National Fire Official Continues Seat Belt Push

BALTIMORE, MD -- The national fire official who created the National Seat Belt pledge isn't willing to sit idly by and be satisfied with signatures of emergency personnel.

Dr. Burt Clark is currently conducting research on the issue through Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

He outlined his project to graduate students explaining his project "Exploring seat belt use among firefighters: A multiple case study using the Schein model of organizational culture."

Clark said he was delighted when his project was approved by Hopkins' officials. "Who would believe a former volunteer firefighter would one day be here at Johns Hopkins presenting. This is such an honor."

He said he wants to understand the firefighter culture as it relates to seat belt use. "Can the Schein culture and change model be used to explain fire service seat belt doctrine?"

The JHU visiting scholar also gave students a brief lesson about the fire service to set the stage for his study. "Firefighters work in an unsafe environment every day."

He went on to point out that buckling up is one thing that can and should be done to protect firefighters. "Injuries from vehicle crashes are the second leading causes of firefighter deaths."

NFPA statistics showed in 2009, the 15,100 emergency vehicle crashes resulted in 14 deaths and 820 injuries.

Clark went on say that longtime Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini hit the nail on the head when he said: "Every LODD gets the same terminal ritual regardless if the firefighter was taking an appropriate risk to protect a savable life or was recreationally freelancing in a clearly defensive place. A fire chief would commit instant occupational suicide by saying that the reason everyone is here today in their dress blues is because the dearly departed failed to follow the department safety plan. Genuine bravery and terminal stupidity both get the same eulogy."

He noted that Brunacini, a highly-respected instructor, pulls no punches, and his comments are supported by many.

Clark said it's inconceivable that some states have exempted emergency responders from wearing seat belts.

Peer pressure also is a major factor when it comes to buckling up. He noted how a three-year West Point cadet on a ride along with the D.C. fire department didn't always wear his seat belt despite Clark's orders to do so.

Three years of taking orders went out the window on one shift with firefighters, Clark said.

For his study, he will be analyzing the seat belt stories written by 11 career firefighters. He asked them to compose the articles, discussing various related issues. Some of departments have had LODDs, and some have not. And, there was a mix of those who've taken the national seat belt pledge.

Using the organizational method, Clark intends to develop a coding plan for culture to include artifacts, espoused beliefs and values and underlying assumptions. Regarding change, he will explore unfreezing, cognitive restructuring and re-freezing.

"I hope to have a draft prepared by December," he said, adding that his goal is to have it published in a journal devoted to health and safety.

Clark added that he ultimately would like to see others take what he has done and pursue the issues further. "We have some of the best and brightest here who may want to pursue it. I really think this is a discipline to be studied."