The Everyone Goes Home-Courage to be Safe” program is about 5 years old. Line of Duty Deaths (LODD’s) have dropped below 80 in 2010 and around 80 in 2011. The low hanging fruit which we believed to be driving is in fact just that. The LODD driving stats have dropped whether it was a fire department vehicle or a POV. So, we’re hoping at this point that they are starting to listen. Try a secret weapon. I call it “obnoxious repetition.” “Good night guys, be safe” should be your verbal sign-off when leaving the firehouse every single time. “Have a safe rest of the shift” might be thrown in now and then. Ask my college fire science students how I bid them farewell every Tuesday night. They’ll repeat it with the “we know, we know” lilt in their voices: “Be careful; seatbelts, speed and intersections. Wear your gear. Be safe. See you next week.” For those of you who have been around for more than 15 minutes, remember the war movie made in the 1970’s “The Dirty Dozen” with Lee Marvin, Jim Brown and Telly Savalas? They had a suicide mission to gain entry into a German compound and blow it up. They sat around a model of the complex for weeks. There were ten steps to the operation. They repeated it over and over again. They even made it rhyme. (The Burn Center in Livingston N.J. used “Wear your gear, don’t end up here.”) It became second nature to the soldier/actors in the movie. Much like snapping a seatbelt. You just do it automatically. They blew it up, all the way up!
I know there are Fire Chiefs and fire fighters all over the country that have not seen the EGH-CTBS program or ever heard of it. Come on folks. Are you living under a rock alongside the Geico man? Have you seen the IAFF’s program “Fire Ground Survival Awareness?” This is by far one of the best on-line training programs I’ve ever seen. It’s well done on all accounts and it’s free. These two programs alone can bring your department members to a new and heightened awareness of tactical safety and career longevity, career or volunteer. The IAFC’s sponsored Safety Week is not enough. It’s meant to be a reminder that we should be doing something each and every day. When you do radio roll call each morning, does your dispatcher recite a “Safety Tip of the Day?” Yet another simple “obnoxious reminder.” The thing is, eventually they’ll comply just to shut you up! And even then, repeat it. We’ve always said that every week is fire prevention week. Why not include that every week is firefighter safety week? All of this type of thinking falls in to Life Safety Initiative #1-Change the Culture. (If you never heard of the 16 LSI’s, you’re behind the 8 ball or perhaps you are an 8 ball!) As new members are brought in to the service, give them the religion right up front. The EGH-CTBS program should be taught at every fire academy in the country, in order to instill safety awareness at the very beginning of a career. Maybe we’ll get a whole generation of firefighters to grow up in a safety culture that will truly make dent in our LODD rate. We still got work to do.
For today, put yourself to the test. Ask yourself the following questions (there are only 38) and see what kind of answers you get. Better yet, sit down with your staff (Asst. Chiefs, Deputies, Battalions, Officers, etc.) and review them together. It may be time to re-adjust and remember to re-adjust you, before you try to re-adjust them!
- Have we made firefighter safety and health a primary value of our organization?
- Does every member understand the organizational emphasis on health and safety?
- Does every manager and supervisor understand their personal responsibility to implement safety policies and procedures?
- Are we holding people accountable for compliance with health and safety policies?
- Have I as the Fire Chief accepted the responsibility for health and safety policies and programs?
- Do I as the Fire Chief “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”?
- Do I know if the health and safety policies are being followed?
- Is there a gap between what I think is going on and what is really going on?
- Does every firefighter have the training (knowledge, skills and abilities) to perform all expected duties?
- Is every firefighter physically fit?
- Do we have a good physical fitness program?
- Do we perform fitness evaluations?
- Is every firefighter healthy?
- Regular medical examinations performed by a qualified physician?
- Do we have SOG’s/SOP’s?
- Do we really follow them?
- Are we using the procedures or just using the terminology?
- Can we really account for the position, function and status of every firefighter on the incident scene?
- Is every firefighter connected to the plan for the incident?
- Does the Incident Commander know what is really going on?
- Do we have all of the “proper” equipment we need to do the job?
- Is our equipment properly maintained and inspected?
- Do we keep maintenance and inspection records?
- Is our equipment used according to their design parameters?