Hopefully the decidedly ambiguous title has piqued your interest to read on. It takes two parties to accomplish many things in life and in the fire service. We operate in teams of at least two for almost all fireground functions. It takes two to have an argument, and it takes at least two parties to form a cooperative effort to achieve a goal. Cooperation towards a goal is the purpose of this discussion. Specifically, the most important of all the goals in the fire service; to safeguard the lives and health of our members.
Virtually all fire departments maintain SOPs that relate specifically to the health and safety of firefighters operating at emergency scenes and working in quarters. Unfortunately a piece of paper or bit of electronic data stored on a hard drive will never save a firefighter. We rely on the proactive work and diligent adherence to any policy by all levels within our organization in order to promote the well being of our members. Our departments must maintain open dialogue within the chain of command that allows for mutual trust, respect, and acceptance of whatever is best for the lives of our brothers/sisters. Information and ideas must flow in both directions. Members operating in fire companies should not be distrustful or disregard policy changes that reflect emerging safety trends, and administrative staff must be mindful that volumes of good ideas begin at the operations level with firefighters operating in the field.
It takes the full cooperation of line firefighters and administrative staff to research, develop, and enact policies and daily practices that promote and support the well being of our profession. The best policy never followed will always fail. A policy never written won't have a chance to save a single firefighter. Coordinating the stakeholders and maintaining continued engagement may begin with a department health and safety officer and a representative of the operations level of the department (union safety officer or well respected senior member) establishing an agenda and setting short, medium and long term goals. This may form the basis for a committee, engaging more personnel for a wider circle of influence. From this beginning goals should be publicized throughout the department. Safety efforts should never be shrouded in secrecy. Each time a goal is achieved, or a new initiative required the entire department should be notified. Each member of the department should be empowered to provide input into an ever-evolving needs assessment.
As with any fire service mission, the safety and health of our members is a team effort! All factions must become engaged stakeholders in an ongoing process if we are to gain ground in the constant battle to provide the safest possible conditions for all firefighters.