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Having sound emergency vehicle response guidelines in place will assist the department by providing clear direction to its officers and drivers. These are considered process-oriented and must go hand-in-hand with our final element – people. Placing people in the correct assignment based on knowledge, skill and attitude, combined with a robust training program, is considered the best long-term solution when addressing risk in the workplace. One simple strategy is to increase the awareness to specific risk areas through an active communication process.
If an ethical or moral responsibility doesn’t compel the fire chief to consider a risk management approach for incident response, then perhaps the threat of legal proceedings might prompt action. In a previous article, we spoke of the legal concept of misfeasance, taking an action determined to be inappropriate even if with good intent. When misfeasance is applied to our incident response protocols, we should ask, “Have we taken all reasonable steps to reduce risk to our responders and the public while responding? Have we defined our response protocol through a practical, rational and calculated manner? Or is our response defined by subjective reasoning?”
Let’s use a fire alarm response as a basis in designing a managed response. A managed response infers that our decision is based on an objective, balanced and deliberate assessment in an effort to reduce response risk. For example, let’s use an outcome-based review of 100 fire alarms received. Following a review of the fire incident report, we find that 15% of the total responses resulted in an actual fire or smoke event. Of the total events (100), 55% were to single-family dwellings, 35% were to multi-family units and 10% were to commercial occupancies. In outcomes where fire or smoke were evident, eight events occurred in multi-family dwellings, five in single-family and two in a commercial structure. When we look at time of day when the call was received, we find that an overwhelming majority, 70% of the total, occurred between 6 A.M. and 6 P.M. Of the 15% with fire or smoke on arrival, 10 events occurred after 6 P.M.
Based on our review of 100 fire alarm events, we found that although most occurred during normal business hours, only 15 of them had smoke or fire evident on arrival. Of these, most occurred in single-family dwellings. From a risk-management perspective, a managed response seems appropriate and should be considered. The chart at the top of page 58 illustrates a managed-response plan, identifying apparatus and response mode. The officer or senior member has the authority to alter the response plan based on information received, weather/road conditions, available resources, etc.
In this scenario, it is a requirement for the dispatcher to contact the alarm location to verify if a problem exists or not. This is done following the dispatch of the fire department. The information provided by the dispatcher is then used by the officer in deciding the response mode.
When considering your response mode, keep in mind that the primary responsibility of all fire chiefs is personnel safety – providing a safe work environment for their members. Reducing risk to our responders requires a thoughtful and practical decision-making approach. Modifying your response to non-life-threatening events will reduce risk to responders and vastly improve the chances that we “arrive alive.”