Researchers: Good neighbours to the Fire Service
Unless it’s on fire or in need of rescue, individuals in the fire service may not always be thinking about the nearest research department. However, here may be increasing reasons to believe that the fire service would benefit from a robust research ecosystem.
The most obvious reason is that science impacts the future of firefighting. We need and want the best equipment to be safe, fast, and efficient. We want to understand the physical, chemical and structural properties of what we’re called to address. Researchers are helping to make safer products and technologies.
They are helping the fire service identify health risks, tailored treatments and prevention measures. Others are generating better understanding of economic, managerial and social issues that affect our practice. We all know this.
The less obvious reason is that researchers can bring human, economic and social resources to our sector. Consider that organizations like the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment will be receiving close to $30 million from the federal budget. If appropriately directed, this can have important impacts, such as helping to spread the Return to Mental Health Readiness program to our departments. Similarly, consider that the federal granting councils distribute more than $2.5 billion to Canadian scientists each year. Eligibility is only through accredited facilities, like universities and research hospitals, but we can work with those researchers to identify and achieve shared goals.
While we praise the role of research, evidence informed practice can also have a dark side. It can often take a long time to spread research findings.
Worse, sometimes, traditionally accepted evidence informed processes can undermine the value of the lived experiences of those who are willing to respond in emergencies and can describe firsthand what needs to be fixed—whether or not they currently have the research to prove it.
This happens unintentionally in our building codes processes, where with all good intention, the process is set to require research grade evidence of both the problem to be addressed and the solution that is proposed.
It’s a principled approach that mitigates the risks of undue influence by special interests. In other words, no one can really buy or lobby their changes into the code. They need to show the data.
The problem however is that the fire service is not resourced to conduct research studies. This means that our current building code applications may not stand up against those organizations with the means for research like academia and industry.
How do we get around this? There are a few solutions. The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) is on the record with a request for a $50 million research fund request to help level the playing field on building code issues.
The next is partnership. Researchers need and want to engage individuals with experience in their research and this can be of benefit to the fire service. Increasingly, granting councils are looking for the presence of decision makers on research teams. The third is awareness.
To this end, CAFC’s new Fire Research Roster, invites Canadian researchers to self-identify if they are interested in partnering with or sharing their research interests and knowledge with the fire sector.
Using a five-minute form, researchers are asked to self-identify, describe their research in 50 words, and select other descriptors and categories. Departments can then browse the names and profiles of available researchers and potentially set up a conversation to discuss areas of interest. Researchers can fill a profile at www.cafc.ca.
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