Protecting Firefighters

As a suppression captain with over 25 years of fire service experience, the notion of protecting firefighters comes down to one simple fact - Firefighters must be protected from themselves.

Another priority target area should be driving practices. Driving is one of the areas that education and training efforts will be quickly rewarded. According to NFPA 24% of firefighters killed in the line of duty were responding to, or returning from, alarms. That figure is very likely to increase with the new OSHA mandated ?Two-in & Two-out? legislation. The ?Two-in & Two-out? regulations require that there be two properly trained and ready firefighters on scene before initiating any interior attack. The response of many fire departments will be at add an additional engine company, squad or truck company to the initial assignment. Volunteer fire companies may encourage more volunteers to respond to the scene. This will put more apparatus and fire personnel on the road and will obviously increase the possibility of accidents related to driving. A comprehensive driver?s training program will lessen firefighter injuries and deaths. This program must include classroom and on and off-road drivers training as well as complete Standard Operating Procedures relating to driving. In addition, fire personnel must be held accountable for their actions. An area of high concern should be fire based ambulances or medics. Most fire ambulances are not much larger than a van and are very hard to see in traffic. Medic drivers must be trained to be conservative, defensive and alert in driving practices.

Efforts should also be directed to the daily activities of the line personnel. NFPA 1500 can provide a place to start. NFPA 1500 provides the consensus standard for the fire service as a whole. Special target areas are referenced by individual standards.

Personal Protective Equipment is also a very important consideration. Liability dictates that NFPA should be followed and personnel should be issued protective clothing ensembles that meet NFPA standards. Firefighters should be encouraged to become educated on NFPA and administrators should encourage in-depth research to ensure that all elements of the protective ensemble do indeed meet NFPA. While the actual number of fires has been decreasing, they will become more dangerous and the firefighting ensemble will play a more important role. Over the past decade, lightweight building construction has become the norm. Lightweight construction means that there is failure of the essential structure in a much shorter time than before. With the new ?Two-in & two-out? ruling firefighters will be waiting longer to entry, possibly leading to failure when firefighters are inside.

Another area of focus should be the protective ensembles, both wildland and structural. The structural firefighter's ensemble is not designed to allow the wearer to march undaunted into fire, it is designed to help firefighters get out safely and alive when something goes wrong. The NFPA 1971 compliant structural ensemble will only provide 17-1/2 seconds of protection in a flashover situation. That is not much time, but is enough in most circumstances. The ability of firefighter's to use this precious 17-1/2 seconds can be directly related to training and awareness.

The firefighters of today face more dangers today than ever before. While fire responses are down the fires are more intense and more dangerous. Overall responses are up and apparatus are on the road more than ever. Building construction and legislation place the firefighter at great risk during actual fireground operations. Firefighter stress is also a critical issue. Firefighters need to become safety-conscious in all aspects of their job. This requires education and awareness to the dangers that firefighter's face. If you want to protect firefighter, you must educate them and make them aware of the dangers of their profession.