Safety 101 - Lesson 3

March 13, 2006

For many years the terms "safety" and "risk management" have been inappropriately used interchangeably in the fire service. Risk management is a multi-step decision making process used to:

  • identify and analyze the potentials for loss
  • evaluate alternatives to manage these loss potentials using risk control and risk financing techniques
  • selecting an appropriate technique or multiple techniques to use to manage risk
  • implementing the technique(s) selected, and
  • monitoring the implemented technique to assure it is working as intended.

Safety, as we learned in an earlier "Lesson" is:

  • the condition or state of being safe, freedom from danger or hazard; exemption from hurt, injury or loss.
  • Incapable of doing harm, no longer dangerous, in secure care or custody.

When we compare the two approaches we quickly see they are not the same, but safety is indeed a component of risk management.

As noted above, the second element of risk management involves the development of risk control and risk financing alternatives to deal with identified loss potentials. Risk Control features are the most similar aspect to safety that one will find in this process. Risk control, or "safety" is achieved in one of five ways.

  1. Risk Avoidance - Probably the easiest way to not have an injury or accident is to not be involved in the activity or avoid the risk. You may think this is impossible in our business of fighting fires and rescuing people. However, as an example, many firefighters are injured in fighting fires inside abandoned buildings, or injuried in vehicle accidents responding to non-emergency type calls (e.g. standby for another station) at emergency speed. There are many injuries and deaths recorded in these avoidable incidents. Therefore standard operating guidelines that promote avoiding practices with no apparent "gain" may make a world of sense.

  2. Loss Prevention - This is probably the most noted method of safety that the emergency service community has in place. Loss prevention includes such practices as inspections, taking deteriorating equipment or equipment in disrepair out of service, monitoring actions at the emergency scene, conducting safety training, etc. Loss prevention is a pro-active practice that keeps firefighters and equipment safe.

  3. Loss Reduction - This method is one we practice on a regular basis and probably don't realize it. For example, we know that firefighters routinely enter hostile environments, and if unprotected they will get hurt, so we provide such equipment as helmets, gloves, thermal hoods, boots, bunker pants and bunker coats, that will reduce loss if the fire fighter is "felled" during an incident. Similarly, fire apparatus now have enclosed seating compartments and seat belts for personnel to ride to the incident. Unfortunately, even with closed cabs, we still hear of firefighters not wearing seat belts and being ejected from vehicles or falling from vehicles. Again, where is the personal accountability and officer supervision to eliminate these unnecessary accidents and injuries?

  4. Segregation of Exposures - While a little more difficult to comprehend and apply in the emergency service world, there are two great examples. First, by sending all equipment on a same street routing to an incident, there is opportunity for the units to all be caught in traffic, or as has happened in the past to be involved in collisions. By routing apparatus in multiple directions, this loss potential can be avoided. Secondly, by placing multiple firefighters on a single ladder instead of placing two ladders to effect rescue or ventilation, you increase the risk of accident and injury.

  5. Contractual Transfer - In the business world, this is a common technique to transfer risk and responsibility for injury to contractors or subcontractors providing the job. It is much less frequently applied in the emergency services. However, when hiring contractors to perform work at fire department facilities, making sure they have appropriate safety programs in place for their personnel is important, so your organization is not held responsible if one of the contractor's employees is hurt or worse on your site. A similar concept deals with accident and sickness and/or workers compensation coverage of firefighters when responding to mutual aid calls. Property and casualty coverage falls into the same category. It is important for you to know if your coverages are transportable when you leave for another community, or whether that community is now responsible for your protection if you are injured. State laws and mutual aid agreements are generally used to detail this type of information.

Similarly, there are several types of risk financing techniques that are used. They are known as:

  • Retention
  • Contractual transfer
  • Current loss expensing
  • Commercial insurance
  • Unfunded reserve
  • Funded reserve
  • Borrowing, and
  • Establishing a captive insurance program

At this point in our series it is not necessary for you to know details about these type programs, only that they are techniques used by risk managers to fund losses, when the risk control techniques described about do not work and losses occur.

Lesson #3

By now, you should be understanding of the fact that the terms safety and risk management are not interchangeable, and that each has to be dealt with by appropriate personnel in the organization.

Safety 101 -A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!


Dr. William F. Jenaway, CSP, CFO, CFPS is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in Safety and Risk Management, in the insurance industry. Bill is also an adjunct professor in Risk Analysis in the Graduate School at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia (PA) Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management.

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