews to be able to do? Do you eat healthfully or just grab whatever you can between meetings—usually fast food?

If you answer no to these and other health and life safety questions, how can you expect your department to take any of these health and safety practices and policies seriously?

You need to be the one who changes the health and safety culture in your organization, and it starts by looking at yourself in the mirror and asking the tough question: “Am I what I want this department to be?”

If the answer is a resounding no, then get to work and improve on what you see.

I know, as we get older and move away from the action and more into paperwork and management, we often forget we’re also firefighters at the core of our existence. And don’t think the rank and file don’t notice.

But if you start to eat healthfully, join in physical activity around the firehouse and complete the same physical tasks and operational training exercises that you ask of your members, you can and will slowly change the culture of the entire department.

This isn’t just for the fire chief but for all chief officers. Don’t use the excuse that you don’t have time. Make time! Your life depends on it.

I hope I’m preaching to the choir with this challenge, but I know I’m not in many cases. And one case is one too many.

Cultural change in health and safety practices in today’s fire and EMS service must start with you. It must start today or we’ll be attending more funeral services for things we can prevent with a little effort.


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