TAMPA, FLA. – Ten years ago this week, the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives were established.
“We were spending so much on honoring the people we lost, we thought it was time to focus our energy to preventing those deaths and injuries,” explained Dennis Compton, chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) board of directors.
While various groups such as the IAFF, IAFC and NVFC had programs focused on firefighter safety, there was a need for a joint effort.
NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki and others spent months establishing an agenda and six specific areas to be studied during that first gathering here a decade ago.
“Each group had a facilitator, and the topics were picked apart. We weren’t sure what would come out,” Compton said. “We didn’t set out to establish 16 initiatives…”
Now, 10 years out, stakeholders are discussing those guidelines to determine what’s working, what’s not and what tweaks are needed.
The lack of focus on fire prevention was brought up by a number of groups.
“Unfortunately,” one man said. “Many firefighters still believe fire prevention is a threat to their livelihood.”
Also, there’s still a battle throughout the land regarding requiring new homes to have sprinklers. In one state, the last section of an energy bill said no jurisdiction would be allowed to require them for one or two bedroom homes.
In Missouri, homeowners affected by tornadoes a few years ago are paying for storm shelters – which cost much more than sprinklers.
“We have a very diverse group, an engaged group. I’m impressed with the energy,” Compton added.
The groups are comprised of a myriad of participants, some of whom are educators, firefighters, survivors, fire marshals and others.
Fairfax County, Va, Lt. Kim Schoppa said she has found the conference inspiring.
“There have been very pertinent issues discussed.”
Schoppa said she is honored that she was asked by her chief to attend.
Likewise, Christine Dosmann has found the discussions inspiring.
“It’s been amazing, and the issues complex. And, I definitely see the need for more research,” the health and safety officer at Chesapeake, Va. Fire Department said.
USFA Administrator Ernie Mitchell said there has been progress in the past decade. But, the work is far from over.
While the country saw a decline in the number of line-of-duty deaths for three years in a row, that wasn’t the case in 2013. There were several incidents last year that claimed multiple firefighters.
Mitchell said there are a number of challenges facing the fire service including budget reductions. During these trying times, he said it’s vital that people inform the public and partner with them as they can be great advocates.