Firefighter safety, risk management and insurance have taken on more and more interest in the past few years. We thought it was time to discuss current trends in risk management with one of the fire service's leading risk-management professionals. William F. Jenaway, Ph.D., CSP, CFOD, CFPS, has...
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Firefighter safety, risk management and insurance have taken on more and more interest in the past few years. We thought it was time to discuss current trends in risk management with one of the fire service's leading risk-management professionals. William F. Jenaway, Ph.D., CSP, CFOD, CFPS, has spent over 30 years in the field of risk management, was the chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Risk Management Task Force and then for 10 years was the chair of the National Fire Protection Association Fire Service Administrative Risk Management Committee (NFPA 1250). Having served as fire chief in two communities and vice president of VFIS, an insurer of emergency service organizations, Dr. Jenaway deals with the issue of fire department safety, risk management and insurance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our thanks to Dr. Jenaway and the VFIS team for assisting in this current assessment of fire service risk management.
FIREHOUSE: Over the past decade, what have you seen change in the area of fire service risk management?
JENAWAY: A decade ago, most fire departments had minimal concern over firefighter safety. Accidents were typically handled by worker compensation programs and while there was some loss-prevention or safety work being done, it was limited in application and success. Risk management was thought of as "safety" and while we did have an NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standard for a safety officer and the FDSOA (Fire Department Safety Officers Association) were active, the whole concept of risk management was misapplied.
FIREHOUSE: Misapplied? What do you mean by misapplied?
JENAWAY: The early attempts at fire service risk management were safety (risk control or loss prevention) based. However, risk management is a multi-step decision-making process that involves a combination of risk-control and risk-financing techniques. Work had begun, but many initiatives were limited because they expected grandiose success from safety initiatives that are only partially responsible for safe operations. Keep in mind that safety as a true discipline is only about 40 years old (OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was implemented in the early 1970s). Risk management, the integration of risk control and risk financing, is still developing.
FIREHOUSE: What do you believe are some of the current issues that we face regarding risk management?
JENAWAY: The best way to explain these current challenges is to simply look at the headlines. We continue to experience approximately 100 firefighter deaths annually, some 80,000 injuries, fire truck accidents continue to rise in frequency and severity, and the newest problem — management liability or reputational risk — is becoming more and more prevalent and costly in more than one way to the fire service.
FIREHOUSE: What is reputational risk? Is this something new?
JENAWAY: This refers to the reputation of the fire department and how risk is affected by the actions or non-actions of members and officers. For instance, thefts by fire department members, other crimes, harassment claims, and discriminatory and unlawful practices all bring negative publicity to the fire department, which creates risk of financial loss, member loss or reputation loss. These problems typically surface in the news and result in claims or charges against the fire department and/or its members.
FIREHOUSE: What are some successes the fire service is experiencing?
JENAWAY: There are distinct success stories that we see around the country. These start with fire departments that take action and do not stick their heads in the sand regarding safety. Chiefs who ignore the issues of accident potential and how accidents will be paid for do not have the best interests of their organization at heart. Officers lead by example and must use seatbelts, drive responsibly, not take undue chances, take action with individuals who do not follow the rules and most importantly "do the right thing."