Firefighters don't usually go to work each day thinking that this may be their last day alive, but the reality is, it could be. That's why it's important to do everything one can to prevent firefighter line of duty deaths. That's why it's the mission of the Everyone Goes Home program, which is part of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation initiative.
Chief Richard Marinucci of the Northville Township, Mich. Fire Department and national chairman of the Everyone Goes Home program gave a presentation to the attendees of this year's Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis.
Marinucci told the workshop participants there were 93 line of duty deaths in 2009.
"Do you think any of them were planned?" Marinucci asked. "They didn't just go in to work that day with any thought they weren't going home. Not one of those deaths was planned."
Obviously, surviving a challenging job, with many risks and dangers, is the number one goal of each and every firefighter, Marinucci said. At least, it's his goal.
"I have a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old and I want to live to see them grow up," he said. "I want to see my grandchildren."
While it's impossible to completely avoid all the inherent risks of firefighting, Marinucci said firefighters need to do everything they can to stay safe. That includes simple stuff like wearing seatbelts, getting regular checkups and physicals, and staying in shape.
"I still don't know why seat belts are not mandatory," Marinucci said. "...I was on a shuttle bus equipped with seatbelts the other day and I instinctively put it on. The driver asked if I was nervous. He said he was a good driver who has been driving for years and he wasn't going to get into an accident. I asked him, ‘What about the other guy who might slam into us?'"
The driver simply said he would see them coming and swerve to miss them. "My point is, accidents aren't planned," Marinucci said. "You can't plan for them, only take precautions to protect yourself in case they happen."
Personal accountability is the most effective incentive for seatbelt use, he said. Officers can reprimand firefighters who don't use them, but they can't buckle each firefighter in on every call or even monitor each incident. When firefighters are caught not using them, officers can bust the offenders, but that's not as effective as instilling the desire to use the seatbelt so they can have a better chance of surviving an accident.
The same holds true of responder medical emergencies. In most cases, fire departments can't force their members to take care of themselves and have regular checkups.
As with vehicle accidents, no one can predict when a medical emergency might happen.
"If you knew you were going to have a heart attack or a stroke tomorrow, wouldn't you go to the doctor's today?" he asked. He also said it's next to impossible to know the effect of preventative measures because if something doesn't happen, you don't know why. But, the flip side of that is it's easy to see what happens when one doesn't take care of himself or get routine checkups.
Often firefighters are reluctant to go to the doctor for fear that a career-ending issue might be discovered, Marinucci said.
"Most often, if they find anything, it's usually something that can be fixed and they're back on duty again with no problems," Marinucci said, adding that sometimes the firefighters actually feel better than ever after getting problems addressed.
"I know I dread physicals," he said. "But after I get checked out and learn there are no problems, I feel really good knowing that. Go get checked out."
Marinucci said he also hates exercising, but knows that it is necessary to achieve his number one goal, and that is to stay alive for his family.
"If you really love your family, doesn't it make sense to stay alive for them?" he asked.
Marinucci offered a few departmental tips to keep firefighters safe too, including a risk assessment of alarm responses.
He asked how many departments respond with lights and sirens to automatic alarm activations with multiple apparatus. A few said they did. As an alternative, he suggested that departments revise their response to have only one engine company respond Code 3, with the other units responding with the flow of traffic.
"That way they're on the way and headed to the scene, but the risk is minimized," Marinucci said, adding that if the engine company finds a working fire, the responding units can step up their responses.
There also has to be risk analysis for each procedure firefighters are asked to perform, he said. He used the large room in which the workshop was held as an example for risk analysis.
"If there was a wastepaper basket on fire right here in this room, would you go in and put it out?" he asked, as the audience gave the obvious answer. "How about if all these chairs were on fire and the room was about to flash, would you go in and try to put it out?"
The question didn't need answering, and Marinucci had made his point.
"We all know the risk/benefit analysis," he said. "Risk a little to save a little. Risk a lot to save a lot... If I'm at a fully involved fire at an abandoned house, I'm not risking squat."
Marinucci spent considerable time on the Everyone Goes Home's firefighter life safety initiatives which can be found on the web at www.everyonegoeshome.com and are listed below:
16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives
- Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility.
- Enhance the personal and organizational accountability for health and safety throughout the fire service.
- Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with incident management at all levels, including strategic, tactical, and planning responsibilities.
- All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices.
- Develop and implement national standards for training, qualifications, and certification (including regular recertification) that are equally applicable to all firefighters based on the duties they are expected to perform.
- Develop and implement national medical and physical fitness standards that are equally applicable to all firefighters, based on the duties they are expected to perform.
- Create a national research agenda and data collection system that relates to the initiatives.
- Utilize available technology wherever it can produce higher levels of health and safety.
- Thoroughly investigate all firefighter fatalities, injuries, and near misses.
- Grant programs should support the implementation of safe practices and/or mandate safe practices as an eligibility requirement.
- National standards for emergency response policies and procedures should be developed and championed.
- National protocols for response to violent incidents should be developed and championed.
- Firefighters and their families must have access to counseling and psychological support.
- Public education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program.
- Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.
- Safety must be a primary consideration in the design of apparatus and equipment.