The 2005 Firefighter Safety Challenge

Recently, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) released a report summarizing the 107 firefighter deaths that occurred in 2004.

  • 20,000 lost articles of mail every hour
  • 5,000 botched surgical procedures every week
  • 4 accidents per day at major airports1

Most companies operate at between 3 and 4 Sigma which produces between 67,000 and 6,000 defects, respectively. For the fire service, a margin of error of 1% would be disastrous if every death was measured against the number of fires in the US each year. 3.8 Sigma would amount to 16,500 firefighters killed each year responding to approximately 1.6 million fires!

A convenient website exists at in which the process Sigma level can be calculated. Plugging in some numbers from recent years in regard to fire statistics reveal that the fire service had a process Sigma level of 5.35 as recent as the year 2000. This was found by using data from the USFA. In 2000, 102 firefighters were killed responding to 1,708,000 fires in the United States to yield a defect rate of 0.01%. The year 2003 was found to have a process Sigma rate of 5.31 with 111 firefighters killed in approximately 1.6 million fires. So, if Six Sigma can be identified as the goal to achieve regarding firefighter deaths each year, then the limit would be just six firefighters killed. Is it possible? Is it worth striving for? Imagine the difference that this conviction could make in our national fire service. Author Chowdhury states that Six Sigma "doesn't try to manage the problem. It tries to eliminate it". He goes further by saying, "If you want to improve something, you have to know where you stand and where you want to go, or else it isn't going to happen". In other words, numbers bring the needed clarity to provide the focus for improvement.

Now, here's the challenge; if you are really committed in not only lowering, but eliminating, the number of firefighters killed every year in the country then you must spread the word that Six Sigma must be the goal. You must contact at least 10 fire service professionals from different fire departments who have leadership or training capacities, or impact roles and pass this information along. You must also challenge them, and their departments, to uphold safety concepts and to remain vigilant about firefighter safety.

To do any less than this would be dishonoring the memory of the fallen firefighters. We must look at every firefighter that is killed as preventable to realize a goal of Six Sigma.

If we all take action, quite possibly, the next USFA report will not be as dismal.

Note: At this writing, one firefighter has been killed in the US in 2005.

Footnote: 1

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