You may think the headline on this article is an oversimplification. Or maybe you think the idea of fire prevention being good for firefighters is a bit off-base. But think about it. If we are making the homes and businesses in our communities safer, aren’t we making our firefighters safer as...
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You may think the headline on this article is an oversimplification. Or maybe you think the idea of fire prevention being good for firefighters is a bit off-base. But think about it. If we are making the homes and businesses in our communities safer, aren’t we making our firefighters safer as well? Fewer fires mean fewer opportunities for racing to fires, which means fewer chances for crashes. Fewer fires mean less stress, and less stress surely is easier on our hearts.
The National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) Health and Safety Committee has compiled a set of priority areas where firefighter health and safety can be impacted and the best practices to follow for avoiding tragedies. We can choose to ignore this document or we as a fire service, and individually, can adopt these concepts and bring them to life in our fire departments. The Volunteer Firefighter Health and Safety Priorities are divided into four areas – Behavior, Equipment, Standards and Codes, and Training (B.E.S.T.). The list of B.E.S.T. practices is available on the NVFC website at www.nvfc.org/health_safety.
Let’s look at another aspect of fire prevention contributing to firefighter health and safety – the economics of fire prevention and firefighter safety. Bottom line: It is less expensive to provide fire prevention education than to provide fire suppression. It is by far better for the citizens we serve – and that includes financially better. Review your mission statement. Does it say you will prevent fires? If it doesn’t, it should.
In 2008, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated 79,700 injuries and 104 deaths in the line of duty impacted the U.S. fire service. An estimated 15,250, or 19.1%, of those firefighter injuries resulted in lost time. Injuries to our members impact the fire department budget and the city, town or district budget as well. Here’s some simple math: If we reduce the number of fires we responded to in 2008 (1.45 million) by 3%, then we can reduce the number of responses by 43,500 and our firefighter injuries by 2,391. How much money could we save? Is a 3% reduction attainable? Absolutely!
What are the monetary costs, direct and indirect, that we must consider when a firefighter becomes injured? Of course, we have the obvious costs of the medical bills, loss or reduction of income, overtime wages to cover the responsibilities of the fire department, and whatever the costs may be to investigate and do the paperwork required because of the injury. But do we also understand that disability costs may be a part of that and perhaps there will be some litigation costs as well? Wouldn’t any opportunity, including effective fire prevention, to help manage and possibly eliminate these injury events be a good idea?
There are other costs you may not think about. When the fire service continues to prove to the outside world that we don’t learn from our mistakes and we continue to have the same inexcusable injuries and deaths occurring to firefighters; what happens? We continue to receive greater regulation forcing us to do what we should be doing on our own – e.g., two-in/two-out rule, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) rules, etc. All of these drive up the cost of doing business as equipment manufacturers continually must upgrade safety equipment to meet new standards. For example, new apparatus standards require every new unit to be equipped with a seatbelt-monitoring device alerting the driver that not all passengers are belted in. Imagine that – we need an electronic device to tell us we must fasten our seatbelts
Added to that, of course, is the cost of the training and maintenance that goes into using new equipment. We also must keep better records to track personnel, equipment, and how it is used and maintained. The cost of injury recovery continues to climb.