Bill Tricarico and David Denniston don’t like it, but aren’t surprised, when they get calls from fire departments saying, “We’ve got a little problem,” or “You’re not going to believe this one.”
Tricarico is the director of Loss Control Services for McNeil & Company Emergency Services Insurance Program, and Denniston is a loss control training specialist for the same company. The two men, both longtime firefighters and officers, gave a presentation at Firehouse Expo on Saturday, July 24 titled, “Extinguishing the Flames of Liability: Top Ten Ways to Keep Your Firefighters Alive, Yourself Out of Jail and Your Department Out of Negative Headlines.
In a style reminiscent of a late-night talk show, the men counted down the “Top 10” reasons why departments get into trouble, and offered tips on how to avoid them.
10: Sexual harassment
At number 10 was sexual harassment. Tricarico said the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates more than 12,000 sexual harassment complaints annually and the fines alone amounted to more than $49.9 million last year.
“And if the press gets wind of the story, they’ll be down saying; ‘Let us in.’ They’re looking for a juicy story,” Tricarico said, adding that the press will be long gone if the department is cleared any wrong doing. He recommends that chief officers be leaders and investigate any complaints as soon as they surface.
“Don’t wait,” he said.
9: Failure to follow rules
Coming in at number nine, is failure to follow rules. Denniston said there are so many rules and guidelines that some departments have never even heard of them.
For example, Denniston only got a smattering of hands when he asked if anyone had heard of NFPA 1500, which is the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program.
He said that standard was adopted in 1987 and firefighters at the time thought it was too radical for immediate adoption.
“They asked us to phase it in, to give them some allowance,” Denniston said. “Here it is at least 22 years later and a lot of you didn’t even know it existed,” he said.
Denniston said the rules were made for sound reasons and departments are obliged to follow them in the name of safety.
8: Poor record keeping
At number eight is poor record keeping. Tricarico presented several examples of inaccurate or poorly worded reports to prove his point. One actual report read, “The patient was alert and unresponsive.” Another said a patient, who didn’t want to go to jail, faked chest pains and came down with a severe case of “incarceritis.”
“Poorly written reports will get you in trouble,” Tricarico said, noting that police have figured this out because a bad report can let a bad guy walk.
At number seven is the need to control technology. Denniston explained that immediate technology on the internet, through Twitter, YouTube and other venues can mean that some things get said and disseminated that shouldn’t, and do so faster than they would have otherwise.
“Technology is traveling faster than our brains,” Denniston said. He encouraged attendees to restrict, or at least monitor what is going out about their departments.
6: Theft of funds
Number six is theft of funds. Tricarico asked the firefighters who attended how many different financial accounts they had and how closely they monitor those funds.
“It’s often your most trustworthy, hardest working firefighter, someone no one would suspect,” Tricarico said, adding that those who take the funds most often don’t mean to commit a crime. It’s a matter of running into financial difficulty and then “borrowing” the money with every intention to pay it back in the next paycheck.
Tricarico recommended audits, monitoring of all accounts and two signatures on checks, with policies preventing the advance signing of checks. He also cautioned against electronic banking because it’s too easy for someone to make a transfer and then leave the country.