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            Data, the empirical information that helps fire departments make educational and justifiable decisions to bring about good change and improvement. Today, many of us use the data born from the modern fire science research being conducted by Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute (ULFSRI), to help better understand fire dynamics, the actions and reactions of our tactics, and to learn better methods that improve firefighter effectiveness, safety, and performance. Firefighters that once rested on their laurels of experience are now asking to see the data. It’s become a big deal.

            I recently read an article, which continues the debate about which fire helmet is better, the traditional American helmet or the European style helmet. Your guess is as good as mine, though I believe there are more benefits when using the European helmet. However, there are no concrete studies that I’m aware of, that officially compare the two and provide a final determination to highlight the pros and cons, and which helmet is more superior.

            One person commented, “How many line of duty deaths are caused by the helmet?” The answer is probably, not many. Nonetheless, should we wait for a line of duty death (reactive) to justify making good and/or necessary changes that can improve firefighter safety (proactive)?

            Think about it…the Building and Fire Codes are considered reactive documents in that they are written, for good reason, as a result of catastrophic events that killed the lives of many. Gordon Graham says, “Predictable is Preventable.” Imagine if the forethought were present at the time to predict what may occur, and to prevent it from happening by putting safety measures in place (proactive) in an effort to save lives rather than wait for an event to occur to justify needed change.          

            The ULFSRI findings are a proactive effort that improves firefighters’ knowledge and understanding, and equips firefighters with modern tactics that are proving better and faster for today’s fires. Getting water on the fire as quickly as possible wins, or as Dan Madrzykowski, ULFSRI puts it, “Get water on the fire as fast as you can.” It doesn’t matter if the proper application of water comes from an interior or exterior stream to gain the positive effects.  Its about the fastest water!

            The late, retired Deputy Chief Theodore Jarboe said, “There is no greater influence of change in the fire service than a line of duty death of a firefighter. Yet, there is no greater tragedy than that of a fallen firefighter whose death prompted the passage of a safety policy which may have prevented his death.” Being proactive is better than being reactive, so whether it’s a new tactic, a new piece of equipment, cancer prevention, or a new way of thinking about firefighting, if it’s in the best interest of firefighter preservation, we should keep an open mind to considering proactive changes for the better.

            Good data can often justify the need for change, but when that data is not yet available; don’t wait for a line of duty death to occur to institute change that may prevent it from occurring in the first place.


NICK J. SALAMEH is a 36 year veteran of the fire service. He was a Fire/Emergency Medical Services Captain II and previous Training Program Manager for the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department, with which he served 31 years. He is a former Chair of the Northern Virginia Fire Departments Training Committee and was a former volunteer firefighter for the Fairfax County, VA Fire and Rescue Department. Nick is a contributor to Fire Engineering and Stop Believing Start Knowing (SBSK),



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