Life Safety Initiative #4 “All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices” could be the single most effective initiative that we can put into place. This initiative is one that firefighters from all levels, backgrounds and types of department can embrace.
The question regarding this statement is “Are they lacking the power to speak up or are they lacking the knowledge of what an unsafe act/practice truly are?
All across the country, we have seen “that guy” doing something unsafe. We have also seen where “that guy” is the Safety Officer. In some areas the Safety Officer is usually more concerned with making sure your hood is on or counting the firefighters coming in and out the front door. Is this the type of Safety Officer we need on scene? The ideal Safety is constantly performing a 360° scan of the hazard area, checking for changing conditions and being the eyes and ears for Command regarding overall safety on scene. The SO should be the lead coordinator of stay times (air management) and rehab. The reality is we all need to be safety conscious. Your partner should make sure your PPE is in place, you should be using an accountability system and you should always be having situational awareness.
Our members need to be trained on what an unsafe act or practice is. An unsafe act is defined as harmful to self or others; it can also be an unnecessary exposure to a hazard, a disregard for safety barriers or safety policies. It is as simple as not using the seatbelt in the truck when it is the department’s policy. Its complexity can also span to blatant disregard for our mission. New firefighters need to know they can ask questions; this is how they gain experience. They should also know that if the answer they receive does not satisfy them, they can ask someone else or bubble it up. Often times, or even the majority of the time, we are lucky on the Fireground. We are lucky because at some point the fire does go out or the patient is extricated. Are we really doing a good job at both protecting/serving our customers while at the same time protecting ourselves? When we have trained and knowledgeable responders on scene we can do both. For all the times we are lucky the fire goes out, were lucky we didn’t kill one of our people. How often do you hear an Officer being interviewed after a fire department accident or injury say "we did this a hundred times" or "we always did that way, this time it went wrong". It was wrong all along we they were just lucky.
We are called to mitigate a situation, usually a very hazardous situation; we must have trained and experienced firefighters working that incident to bring it under control, in a safe and professional manner. When we neglect to train our people in hazard recognition, we will never obtain that level of quality work. We must allow new or inexperienced members to ask questions and feel as though they voice counts. The “sit down and shut up” mentality only discourages our people from reaching the level of performance that we need them to be at.
How many firefighter close calls or near misses could have been avoided if someone knew that what they were doing or where they were at could be unsafe? How many Line of Duty Death’s were of the same result? Yes, we will put ourselves into hazardous situations to save lives and not every injury or LODD could have been avoided. Can we minimize the exposure, can we minimize the risk? Yes! Our firefighter’s performance is based on how much they desire to achieve, their level of training and most importantly their experience. When we do not empower our people, we are taking away their ability to gain experience.
Have you experienced a close call? I have and it is why I write this today. I never want to be in that type of situation again. I learned from the experience and pass that information along so my fellow firefighters can learn from my mistake. If someone would have know where I was and known what I was doing was unsafe it may have been avoided. The question still stands “Was it lack of power to stop the unsafe act or was it ignorance that it was unsafe?”
Every training opportunity should showcase our best practices, but it should also discuss what is wrong and unsafe.