Safety & Health: The Silent Fire Service Heroes
Safety from fire should not be a topic for discussion during only 1 or 2 weeks of the year. It is definitely a year-round public responsibility. I believe that the highest state and municipal officials must assume greater responsibility for leadership in this field.We in the federal government can give aid within the framework of existing agencies. But the impetus must come from the states and from every community and every individual in the land. ~ Harry S. Truman
These words, spoken by President Harry Truman as he opened the Conference on Fire Prevention, May 5, 1947, are as true today as they were back then. Fire prevention is an everyday occurrence that must be taken seriously by every fire chief and fire department in this nation, not just a once-a-year event.
And not surprisingly, fire prevention has a direct connection to the safety and survival of all of your members, not just the public you’re sworn to protect. Probably the most overlooked Life Safety Initiative (LSI) and their direct link to firefighter safety and survival are LSI 14: Public Education and LSI 15: Code Enforcement & Sprinklers.
While a number of reasons could be given as to why the tailboard firefighter may not relate to these LSIs as they do to the other 13, LSI 14 and LSI 15 are nonetheless just as important. In fact, an argument can be made that they’re more so than any other listed.
But how can these be that important when they are may not really impact the average firefighter each day?
Well, it would be safe to say that the folks who do fire prevention and fire-code enforcement save more lives than anyone who rides backwards on a fire apparatus. Dramatic and heroic things can take place when you’re crawling into an immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) environment to slay the dragon and pull the sweet baby girl from the clutches of death.
But have you ever had to face a classroom of preschoolers or kindergarteners and keep their attention?
Or have you ever had to face off with business developers who think all regulations are imposed by Communistic governments? Who think you’re one of their brown-shirt members because you want them to install a fire-alarm system or retrofit their building with fire sprinklers, all the while threatening to get the job of the fire inspector because “they know someone at city hall?”
Those in fire prevention and fire-code enforcement, my friends, are the silent heroes of the American fire service. Now, I’m not being disrespectful or diminishing the actions of the firefighter and what they do every day unselfishly and without hesitation.
Rather, what I’m saying is that the next time you hold your department’s awards ceremony, the ones who should get the life-saving awards are the fire inspectors and fire-prevention personnel.
I know it may be blasphemous to some to speak about fire prevention being equal or superior to fire operations. But better people than me have spoken about the importance of fire prevention and code administration for a very long time. These comments can be traced back not only to the Truman administration, but also to the various Wingspread conferences, American Burning documents and a number of other national fire-safety conferences, documents, decrees and treatises.
And now Vision 20/20 has taken up the mantle to continue the fight for reducing fires in the United States in order to save lives. The work of Vision 20/20 to make community risk reduction a mainstream of the American fire service is phenomenal. Their actions have again elevated fire prevention and fire safety to being equal partners to suppression operations, thus combating fires on the front end so you don’t have to combat them on the back end.
So you can add to your community risk reduction program, you have access to all the work they’ve done through their Strategic Fire website.
But why are LSI 14 and LSI 15 part of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives?
Quite simply, the better job we do of educating our citizens about not having a fire in the first place, the better job we do of making sure our firefighters are not put in harm’s way due to an uncontrolled fire.
All of the LSIs have a purpose of changing the culture of our fire service. That is, they’re designed to make sure that the health, wellness, safety and survival or our members is paramount in everything we do. We can better deliver our service everyday by making sure our folks return home when their duty is done. And whether we’re a paid or a volunteer department, our responsibility as a chief officer is our members’ welfare.
Fire prevention and fire codes won’t put a fire department out of business; accidental fires will still happen. But we can help ourselves do better in making sure our members don’t find themselves in an LDH environment, where their lives can be put at a greater risk.
So today, do something really good and go hug a fire inspector. The life they save may be yours!
Scott Kerwood, PhD, CFO, EFO, CFPS, CEMSO, FM, FIFireE, CEM, is the fire chief of Hutto (Texas) Fire Rescue and chair of the Safety, Health & Survival Section board. He has been a member of the IAFC since 1988.