Safety & Health: Research and Innovation

The image of the fire service is steeped in tradition and constancy. It’s perceived by many as slow to evolve. It’s not known to instantly embrace innovation.

Although there may be some truth to this general impression, there are those of us who are witnesses to increasing acceptance of innovative thinking by the fire service. One of the greatest drivers is the practical application of scientific research.

In healthcare, this is called evidence-based practice. It’s using treatments and techniques that research evidence shows to be the most effective. There seems to be momentum building to seek out research for the most effective technique.

Two organizations of note promoting the use of research in the fire service include the IAFC and the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation.

NFFF is instrumental through its Everyone Goes Home program and the 16 Life Safety Initiatives in driving improvements in the safety and health of the American fire service. Life Safety Initiative #7 addresses the creation of a national research agenda and data-collection system to help in an evidence-based approach to achieving the other initiatives.

To that end, NFFF has convened two national research-agenda symposiums with broad fire-service and research-stakeholder attendance. The most recent symposium produced the 2015 National Research Agenda (PDF).

Using evidence-based research and data has guided advancements in the fire service, most significantly in health, wellness and safety. It’s said that more fire-service research was conducted and published in the last decade than in previous fire service history.

Evidence-based, peer-reviewed and scientifically rigorous methodologies are providing fire-service leaders with more and more decision-making resources. These resources help to validate policy decisions about occupational risk and its mitigation, fire tactics and strategy, and equipment changes. A good example is the significant and rapidly expanding body of research on occupational cancer exposure and risk and the cardiovascular effects of firefighting.

To help members of the fire service and decision makers at all levels, the IAFC created Firefighter Safety Through Advanced Research (FSTAR). The intent of FSTAR is to become the single point of access to existing fire-service research. FSTAR is a portal that takes publicly available, published research, makes it readily accessible and translates it into usable information ready for application in your department.

That is, FSTAR takes scientifically written research and demystifies it, providing very simple takeaway documents, such as fact sheets and infographics that are easy to read and apply.

While research continues to expand our knowledge base and understanding of key issues confronting today’s fire service, more work is needed. Having an ever-expanding body of knowledge continues to make for a safer, more-innovative fire service.

Take the time to review both the National Research Agenda and the FSTAR resources. By promoting the use of these resources, we promote innovation in the fire service.

I’m thankful for the members of the fire-service research community who dedicate their efforts and talents to helping us better understand where the fire service has been, where it currently is and where it should be.

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