Safety 101 - Lesson 25

Firefighters work in varied and complex environments that increase their risk of on-the-job death and injury. A better understanding of how these fatal accidents, non-fatal injuries, and illnesses occur can help identify corrective actions, which could help minimize the inherent risks. The National Fire Protection Association attempts to gather relevant data each year from which you can locally and regionally (and other agencies from a national perspective) develop programs to limit and manage injuries, illnesses, and deaths.

All other major industries use similar data to develop injury/illness/death mitigation techniques at the national, state, regional and local level. In the authors experience of 30-plus years in the safety industry, the fire service approach has been less structured than the mining, construction, and forestry industries, as examples.

So what are trends in fire service injuries and illnesses and how do they relate to you?

While the total number of line of duty firefighter injuries fell by 3.7 percent from 2003 to 2004, the number rose by 5.6 percent from 2004 to 2005, to over 80,000 injuries. Interestingly, the percentage of injuries at fireground operations held at 48.6 percent in 2005 as well as 2004. With all of the interest and activity in firefighter safety since 2004, it is important to note that the number injuries has not decreased.

As we compare 2004 to 2005 there are no changes in the nature of injury, as noted below:

Rank....Nature of Injury

1...........Strain, sprain, muscular pain

2...........Wound, cut, bleeding

3...........Burns

4...........Smoke, gas inhalation

Similarly, there are no changes in the cause of injury between 2004 to 2005:

Rank....Nature of Injury

1...........Fall, slip, jump

2...........Over exertion, strain

3...........Exposure to fire products

If you investigate the data related to the number of fireground injuries per 100 firefighters, it is noted that the results are stable or higher in all community population segments - no improvements!

Looking at summary data since 1988, there has been minimal overall impact on firefighter injuries on the fireground.

A lot of interpretations can be made from the data, but when one looks at comparing accident reduction techniques in industry to the fire service, a single issue arises:

"When it comes to firefighter safety, developing standard operating guidelines with safety in mind, is paramount. The firefighter must accept personal responsibility to establish baseline safety and officers must assure firefighters are trained in and enforce the standard operating guidelines".

Recommendations made from data analysis are consistent with philosophical approaches to industrial safety. It is action, not planning and talk that are needed. This is illustrated by the following suggested actions:

  • Commitment on the part of top fire service management to reducing injuries;
  • Establishment of a safety committee headed by a safety officer to recommend a safety policy and the means of implementing it;
  • Develop and implement an investigation procedure that includes all accidents, near misses, injuries, fatalities, occupational illnesses and exposures involving members;
  • Provision of appropriate protective equipment and a mandate to use it;
  • Development and enforcement of a program on the use and maintenance of self contained breathing apparatus;
  • Development and enforcement of policies on safe practices for drivers and passengers of fire apparatus;
  • Development of procedures to ensure response of sufficient personnel for both firefighting and overhaul duties;
  • Implementation of regular medical examinations and a physical fitness program;
  • Adoption and implementation of an incident management system;
  • Training and education for all members related to emergency operations;
  • Implementation of programs for the installation of private fire protection systems, so that fires are discovered at an earlier stage, exposing the firefighter to a less hostile environment;
  • Increased efforts in the area of fire safety education programs, so that citizens are made aware of measures to prevent fire and of correct reactions to the fire situation.

These recommendations lead us to one conclusion: "Efforts need to be made to recognize that firefighter injuries can be reduced. By addressing the priorities (listed by these analyses), organizations can make significant strides towards reducing the number and impact of such injuries." (Karter, Michael J and Molis, Joseph L., "Firefighter Injuries for 2005", NFPA Journal, page 81)

Lesson #25
When it comes to firefighter safety, developing standard operating guidelines with safety in mind, is paramount. The firefighter must accept personal responsibility to establish baseline safety and officers must assure firefighters are trained in and enforce the standard operating guidelines.

Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!

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DR. WILLIAM F. JENEWAY, CSP, CFO, CFPS, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in safety and risk management in the insurance industry. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia, PA, Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management. He has partipated the NVFC Corner podcasts on Radio@Firehouse.com. To read William's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.

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