"Manhood Versus Safety"

For those of you I have not met, my focus in life is in the field of risk management. You are familiar with this discipline as you are in a risk-centric occupation. Risk management is all about identifying the things that can go wrong — and then putting together control measures to prevent things from going wrong.

There are many different applications of this discipline, but for now I would like to focus on "operational" risk management — how to manage the risk of a specific task, incident or event in which you get involved in as a firefighter. What "control measures" can you utilize to better protect yourself from being injured?

When I was invited to present at a recent conference on personal protective equipment (PPE), my goal was to convince people of the value of PPE as such a control measure. You and I know the value of PPE. But, sadly, there are people in your profession who suffer from arrogance, ignorance and complacency regarding the wearing and use of PPE.

As I generate this quick piece, my mind is going all the way back to 1976 — graduate school at USC — and my favorite instructor during my tenure there, Chaytor Mason. Decades ago, he wrote a piece entitled "Manhood Versus Safety" — and when I first read this story in graduate school, I was so impressed with Professor Mason. He passed away several years ago, but his writings still have great value. Here are a couple of thoughts from his work — and it is as true today as it was when I first read this. First, some thoughts on baseball:

"Did you know that this game was then played barehanded with the same wooden bat and hardball that are used today? This caused a lot of injuries and the broken hand was the sign of a baseball player. There was no protection for the hands or other parts of the body.

"And here is the story of Charlie Waite of the 'New York Nine' who having suffered his third broken hand in a recent game was on the field wearing a thin leather protective glove. The audience was astonished and enraged. Pillows flew and the screams from the crowd — 'If you are afraid of getting hurt — get out!' And Charlie, a great first baseman, left the field never to return to baseball. Five years passed before another man attempted to wear a glove onto a playing field.

"In 1885 a well-known catcher named Charlie Bennett, who had many a floating rib sunk by a fast pitch from the pitcher, walked onto the playing field looking a bit more fat than usual. Charlie was wise to the ways of the crowd. Under his coat, he had hidden a thick quilted chest protector — adopted from the fencing sport. By the third inning, two of the batters on the opposing team had gotten the idea. As one of them stepped up to the plate the other tore open Charlie's coat and he was exposed in his shame. There for all the audience to see was the chest protector. He too was laughed off the field.

"There were many disfigured catchers until the year 1893, when one player named 'Cuppy' (and I wonder if that name is significant) finally devised a face protector made from a modified fencing mask. And you may recall the number of fractured skulls there have been from bean balls until the hard hat was recently developed for batters."

As I wander through channels on TV, I see bull riders still not wearing appropriate head protection for that high-risk activity — and when I mentioned that to a friend of mine who knows more about that "sport" than I do, he stated that this is a major issue on the rodeo circuit.

I could visit different professions, but it is always the same stuff. "Manhood Versus Safety." Call me anything you want, but I will choose the latter 100% of the time.

I am a huge fan of risk management. I am begging you to please take advantage of all the PPE that is available to you. I can introduce you to a lot of firefighters who are alive today because they took this "control measure" seriously. PPE has no value hanging up in your locker or stuffed into the trunk of your car. And if you are the "supervisor", set the proper example and wear your PPE and make sure that your people are doing the same. And if you are the chief officer — get some audits and inspections in place to make sure that your people are taking this seriously.

I welcome any comments you have. You can get to me through the website www.firefighterclosecalls.com. Or you can get to me at ggraham@lexipol.com. And if you get the chance, please take a look at www.lexipol.com. I think you may like what you see there.

Until I see you again at some conference, I wish you continued success. Please work safely — and wear your PPE.

GORDON GRAHAM is co-president of Lexipol Inc., a California-based provider of risk management resources for public safety organizations. He has been actively involved in public safety since 1973, spending nearly 10 years as a motorcycle police officer while attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC for graduate work in safety and systems management with an emphasis on risk management, and Western State University to obtain a law degree. In 1982, he was promoted to sergeant and admitted to the California State Bar. Graham regularly serves as an educator and trainer to public safety professionals from around the world. He was the first recipient of the California Governor's Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement training in 1995, and in 2005 received the "Presidential Award for Excellence" from the International Association of Fire Chiefs for his lifelong work in improving firefighter safety and performance.