While civilian deaths and fatalities have gone down by 53. 6 percent in the last 20 years, only 20 percent decrease of the same has been reported from the firefighters. In fact, in the last 20 years, the United States has recorded an increased number of deaths and fatalities more than any other time in history. 1999 recorded the highest deaths at 112, followed closely by 2003, which recorded 105 deaths. This rate begs the question, are the fire fighters working more to ensure civilian safety, while risking their own lives? Safety standards during fire fighting
Safety standards in the firefighting department have seen tremendous improvements in the past 20 years (Pessemier, B. 2009). This includes increased training among the fire fighters about the safety standards and better work practices, in addition to the purchase of better and efficient fire fighting equipment. In the last 10 years, a 34 % death increase was recorded among the firefighters. This in turn indicates that despite the improvements in the fire fighting department, there has been a decrease safety measures in the fire services.
According to the US, fire Administration (FEMA), the approximate number of firefighters who have perished in firefighting activities in the last 20 years average to 100 firefighters annually. This trend was at its worst in the 1980’s, took a downward trend in the early 1990’s and resumed the high number in the late 1990’s. A study carried out between 1990 and 2000 by FEMA to establish the real cause of the injuries and deaths among the firefighters revealed that 44 percent of firefighters die due to heart attacks.
Fatal injuries was second accounting for 27 percent of the deaths, burns and asphyxia ranked third accounting for 20 percent of all deaths(FEMA, 2008) The report also revealed that firefighters aged above 35 years stands more risk of medical related deaths. Such include heart attacks and stroke. Below 35 years, firefighters were more prone to traumatic injuries that eventually led to their deaths (FEMA, 2008). The report further revealed that 60 percent of the casualties fell under the above 40 years age bracket, while a third of them were aged above 50 years.
This too begs the question, is age a factor when analyzing the rising deaths among the firefighters? This question can be answered by a closer look at the affiliation of the firefighter fatalities. 57 percent of all firefighter fatalities were affiliated to volunteer fire fighting agencies. These agencies had both volunteer fire fighters and volunteer personnel. However, seeing that career personnel make a mere 26 % of the fire fighting agencies through out the country, the proportionate of volunteers suffer fatalities.
In fact, career firefighters only account for 33 percent of the fatalities. Here, the question of age pops again. An approximate 40 percent of the volunteers are aged above 50 years. Training is of outmost important for both career and volunteer firefighters because it prepares them on response tactics and safety procedures. Training on emergency response, incident command, safety and hot fire cases should be sufficient. However, at least 6 percent of fatalities in the past 10 years occurred during training.
This was a higher number than what was recorded in the preceding 10 years. Physical fitness training has been the leading cause of training fatalities, followed closely by live fire and equipment drills (FEMA, 2008). Fatalities of volunteers and career firefighters are only recorded as a firefighter death if the person was on duty and if his death occurred 24 hour after he/she completed a fire related call on behalf of a fire department (Medgenmed. medscape. com, 2006).
The Occupational safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued safety guidelines in 1980, as a way of combating the rising deaths and fatalities among the fire fighters (Marshall, S. T, 2004). In the guidelines, the organization authorized the use of fire-retarding clothing and self-contained breathing equipment. Although it was not clear, whether it was the guidelines or the decreased number of fires that were registered between 1979 and 2002, the number of fatalities in the fire services decreased annually by 52 percent in the three year period (Marshall, S.
T, 2004). The working conditions To comply with OSHA’s regulations, firefighters are required to carry a self-contained air apparatus weighing 30 lbs. They must also wear protective clothing, which wears another 30 lbs. Although this offers more protection to the firefighters, critics argue that the additional 60 lbs that the fire fighters have to drag along during a firefighting exercise adds to physical stress and may lead to exhaustion, which is a leading cause of cardiac arrest related deaths(Marshall, S.
T, 2004). The protective gear and the oxygen apparatus that fire fighters carry in their fire fighting exercises has also been blamed for an increased aggressiveness among the firefighters. The worrying thing about such aggressiveness is that most firefighters do not realize that the safety gear does not offer overall protection against death. Lack of adequate information about conditions that may be tackled and those that are too risky is also insufficient (Marshall, S. T, 2004).
Unlike earlier times where firefighter based the decision to fight a fire from indoors by how hot their ears were, modern day hoods cover the ears and the temperatures can rise to fatal levels without the fire fighters recognizing it. That is the leading cause of many flashover incidences, where everything in a building, including the firefighter ignites concurrently due to very high temperatures (Marshal, S. T, 2004) Unlike earlier times where veteran firefighters knew it was time to leave a building when they felt dizzy or started coughing, the modern day breathing devices shield them from inhaling smoke.
The tell tale signs that may signify the need to leave a building are therefore disorients them from the realities of a dangerous indoor environment. When smoke concentration becomes too high, there can be a sporadic ignition of the area. As such, even the training on working in zero visibility conditions comes to naught, as the firefighter will be engulfed in the random fire within a short time (Marshall, S. T, 2004). The OSHA regulations further require fire fighters not to start a fire fighting exercise unless a team of at least four people has been assembled.
This requirement was put in place as a means of ensuring that assisting firemen were available just in case those fighting the fire needed it. Although noble in its intentions, Critics argue that this piece of regulation, known as 2 in/2 out protection standard hinder less than four firefighters who arrive at the place of fire on time to manage fire spread before it grows. As such, they argue that time that could otherwise be used to combat the spread of the fire is lost as fire fighters attempt to establish rescue teams (Marshall, S.
T, 2004). Deaths that occur when firefighters are traveling to the fire destination are also on the rise. This are documented as Motor Vehicle Collisions (MVCs), and has accounted for an average of 22. 5 percent annual fatalities in the US since 1984. In a haste to respond to fire alarms, majority of fire fighters who perished in MVC s are in private vehicles. This is because the fire fighters can respond to a fire emergency from anywhere. Most MVC fatalities resulted from collisions.
Disregard of the traffic rules is a major cause of such fatalities as firefighters forget/ignore wearing seat belts (USFA, 2009). In 2007, data by the OFPC Academy of on fire Science on fire fighter casualties revealed that 33 percent of all casualties was not determined, while 26 percent either suffered fractures, dislocation, sprain, swelling, strain, amputation or a crush. 13 percent were suffering from undisclosed pain and an equal percentage suffered abrasions, bruises, cuts, wounds or punctures.
4 percent had been affected by hazardous inhalants, while an equal number suffered burns. Two percent of the casualties had shortness of breath. Human error also plays a significant role in firefighters deaths. Sometimes, the firefighters may be too ignorant to safety precautions that they end up jeopardizing their own lives. In other cases, some one else’s negligence or omissions may end up casing fire fighter deaths. The latter is best explained by the four young fire fighters who perished in the North central Washington fire in 2001.
The four young men were part of a crew that had been pulled to a safe location after the fire became too enormous, but later sent out in an attempt to fight it. The water pumps that were to draw water from a nearby Chewuch River refused to start and the young men deployed their fire resistant tents on a poor ground just steps away from a safer ground (Maclean, J. N, 2007) Programs that would reduce death and injuries among firefighters The protective gear used by firefighters during fire fighting mission has been subject to criticism for a long time now.
To begin with, there were gaping incompatibilities between components such as the hood, the SCBA and the gloves. In past years, the quality of the hood and the SCBA greatly improved. The weak link to the protective ensemble thus became the gloves. Many fire fighters claimed that the gloves hindered them from performing tasks such as manipulating switches, holding tools and grasping straps. The reason behind this was that the gloves could not fit perfectly, with the finger gloves being too long.
Fire fighters also said that the materials used on the gloves decreased a person’s agility and thus could affect the response time (LaTourette, T, 2003). To rectify these weaknesses that may end up causing injuries to the firefighters, I would suggest that materials, fit and the agility of the firefighters be considered before the manufacturers can settle on the specific material to be used on the firefighting gear. Another concept that would have significant impact death and injury reduction among the firefighters is the safety culture concept (Pessemier, W.
2009). This would require empowering individuals and organization with risk handling skills that would not compromise their fire fighting goals. This means that the firefighters would be trained on fire fighting methods that poses minimal risks to their wellbeing. The fire departments in different states will also need to develop and implement effective systems to manage vital safety behaviors among the firefighters. In addition, the state needs to provide sufficient funds for the continued training of firefighters on critical safety measures.
Members of the fire service departments must also be willing to challenge any assumption, value or practice that they think can jeopardize their safety (Pessemier, W. 2009). Another approach that can decrease the number of fatalities that happen to firefighters, is adopting the safe person model. This model, which was proposed by Mark Jones, a deputy fire officer in the UK, would also work in the United States. Jones described the safe person model as the combined responsibilities between individual firefighters and Organization responsibility.
Individual responsibility requires the fire fighter to be a competent person, able to work with a team whereby the fire service takes the initiative of selecting people suited for the fire fighting exercises, providing them with the right information, instructs and trains them accordingly, in addition to providing them with protective equipment and right supervision( riskinstitute. org). Deaths that occurred due to motor vehicle collisions as firefighters respond to emergency calls can also be reduced by training the fire fighters on basic road safety tips.
Such includes wearing safety belts at all times and driving carefully despite the need to get the emergency venue on time. According to USFA statistics, only 21 percent of the firefighters who died on MVC cases had worn their seat belts when the collision occurred (USFA, 2008). Checking on the fitness of volunteers should also be a priority for all fire services. Health screening before the volunteers can be given the green light to work should be mandatory. This should be made in order to evaluate each person’s medical history.
Such should include their age, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight, Family history and their physical tolerance levels (Sharkley, B. 2008). People aged above 45 years, who have physically inactive and those who have heart disease threat factors should be taken for extra checkups. Those with conditions such as high blood pressure should not be considered as the condition could end up in heart problems during exertion. Healthy adults should then be taken up as volunteers after the medical review.
After taking up the firefighting volunteer roles, people aged 40 and more years should ensure that they continue engaging in cardiovascular activities. This is because regular exercises reduce the risk of developing heart diseases. Firefighters who have experienced situations that could have cost them lives should also be encouraged to speak up as other people can learn from their experiences. As noted by John B and Tippet Jr. (2005) in their report titled “Improve Leadership, report near misses”, encouraging firefighters who have experienced near-misses would serve as a learning venue for other firefighters.
Such a program would be voluntary, confidential, secure and non-punitive for the firefighters who tell their personal accounts (John, B & Tippet,Jr. 2005). Laudable firefighter fatality reduction initiatives Under the auspices of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), firefighting organizations convened a meeting in 2004 and came up with 16 initiatives that if implemented would see to the reduction of the firefighters fatalities in the United States.
They include: ensuring that fire fighting organizations had a responsible and accountable leadership, include tactical planning and strategic approaches at all levels when responding to emergencies, encourage firefighters under their organizations to employ safe practices only and develop a training and standardization mechanism which should be followed by all organizations. Additionally, the organization suggested that there should be a set standard for fitness standards, and that all initiatives towards decreasing the fatalities among firefighters should be documented.
Conclusion Reducing the number of deaths and injuries among the firefighters is a challenge that would take efforts from both individual fire fighters and the firefighting organizations that they work for. It takes individual assessment to gauge the risks involved in a firefighting scenario and hence such requires good personal choices. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the firefighting organizations to ensure that people working in the organization either as career firefighters or as volunteers meet the medical and physical requirements.
It is also the organizations prerogative to ensure that firefighters are trained accordingly, have the right equipment and that they have the correct firefighting wear. Only then can people in the United States realize yearn to have fewer deaths among people who take up the hardest job and risk their lives when doing it. References John B and Tippet Jr. (2005). Improve leadership, report near misses: Learn from others about saving ourselves. Retrieved January 28, 2009 from http://www. iafc. org/displayindustryarticle. cfm? articlenbr=27206 Jones, M. (2008).
Concept, policy and Practice: The UK fire context. Retrieved January 28,2009 from http://www. riskinstitute. org/peri/images/file/S908-D7-Jones. pdf LaTourette, T. Et al: (2003). Protecting Emergency responders. New York: Rand publishers. Maclean, J. N. (2007). The Thirty Mile Fire: a Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal: New York. Henry Holt Marshall, S. T. (2004). Suppressing Volunteer Firefighting. Publication: regulation. Retrieved January 28, 2009 from http://www. allbusiness. com/human-resources/workplace-health-safety/317752-1. html Pessemer , W.
(2009). Synopsis: Developing a safety Culture in the Fire Service. Retrieved January 28, 2009 from http://www. everyonegoeshome. com/newsletter/2008/february/safetyculture. html Sharkey, B, J. (2008). Cardiovascular Risks of Wild land Firefighting. Retrieved January 28,2009 from http://www. firejock. com/articles/Cardiovascular%20Risks%20of%20Wildland%20Firefighting. htm US Fire Administration (USFA). (2008). Historical overview: firefighter fatalities. Retrieved January 28, 2009 from http://www. usfa. dhs. gov/fireservice/fatalities/statistics/index. shtm
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