Disclaimer: As an Advocate for the Everyone Goes Home program, I have a duty to see the mission of reducing Firefighter Line of Duty Death fulfilled. This post was written due to my frustration with the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives being both misconstrued for personal agenda and as a shield to hide behind. In addition, the statements below are not part of the implementation process for the initiatives. My goal is to break down a key element of LSI #1, accountability and personal responsibility.
Behavior and belief of a group is termed culture. Over the last few years countless articles, discussions and arguments have revolved around the subject. A needed change in the fire service is culture. Maybe this is not the right answer, because we are asking the wrong question.
The origins of this heated debate most prominently started after the creation of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. At the top of the list was an initiative calling for a cultural change in the fire service relating to safety. This could be due to selective hearing or the misinterpretation of this statement, but some have left out relating to safety. A built in safety factor must be created that is followed by all levels. The way we conduct ourselves both on and off the fire ground needs to be consistent with the first mantra of our mission statement, Life Preservation.
Life preservation maybe something you have never heard, used in place of Life Safety. Our mission is to protect our fellow man from the ravishes of fire and disasters, both natural and man made. This blanket statement includes both those we serve and ourselves, the Fire Service. Our true goal is Life Preservation, defined as “protecting from harm, maintaining unchanged and provide support.” When a call for service is made, we should seek to provide assistance to the problem and help get their lives back to normal. Life preservation also includes that we do no harm to ourselves so we can continue to provide service. This process of Life preservation starts well before the call, even before we start our journey in the Fire Service.
So where does this leave the culture change?
Firefighter Life Safety Initiative #1 seeks to define and advocate for this change in culture, as it relates to safety. If culture is the sum of a group’s behaviors and beliefs then we should be seeking to change individuals. As a whole, American culture, it has already been defined that obesity and poor health are major concerns. Wouldn’t this same issue be reflected in the Fire Service? A method to correct the issue is to define the necessary health and fitness levels required to be a member of the Fire Service. Every branch of the military has certain requirements when the candidate applies. Why should the Fire Service suggest any less? What about holding people accountable for their actions? A record of positive education should also be required, since training and education are important skills to posses. Countless hours and millions of dollars are spent each year for training. Personnel must held to the standards the fire service has set. A large portion of the fire service has taken on Medical Response. To maintain your license you must attend certain courses and show proof you are keeping up to date with your skills. Where is this requirement for Firefighters? You can do just as much harm to a victim during a fire event as you could during a medical call. All personnel must receive initial training and refresher training for every task they perform and held accountable for this. The ability to self-study and practice a traits we should seek out of new members.
Attitudes along with behaviors largely affect and shape our culture. The Fire Service is a team effort. Our players need to have a team spirit and strive for success at the team level. Hard work and dedication at the personal level should be the first priority, but the accolades, desired for the team. Why do we read in the news that Firefighters are charged with arson? Thorough background checks are needed, both criminal and behavioral. Not that we are seeking our perfect angels, but public trust is of upmost importance.
Safety is not something that just happens or dictated. Safety must be created and actively pursued. Read a few NIOSH reports or Near Miss reports. Most of the incidents that get us into trouble are related to factors we have control over. Although I do not advocate for judging and “Monday morning quarterbacking” videos and images from responses, look at some of the little things. The engine company may have done a great job of putting water on the fire. Did they have all their PPE on and wearing properly? Did they work together as a team? Did they seem to follow department procedures and incorporate safety? In the heat of the moment, we may over look details, but if we train they way we should those details become habits. Work ethic can shape our attitude, which contributes to our safety factor. How many of you check out your rig, gear, SCBA and tools at the start of every shift or participate in weekly/biweekly truck checks? So much of what we do is in the preparation, being ready to respond and being able to respond are different attitudes in themselves. Be ready and safety increases ten-fold.
Many of the above points are addressed by other life safety initiatives as well. However, LSI #1 is more of an umbrella statement. We will be able to do our job better if we enhance the personal accountability and responsibility of our members, which in turn creates a high level of safety. This new safety threshold will then become part of our culture at all levels.
To create a cultural change, is to change individuals. As new members enter the fire service, teach them about personal responsibility and accountability. It is not just when they respond or in the firehouse, but in their everyday lives. Statistics do not lie. Each year Firefighters lose their lives because of poor health, nutrition and fitness. Bad driving habits and personal accountability kill, and injure even more. The Fire Service is not a social club; it is not a status symbol. Whether you like it or not it is a profession with a job to do. We need the best of the best, because lives are on the line. It is time for a wake up call. No more sugar coating the fact that we are hurting ourselves by not standing up and demanding a change. You want to be a part of the best job in the world, do the work, put in the effort and take pride in yourself.
LSI # 1 is required in the effort to reduce Firefighter Line of Duty Death in the American Fire Service. Pay close attention to the last part of the initiative: accountability and personal responsibility. The culture of a particular group is the sum of their behaviors and beliefs, understand how you are expected to behave and take responsibility for it.