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Journal Entry #50: Safety & Health Systems

The inventor, thinker, genius, mathematician and smart guy, Albert Einstein once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We worked the same way for a long time (282 years or so) and our injuries and LODD’s became part of life. However, it seems we’re on our way to better days. Changing the way 1 million firefighters think and behave is not an easy task. What most of us who have been around for a few minutes talk about, are the actual components of the “safety system” that make up the whole. We believe that training is the very basis and foundation of a fire department’s safety program along with a good set of SOP’s/SOG’s that you train to. It’s prudent to remember however that safety and health is a system. My colleague and associate (I’ll take a stab and call him a friend too!) John Salka wrote in an article a year or two ago, that “safety is not one thing but it’s a system of many programs tied into one goal.” I agree with John. No one can simply state that “XXX is THE safety thing and it will keep you alive.” Look at it like a bicycle wheel with many spokes.

Safety starts with each individual firefighter, rests mostly on the shoulders of first line supervision and is expected that line officers will become safety advocates. The old adage “lead by example” applies here. Telling firefighters to wear any piece of PPE and you not wearing the same piece is a bad practice. Sometimes, it’s simply a “coaching job.” It doesn’t have to be a formal announcement, but a subtle reminder works well. (“Hey Mike put on a pair of gloves.”) Remember that unless it’s imminent danger, admonish/remind in private.

There are a few good “down-and-dirty” programs that can be taught and discussed with ease at the company level. If you haven’t seen these, get them, read them and implement them as much as you can and as they apply. When NFPA 1500 was published the first time, Chiefs throughout the country collectively thought that there would be no way to ever comply but here we are 20+ years later and in fact, most of us are doing most of it, if not all of it now. It just took some time.

As mentioned previously, training is the very foundation for safety. Career fire personnel should be training every work shift and the volunteers on a regular basis, whatever you believe “regular” means. Train to your procedures and guidelines and remember to work the way you train and train the way you work. Insure your SOPs or SOGs are reviewed annually and that your members get the changes and that the annual training program reflects those changes. This is an imperative step in keeping everyone on the same page at an incident and having one blue print for operations. Do things change at an incident and do we run in to unpredictable situations even though we talk about expecting the unexpected? Of course, but if we’re working within some semblance of order, we’ll be more likely to experience success and a favorable outcome.

Be safe and see you at FDIC!

Ronnie K

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