Whose Photo Do You Carry?

frontbThe continuing high levels of duty-related firefighter injuries and deaths are unacceptable. This problem needs to be addressed through a multi-faceted approach. Risks from traumatic and non-traumatic deaths require equal attention. Local, state, and national resources must be brought to bear on this continuing and significant problem.

The number of firefighter line of duty deaths (averaging 105 annually) has remained constant for over a decade. Cardiac problems remain the number one killer. One trend of note is that firefighters are almost as likely to be killed responding to incidents as they are to be killed at an incident.

Risk management principles need to be applied to every aspect of firefighter safety. Every fire department should embrace The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s sixteen life safety initiatives to reduce firefighter injuries and fatalities. Governing bodies and the general public must be educated about the realistic service delivery capabilities of each fire department and its correlation to firefighter safety.

Accountability for firefighter safety is practically non-existent. There are no rewards for good safety practices and records. The lack of penalties for poor safety practices and records appear to be acceptable.
NIOSH has been investigating firefighter fatalities since 1998. Their recommendations to prevent future similar occurrences are repeated over and over. The fire service knows all the causes. There are no new ways being discovered that kill firefighters. The problems and solutions have been identified. Enacting the solutions remains problematic.

The resources for annual firefighter medical examinations must be made available. From the Wingspread V report 2006

What has changed? The NIOSH reports continue to come to similar conclusions.

What have you done to change? The firefighters have been bombarded with information about risk/benefit and health risks. We are making more informed and intelligent decisions today than we did years ago.
What have we done to change? There has been an increased emphasis and focus on safety. IC’s, Chiefs and firefighters have modified their decision making process somewhat.

What will it take for firefighters to consider not dying in the line of duty is honorable? We still have firefighters who risk their life for a building. We have firefighters who argue that we must complete a primary search on a building where no one lives permanently or we have been told everyone is out. In many cases we have firefighters who argue that we have to complete a primary search because it is on the checklist. Our firefighters need to be trained from the first day they come on the job, that risk is an acceptable part of the job. Unnecessary risk of a firefighters life to save a building IS NOT an acceptable part of the job. As Chief Billy Goldfeder asks “Whose photo do you carry in your billfold.” Remember, it is your family that needs you to come home at the end of the call. Your family needs you to come home healthy and uninjured.

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