NFFF Aims to Keep Responders Safe From Violence

The NFFF has joined forces with leading fire service organizations to develop training materials to keep firefighters and responders out of harm’s way during violent situations.

There were 22 participating agencies, among them were the International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Arson Investigators, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Association of Police Organizations, and the National Sheriff’s Association. Also participating were the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the National Fire Protection Association, and the National Volunteer Fire Council.

There were also several career and volunteer fire departments participating in the summit and providing information for the initiative.

The final report of the Firefighter Life Safety Initiative 12 was compiled and written by Jerry Naylis, a 39-year veteran of the fire service who is currently the deputy fire chief of the Bergenfield (N.J.) Fire Department.

The final, 23-page report enumerates the problem of violence against responders, how the NFFF and partners decided to address the problem, and details some recommendations to keep firefighters safe.

“The initiative included major fire service associations, large, medium and small fire departments as well as career and volunteer companies, fire officers and firefighters,” Naylis said.

Also coming out of the initiative was the need for ongoing training to develop “situational awareness” of when they might be in danger, Naylis said.

“Things happen too often, from medics being assaulted by their patients, to deranged gunmen shooting at firefighters,” he said.

While the shooting of firefighters is in recent memory, with two Webster, N.Y. firefighters killed responding to a fire on Christmas Eve, Initiative 12 and the nine points initiative was in the making long before that tragic event.

In fact, NFFF Ronald Siarnicki executive director pointed out, the release of the final report was delayed to pay respect to the fallen fighters and to allow the Webster Fire Department to see it and react.

“We got some good, positive comments from the [Webster] chief,” Siarnicki said.

While some incidents are mentioned by name in the report, Siarnicki said it was not an attempt to “second guess” or analyze any particular response.

For Naylis, the biggest take away from the report and the initiative is the need to disengage when necessary.

Firefighters need to be able to change strategies when confronted with violent situations, Naylis said.

“It’s like when you decide to go defensive on a fire,” Naylis said. “You don’t want to be in an offensive mode when you should be in a defensive mode.”

Oates recommended responders do a “quick and dirty” after-action review just to determine what went well and what went wrong.

Also, Oates said, responders will need some high quality mental health care after witnessing the horrors of violence at scenes. After witnessing life and death situations involving fellow responders, debriefings should be required as well as long-term care when needed.

Siarnicki said the NFFF has been working on Initiative 13, which calls for counseling and psychological support and a report and training material.

It’s expected to be released in March.