Near-Miss Reporting Launched At Fire-Rescue International

The ribbon was cut Friday on a Web site that International Association of Fire Chiefs President Chief Bob DiPoli said will, "revolutionize how we share information. The National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System at http://www.firefighternearmiss.com was officially launched at the IAFC"s Fire-Rescue International conference in Denver.

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Looking desperately for a way to cut down on firefighter injuries and deaths, DiPoli called the reporting system "the fire house kitchen going virtual" and becoming national clearinghouse for near-miss incidents. Those close calls that are normally discussed around the table and that go no further, DiPoli hopes will be entered and tracked in a national data base for trends that call for actions to prevent firefighter injury and death.

During a conference program Thursday, 250 attending chief officers listened to a description of the system and what was hoped to be accomplished. The aviation industry has had a near-miss reporting system since 1976. It is expected to receive over 40,000 reports in 2005. It is without question a determining factor in the great flight safety improvements realized since then.

Dennis Smith asked the chiefs in the room, "what do you have control over? The behavior of your firefighters. This system that we are talking about is deadly serious and it can have extraordinary consequences. And the consequence you might never see"..that this close-call reporting system will alert us to the near- miss deaths and injuries to firefighters and will help us prevent this. It can"t work without you"your are the critical link in the chain."

Battalion Chief John Tippett, Montgomery County (MD) Fire and Rescue Service and the reporting system project manager for IAFC said it is thought there are 300 near-misses for every accident involving firefighters, and 600 near-misses for every fatality. The idea is to get the near-miss information out to the firefighter before they suffer a tragic incident. "The best time to intervene is before the accident or fatality," he said

Tippett said taking the reporting to the national level gives firefighters the opportunity to report an incident that may be embarrassing or appear foolish or something that normally would not be talked about. It gives them the opportunity to report it anonymously and confidentially, and say something happened and he got away with it. But he doesn"t want that to happen to someone else.

Tippett defines a near-miss incident as "something that makes you sweat a little more and makes you think to yourself, "damn, that was close, I almost messed up and could have ruined my vacation next week." And if you wonder if a situation qualifies as a near-miss, then Tippett says it probably is.

For him it is all about human factors. With the increasing ability to protect firefighters with technology and better equipment, it still is the human who make the mistake to cause the tragic incident. That is why he feels the reporting system will allow firefighters to take a serious look at other"s mistakes and not repeat them. "We are still killing firefighters the same way we did 25 or 30 years ago. We have to stop this and this is the tool to do it."

The report can be filled out quickly, taking only a few minutes to fill in demographic information. The two most important areas are the event description area and the lessons learned area. These provide the reason this reporting can make a difference.

Each report is reviewed by two senior fire service members who remove information not pertinent to the report such as addresses and names of equipment etc. These reviewers are anonymous and have signed confidentiality agreements. All reports are read within 72 hours of submission and then are posted to the site for all to see. The reports are searchable in several ways such as pulling up all reports for a certain kind of incident.

Tippett hopes to have some sort of summary report out in three months looking at those that have been submitted. But like the aviation system, which took several years to start seeing some of the finer trends that led to changes, this reporting must be used as a teaching tool everyday.

Linda J. Conell, Director NASA/FAA Aviation Safety Reporting System -- upon which this system is modeled -- said the results of the reporting are qualitative, not quantitative. A single report can lead to changes that make a difference in a safety issue. Each report has face value that is relevant to someone out there. The reporting does not need massive statistics to make it powerful. "It is the qualitative nature of what people are telling you that makes the industry safer."

Montgomery County (MD) Fire and Rescue Service was one of the test sites for department near-miss reporting. To get things moving, Chief Tom Carr put himself in a video asking his firefighters to get involved with the reporting and sent it out to all fire houses. They sent out letters and emails and had training teams visit houses where they sat with firefighters at the computers and went through tutorials. They made sure they got to all 33 houses and the three shifts working and used an aggressive poster campaign.

That entailed over 100 visits and now they are following with weekly emails of encouragement. Their advice to other departments wanting to become involved was to go to firefighters in person to explain that the system is anonymous and confidential. Departments must listen to and answer concerns firefighters have so they feel comfortable in doing it.

Joining in the ribbon cutting were Dennis Smith, former FDNY firefighter, author and founder of Firehouse Magazine, and who funded and led the task force that established the system. U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison who helped provide federal funding for the site creation. Danielle Cagan with Fireman"s Fund Insurance Company who also provided funding. And Linda J. Conell, Director NASA/FAA "Aviation Safety Reporting System who brought her experience with the aviation industry reporting system to the project.

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