Fire/EMS Safety & Health Week: Rules vs. DNA

The 2012 International Fire/EMS Safety & Health Week theme is “Rules you can live by.” If you have been in the fire service for 12 months, you know the rules that will keep you from getting injured, killed, fired, voted out or disciplined. You have...


The 2012 International Fire/EMS Safety & Health Week theme is “Rules you can live by.” If you have been in the fire service for 12 months, you know the rules that will keep you from getting injured, killed, fired, voted out or disciplined. You have also seen or read about most of these rules broken by other firefighters with no negative consequences. The longer you are in the service the more rules you will see broken or not enforced and sometimes even rewarded.

Not following the rules is part of our culture and what the public has come to expect from us.  Society gives us permission not to follow the rules. We get these special privileges because people call us when they are having a really bad day that is getting worse and endangering their lives and property.

Our country was founded on the principle that people are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights; among which are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. When your house is on fire, your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are in jeopardy. If nothing is done, your neighbors rights are at risk as well. Left unchecked, the entire community can be lost. 

From the beginning of the United States of America, society has expected firemen (today we are called firefighters) to come fix the problem. We have done this willingly with great pride, skill, courage and sacrifice. All the while we are being cheered on by an adoring public. Even our death is commended by God; John 15:13 “Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” How many times have you heard this Bible passage at a firefighter funeral? When we get killed, it is a line-of-duty death (LODD) and the whole town turns out to show respect and share grief. We have been doing this for almost 300 years.

The number one Life Safety Initiative of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's "Everyone Goes Home" campaign is, "Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility."  When the leaders of the fire service wrote this more than eight years ago, I was there. They knew the firefighter injury and death problem was not a lack of rules, or lack of knowledge of the rules, or lack of training on the rules, or lack of the ability to follow the rules. It was the fact that firefighters and fire departments pick and choose what rules to follow and what rules to ignore. In 1974, renowned author Frank Brannigan said, “We are not killing firemen in any new ways.”

Brannigan’s statement was confirmed in 2010 by Drs. Kunadharaju, Smith and DeJoy, from the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia, in a published paper titled "Line of Duty Deaths among U.S. Firefighters: An Analysis of Fatality Investigations." They studied 189 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that included 213 LODDs from 2004 to 2009. The NIOSH reports made a total of 1,167 recommendations to reduce firefighter injury and death. The researchers categorized the recommendations into five factors:

  1. Incident Command
  2. Personnel
  3. Equipment
  4. Operations/Tactics
  5. External     

The researchers applied root-cause analysis techniques to the data set to determine the basic or higher order causes that they classified as: under resourcing; inadequate preparation for/anticipation of adverse events; incomplete adoption of incident command procedures; and sub-optimal personnel readiness. An important point they made is that these higher order causes "…do not provide any definitive insights as to their origin," but "… may actually be tapping the basic culture of firefighting."

This content continues onto the next page...