Health and wellness
Stopbad: Smart ways to boost firefighter safety
By Gord Schreiner
I recently attended a conference at which someone asked me what I thought was the most important part of my job. I quickly responsed that the most critical function of a fire chief is to keep firefighters safe. Everything I do is related to firefighter safety, whether it is attending a budget meeting, developing operational guidelines, scheduling training, mentoring, pre-planning, or responding.
By Gord Schreiner
How do I keep firefighters safe? First and foremost, firefighters must be well trained. We constantly offer our firefighters training here at Comox; we train several times a week and even use our daily incidents as opportunities to train. It is not unusual for us to do a short training drill after returning from a false-alarm call. Our firefighters are already on the rig, so we might as well have them put on SCBA, stretch a line and raise a ladder. If your firefighters do not know what to do if their SCBA fails, then you need to teach them. Do your firefighters know how to self-rescue and/or rescue their partners? We run rescue drills all the time: drywall breach, Denver drill, window bailouts, though-the-floor drill, drags and carries. If firefighters don’t know these simple life-saving steps, then they are not properly trained.
We stress that every member of our fire department is a safety officer. All firefighters must constantly look out for their well-being and that of their teammates. We encourage and support our firefighters’ physical and mental health and wellness. We offer our firefighters free access to our community-owned fitness centre, and we have an in- station gym. We own two mountain bikes and two stand-up paddle boards that firefighters can borrow for recreational use. When we eat at the fire station, we maintain healthy choices; if someone brought in donuts, they would go stale. We have our own garden to grow some of the foods we use for meals.
We ensure our firefighters have the right equipment, and this equipment is well maintained. We use risk-management principles at the incidents we attend; we cannot save what is already lost.
We have issued two hoods and two pairs of gloves to each firefighter. Every member also has spare PPE, so our firefighters do not have to wear dirty PPE and potentially experience the associated health risks. There are saunas in our station so firefighters can detox after an incident or training. We have added carbon monoxide (CO) detectors to every first-aid bag carried on our rigs; we constantly monitor for CO when our firefighters work at an incident. (This is a small part of our cancer-awareness/prevention program.)
Instead of buying the cheapest gear to meet the standard, choose to purchase higher-rated gear. We have upgraded helmets and issued leather boots to enhance safety. We continue to add thermal imaging cameras (TICs) to our rigs. We have 10 TICs in our single station. Our goal is to have a TIC for every team involved in an incident.
We have added lots of rehab equipment to our rigs. Every one of our vehicles carries oxygen and AEDs. While we can use these for our citizens, they are there primarily for our firefighters. We take our firefighters’ blood pressure in rehab and before each training session.
We expect that vehicles are operated safely by every member of the department. Firefighters who do not follow the rules of the road do not drive; in fact, they are likely to be released from the department. We have added many design features into our new apparatus to enhance safety. Our newest rig has a built-in misting system to help cool firefighters when they work near the rig or are changing cylinders. Our rigs have pre-connected hoselines that can be deployed without the firefighter stepping onto the side steps. We have added fold-down steps to the rear of the apparatus to ensure safer transitions from ground to tailboard. We have added hydraulic ladder racks, which lower ladders to a safe height for firefighters to reach. We have added air-conditioning to improve firefighter comfort and assist in rehab. We have added cup holders in rear seat positions so firefighters can hydrate on the way to an incident. Each truck is equipped with additional respiratory protection (N95, full-face respiatory, and SCBA) for our drivers.
We have enhanced our pre-plans so our firefighters have important information regarding the incident to which they are responding. We have greatly increased our fire-prevention activities to try to reduce the number of serious fires in our community; any time we respond, we are exposed to great risk. Fewer responses mean less risk. Keeping that in mind, regardless of response numbers, we are training more than ever.
Do your part to improve the safety of your firefighters.
Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire