Safety 101 - Lesson 31

The system is designed to share near-misses with every firefighter to prevent similar incidents from injuring or taking the life of a firefighter.

In 2005, the National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System was introduced. The initiative was designed to turn near-miss experiences into lessons learned for everyone in the fire service community. Lessons learned from near-miss experiences seldom make it past a firehouse kitchen table. Today, a lesson learned in one firehouse can be shared with fire departments across the country through the virtual firehouse kitchen table -- the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System.

Thirty-eight departments participated in a pilot test. The top four contributing factors identified in that pilot test were:

  1. Situational Awareness
  2. Human Error
  3. Design Making
  4. Individual Action.

There was a marked deviation between these four contributing factors and all others.

A near-miss is defined as an unintentional, unsafe occurrence that could have resulted in an injury, fatality or property damage. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented an injury, fatality, or property damage. Situations that qualify as near misses are essentially in the eyes of the reporter.

The analysis of the reports submitted in 2006 illustrated a similar finding to the pilot test regarding the four major contributing causes. While training issues also began to set itself apart from other categories, it is interesting to see the first year data of contributing factors mirror the pilot test.

After a year of gathering data, a report was released. A review of this data and determination of how it is used should help prevent injury and death to your firefighters.

A closer look at the incidents reported on found that common causes of the incidents occur in the following frequency prioritization:

  • Falls
  • Firefighters
  • Structure collapse
  • Power lines

The Report analyzed events at four levels:

  1. Unsafe Acts
  2. Preconditions to Unsafe Acts
  3. Unsafe Supervision, and
  4. Organizational Influences

whereupon recommendations are made to assist in incident reduction, which will be reviewed in a future Safety 101 Lesson.

The concept of near-miss reporting is taken from the aviation industry's safety reporting system which uses similar data points in their workplace. In use since 1976, the aviation industry credits the system as one of the key contributors to an increase in safety over the past 30 years.

The first analysis tool selected to be used is the U.S. Navy's Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS), which focused on the four levels noted above. They relate to what the Navy terms as "mishaps," but translate to near-misses in the fire service, making this process applicable immediately to the fire service.

By looking at the totality of the event, one looks at the scenario preceding the event and during the event. This in turn assists you in looking at actions which include ingrained behaviors, practices, mindsets and traditions which are considered best practices in place in the fire service. These hold the key to success in managing incidents in the future.

The goal of the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System is to improve firefighter safety by collecting, sharing, and analyzing near-miss experiences. The reporting system is voluntary, confidential, non-punitive and secure. The reporting system collects information that can assist in formulating strategies to reduce the number of firefighter injuries and fatalities. The power of the use of this information is unlimited.

Lesson 31
Factors cited as contributing to injury and fatality are the same factors cited in near misses - it is everyone's job to prevent these contributing factors from occurring.

Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!

References & Related Links

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DR. WILLIAM F. JENEWAY, CSP, CFO, CFPS, a Contributing Editor, is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in safety and risk management in the insurance industry. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia, PA, Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management. He has partipated the NVFC Corner podcasts on To read William's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.