Firehouse Interview: William F. Jenaway, Ph.D.

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...


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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I think that an extension of this is reflected in departments that are reducing the number of vehicles responding on initial responses, particularly when history dictates there is no need for excessive equipment, such as repeat alarm offenders. If you couple the reduction of the response to a reasonable-need standpoint and integrate fewer units responding at emergency speed, you have a powerful approach to reducing vehicle accidents, but I caution that you need data to support the decisions to take these risk-reduction actions.

We have also gained extensive value from fixed fire protection (early warning detection and automatic fire suppression), which keep fires smaller, reducing community risk and fire department risk. Fire sprinklers are an incredible success story, not only as a risk-management tool for buildings and occupants where they are installed, but they provide an added level of safety for firefighters.

FIREHOUSE: What is one major concern that you have?

JENAWAY: Most of my post-graduate work has focused on behavioral management and its relationship to safe work environments and changing the behavior of the public with respect to preventing fires and injuries. Depending on the nature of the culture being addressed, there are two key factors that determine how quickly constructive change can occur — what the people themselves accept and change to enhance safety (personal responsibility), and the ability of management or supervision to influence that change (supervision). If you look at organizations where employees or members are empowered to make positive changes to enhance safety, it will occur. However, if supervisors do not enforce rules or safe practices, it will take longer to achieve safe operations. This is why it sometimes takes a generational change (turnover of officer team) to effect safer operations.

This goes hand-in-hand with situational awareness. If officers and firefighters do not have an appreciation for what is "going on around them," the opportunity to stay safe is significantly reduced. This comes from training and real-world experience.

FIREHOUSE: Specifically, what do you see occurring good or bad?

JENAWAY: At VFIS, we find accidents and injuries caused by the same issues that we see reported in NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) firefighter fatality reports:

  • If you don't wear a seatbelt, your chances are higher of incurring more serious injuries or death if involved in a vehicle accident
  • If you are driving a vehicle and the right front tire drops off the roadway, and you quickly turn the steering wheel to bring the tire back onto the roadway, your chances of rolling the vehicle are increased
  • If you don't have adequate safety officers on scene to monitor developing conditions and either take staff out of harm's way or change tactics, the probabilities of injury or worse for questionable gain is present
  • If you are not physically fit to do the job of a firefighter, and/or do not wear personal protective equipment that is assigned, the chances are you will incur some type of injury or worse

The whole concept of situational awareness and establishing "rules of engagement" is becoming significantly more important in understanding when to be aggressive and on the offensive, as opposed to taking a defensive approach. Best practices in safety are best practices because we know by repetitive activity that if you follow specific rules or processes, your chances of injury are minimized.

FIREHOUSE: VFIS has advocated such safety initiatives for years in your driver-training and related programs, but what is being done inside the industry that is making inroads?

JENAWAY: Not only are the NIOSH reports great sources of insight into accident and injury causation and prevention, but the National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System has been developing credible, applicable information related to preventing future incidents and developing the best practices we will be using in the near future. I encourage everyone to review their website and the information they are producing for the fire service. Their data gets to the core of meaningful action on preventing accidents and injuries in the fire service.

FIREHOUSE: What do you mean when you say "meaningful action"?