An unprecedented gathering of the leadership of the American fire service occurred on March 10 and 11, 2004, when more than 200 individuals assembled in Tampa, FL, to focus on the troubling question of how to prevent line-of-duty deaths. Every year, approximately 100 firefighters lose their lives in...
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An unprecedented gathering of the leadership of the American fire service occurred on March 10 and 11, 2004, when more than 200 individuals assembled in Tampa, FL, to focus on the troubling question of how to prevent line-of-duty deaths. Every year, approximately 100 firefighters lose their lives in the line of duty in the United States; about one every 80 hours. The first-ever Firefighter Life Safety Summit was convened to bring the leadership of the fire service together for two days to focus all of their attention on this one critical concern. Every identifiable segment of the fire service was represented and participated in the process.
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) hosted the summit as the first step in a major campaign. In cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), the foundation has established the objectives of reducing the fatality rate by 25% within five years and by 50% within 10 years. The purpose of the summit was to produce an agenda of initiatives that must be addressed to reach those milestones and to gain the commitment of the fire service leadership to support and work toward their accomplishment.
The summit marks a significant milestone, because it is the first time that a major gathering has been organized to unite all segments of the fire service behind the common goal of reducing firefighter deaths. It provided an opportunity for all of the participants to focus on the problems, jointly identify the most important issues, agree upon a set of key initiatives, and develop the commitments and coalitions that are essential to move forward with their implementation.
Every individual who came to Tampa was already personally committed to the mission of keeping firefighters alive and all of the organizations that were represented were already on record as supporting the goal of reducing line-of-duty deaths. The summit was designed to produce a single combined agenda for change that all of the participants, individuals and organizations could agree to support and promote. The product of their concentrated effort in Tampa will provide the foundation for a joint strategy and combined effort that will be essential to produce the desired results over the next 10 years.
The summit produced a set of initiatives that may well be regarded as radical today; however, it is significant to recognize that nothing new was invented or discovered in Tampa. All of the initiatives that emerged were based on information and fundamental truths that were known long before the invitations to the summit were issued. The gathering simply provided a forum at which those issues could be discussed openly and freely on their own merits. Some of the policies that were identified are likely to cause discomfort and controversy; however, there is no arguing with the fact that the assembled leadership, who came from all segments of the fire service, concluded that these initiatives are essential to keep firefighters from dying unnecessarily.
This is the first step along a path that will require a huge commitment of energy and resources over several years. Some of the initiatives that were agreed upon will involve radical changes for the fire service. Any revolutionary movement requires committed and unwavering leadership to bring about this type of major change. The core of that leadership will come from the summit participants who helped to shape the agenda and identify the strategies that will have to be implemented. The invited participants included key individuals who are widely recognized for their influence and leadership, some attending on their own and some as representatives of organizations that represent different sectors of the fire service. In the normal course of events, these organizations often disagree on particular issues and priorities; however, in Tampa the only issue on the agenda was how to keep firefighters alive and there was a very broad consensus on the efforts that are needed to accomplish that goal. As the initiatives are advanced over the next several years, the fire service will see an example of what committed leaders can accomplish when they agree to work together for an important cause.