Safety -- whether it's on the fire ground, in the back of an ambulance or responding to an alarm -- is personal.
"It's your responsibility to make safe choices," said Billy Goldfeder, chair of the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival section.
Departments across nation are gearing up for the annual Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week that begins Sunday.
Goldfeder said he's hoping that personnel truly listen and adopt things they learn from programs centered on this year's theme: Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility.
When the initiative started a few years ago it was known as a Stand Down, and lasted only a few days.
"Garry Briese, former IAFC executive director, voiced his frustration after losing a number of firefighters over a short period. He got the OK from the board, and Stand Down was started," Goldfeder explained.
The measure was adapted from the military. When troops see something wrong, they "stand down," and fix it.
Goldfeder said the term "Stand Down" didn't really fit the fire service, so it was changed. "We wanted people to focus, become aware of safety..."
It was only a few days at first, but later lengthened to an entire week. Organizers quickly realized also that they needed to include EMS personnel as well.
This year's theme has many aspects, Goldfeder said. "But, it all goes back to one person -- you."
"You are the one who needs to buckle up, to slow down while responding, to put your gear on properly. It's all you!"
There are multiple resources available to get the discussions started. "But, the direct ability to survive begins with each person..."
Goldfeder said he's disturbed by the number of new personnel killed while responding to incidents in their personal vehicles. "How much time is spent, if any, with the new folks about how they should be driving to the station or the fire? Officers should be talking to them."
A 'Pro-Active' Approach
Frankfort, Ill., Chief Jim Grady promotes safety at every opportunity.
"As chief, it is my responsibility to support our personnel on daily efforts with training, safety, etc. It is a daily thing not only limited to a week or two a year."
Grady said his crew has always been pro-active. "Our training officers take the Near-Miss report of the week, and discuss it with our firefighters."
Lt. Nick Peters, who heads the safety division, makes sure that each officer has their own copy of the department's SOGs on physical fitness, rehab, emergency evacuation, Mayday procedures, traffic and driving safety, and on-the-job injuries.
"Then, to compliment these drills I have downloaded various material for each company to review," he said.
Grady said his training division understands his commitment to having everyone go home after their shift.
The Importance of Buckling Up
Nothing bothers Dr. Burt Clark more than to hear a firefighter has been injured or killed because they were not buckled up.
Forget the excuses; he says he's heard them all.
Clark said the emergency services business is dangerous enough. Personnel need to take responsibility to protect themselves by buckling their belts.
He urges people to buckle every time whether they are riding in their personal or emergency vehicle. There have been a number of fire and rescue personnel injured or killed recently while responding to incidents in their own cars or trucks.
Clark said he may initiate a campaign in the nation's high schools to promote the use of seat belts. "We have firefighters and junior firefighters getting killed. We have to do whatever it takes to get them to listen..."
After a former National Fire Academy student was killed, he established the National Seat Belt Pledge. More than 107,000 fire and rescue have signed the document, promising to buckle up.
"North Carolina is leading the movement with 159 departments signing the pledge," he said.
Clark was especially pleased to learn that NIOSH investigators recently not only promoted seat belt use in one of its fatality reports, but suggested personnel take the pledge.
"I think it speaks volumes," he said. "People are finally getting the message."
NIOSH also recommended that federal and state lawmakers consider removing exemptions that allow crews not to wear seat belts.
They cited the NFPA fatality study that showed over a 30-year period, injuries from crashes were the second leading cause of firefighter deaths. Of the 406 victims, 76 percent were not wearing seat belts.
The seat belt pledge is supported by all major fire service organizations except for the IAFF.
Fire department representatives involved with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government have been working on a collaborative project.
"We all understand the importance of safety, and decided this would be a good way to address things," said Fairfax County Battalion Chief Danny Gray, chair of the Wash COG Safety and Health sub-committee.
"Everyone who had the capability is contributing," Gray said, adding that the presentations and videos should provide an excellent training tool.
"Like others, we don't want to inundate the troops just this one day or month. Instead, we want to make it part of their daily routines," he said.
"In these tough economic times, some departments may not have the resources or staff to help. But their members will benefit, nonetheless. The presentations will be shared throughout the region via intranet. "These are quality programs that we are lucky to have..."
Among the contributors and topics are Loudoun County, structure size-up; Fairfax County, organization; D.C., highway safety; Montgomery County, Crew Resource Management; Prince Georges, seat belt safety; and Prince William, health and wellness.
Gray said this is mutual aid at its best.
Taking Advantage of Programs
Personnel at Mohegan Tribal Fire Department in Connecticut review safety topics on a regular basis, said Chief Ron Kanterman.
"We're very fortunate. Of the 46 firefighters, 40 are chief officers in volunteer departments. We have a lot of talent."
The crews are very safety conscious, which Kanterman said pleases him.
The chief said he has taught many of the Courage to Be Safe programs offered by Everyone Goes Home.
Check back on Firehouse.com over the next few days for more 2009 Health, Safety and Survival Week information.