We Are Going In the Wrong Direction

I have attended more than a couple of fire service classes over the past few years, and I also have a stack of firefighting trade periodicals sitting on my desk that I read frequently. In each, I see the same theme being emphasized over and over again...


I have attended more than a couple of fire service classes over the past few years, and I also have a stack of firefighting trade periodicals sitting on my desk that I read frequently. In each, I see the same theme being emphasized over and over again — firefighter safety. This I applaud...


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I have attended more than a couple of fire service classes over the past few years, and I also have a stack of firefighting trade periodicals sitting on my desk that I read frequently. In each, I see the same theme being emphasized over and over again — firefighter safety.

This I applaud, because our job is inherently dangerous and we must constantly train and be reminded how to stay safe. Yet with all of this training and all of the reminders, we are still losing our fellow firefighters for largely preventable reasons. It only stands to reason that something is missing in our approach to solving this problem. I believe it is because we are going in the wrong direction when addressing the ongoing safety issue. My theory is this: Wouldn't the obvious and most efficient solution to any problem be the elimination of that problem in the first place?

The most frequent topics on firefighter safety include accountability, rapid intervention teams, strategy and tactics, rehab and air management — all very important topics. But aren't these skills reactive? Once the alarm sounds for a fire, aren't firefighters already at risk? Statistics show that many firefighter deaths and injuries occur while responding to and returning from fires. So if we want to solve the firefighter injury and death problem, wouldn't the most obvious and efficient solution be the elimination of, or at least reduction of, the original problem — the fire — and need to respond in the first place?

Why aren't we, as a fire service, putting as much time and effort into preventing those fires from occurring as we are devoting to reducing fireground deaths and injuries? Fires are starting and people are dying for the same predictable and preventable reasons as most of our firefighters. We are attempting to address the problem from the wrong end, and by doing so we are putting our efforts and dollars into a never-ending circle.

No one would debate that the above-mentioned fireground skills are necessary. Despite our best efforts, we will always have fires (yes, I said it) and firefighters will always have to take calculated risks. Most of this training is given at the start of a firefighter's career because it is important to start building the foundation of these life-saving skills early and firefighters must remain proficient in them throughout their career. But, again, aren't these skills reactive?

So where has fire prevention fallen in the training of our newest family members? Not only have fire prevention and education been the last chapter in most firefighter manuals, the new National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Firefighter I curriculum has eliminated fire prevention and education altogether. Our previous recruits were getting this class at the end of their training; our new recruits will not get it until they reach Firefighter II. What about these skills? Aren't they also needed throughout a firefighter's career? Shouldn't a new firefighter be able to speak in an educated manner about smoke detectors and escape drills? Aren't we putting the cart before the raging-stampeding horse?

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) put forth 16 bold Firefighter Safety Initiatives offering our profession a guiding path to make our firefighters, and our jobs, safer. This is a great accomplishment and those who spent their time and effort on those initiatives, which no doubt came at great personal sacrifice as everything progressive in our profession does, deserve that same "job well done" as the attack crew who puts a solid stop on a fire. But if you read this list of 16 safety initiatives, prevention topics are numbers 14 and 15 — at the very end.

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