D.C. Firefighters' Program Takes Aim at Burns

Troubled by increases in firefighter burn injuries, the Washington, D.C., Fire Department launched a study to figure out what was causing the spike.

In 2006 and 2007, Larry Schultz, a retired chief of operations for the D.C. fire department, said seemingly insignificant burns were costing the city a lot of money, not to mention pain and suffering by those who suffered the thermal injuries.

That prompted the creation of the D.C. Firefighters Burn Foundation which studied the issue and what could be done with it.

On Tuesday, Schultz, a representative of that foundation, presented a class to firefighters at Firehouse World Expo on burn prevention and, more directly, how to implement burn prevention programs and training in fire departments nationwide.

Schultz said the burn foundation was awarded an Assistance to Firefighters Grant and developed a program called “It Happened in Seconds, Firefighter Burn Injury Awareness Training” which is available to firefighters nationwide, free of charge.

During the class, Schultz sampled the class and explained how some firefighters have a general reluctance to report burns for fear of repercussions from fire officers and superiors.

He said the class being offered through the burn foundation, which is less than a year old, has been more widely taught on the East Coast, where it was developed and, through the Firehouse World conference, he is hoping more West Coast fire departments will avail themselves of the training.

The four-hour class will be presented to any fire department or group who requests it and, under the terms of the grant, it will be given free of charge with the foundation picking up all of the costs.

The class has two parts, one focusing on first-hand accounts of firefighter burns and the recovery, presented by trained firefighters, and the second half is taught by medical professionals who describe what happens to people recovering from burns and the extensive treatment that follows an injury.

“We’re trying to teach the basic lessons of burn prevention and how to deal with them,” Shultz said.

Part of the class concentrates on the safe use of personal protection equipment (PPE) and recognizing fire behaviors to keep firefighters out of harm’s way, Schultz said.

The medical portion of the class gives firefighters an “honest and upfront look” at the kinds of treatment and pain they face if they get burned, he said, noting that burn injuries are often the most challenging to treat, but with prompt and immediate care at burn treatment centers, survival rates increase.

Costs for burn treatments can be prohibitive, approaching $5,000 per day or more, which should be a strong encouragement for burn prevention, Shultz said. He added, however, that even though burn treatment center care is expensive, it can be far less expensive than the cost of lost time or even the ending of a career if an injury isn’t properly treated early.

In addition to having representatives from the burn foundation teach the class to fire departments, Shultz said “train-the-trainer” programs are also available through the foundation. Departments throughout the country are encouraged to organize groups willing to participate in the three-day class to become eligible to teach the course to others.

Under the terms of the grant, only those who have gone through the training can train firefighters and teach the course, Schultz said, reiterating that all costs for the training are borne by the foundation.

“We are trying to spread this training as far as we can, and by training others to teach the course, we can cover an even wider area."

Those interested in learning more about the training program, or seeking to host a session are encouraged to go to www.dcffburnfoundation.org for more information.

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