Every year at FDIC International, there are always new tools being introduced to the fire service.
However, this year the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and the United States Fire Administration (USFA) introduced a tool that all fire departments should use-and it’s free! It is a tool that can be a “gateway” for additional firefighting equipment. It is called the “Vulnerability Assessment Program” (VAP) for fire departments. How is it a gateway tool? It could be a requirement for future grant applications, ISO ratings, and accreditation. Even if your department is not seeking grants, reducing or maintaining an ISO rating, or concerned about accreditation, the VAP is definitely worth the investment in time and can be used to justify funding and programs for a fire department.
Vulnerability Assessment Program
The VAP is targeted toward risk reduction to help fire departments identify their firefighter safety and health vulnerabilities. The program is an online tool and has a dedicated Web site: www.firevap.org. Basically, it is a survey departments can take to identify their shortcomings regarding firefighter health and safety. In addition to being a survey, the responses provide data and “actionable” information for a department to identify its needs and resources. The program generates a report that provides guidance in addressing the identified vulnerabilities.
Many departments may perceive the VAP as a waste of time and be reluctant to engage it. Or, there might be fear-a fear that identified shortcomings might find their way to the press. However, it is important to stress that no one but the department knows the results. The press will only find out if someone in the department informs them. It is important to note that the assessment is secure and protected by the department’s unique password. On the other hand, it might be a good thing for the press to know. Public awareness can leverage funding to address documented needs. In my mind, that fear is akin to going to the doctor for a physical. Far too many people fail to get physicals because of what they might learn. Of course, shortcomings eventually emerge, and it is often too late. Fire departments may fear the known vulnerabilities could be used against them in a liability situation. On the contrary, what are the legal ramifications of failing to conduct the VAP? The VAP is designed to identify potential pitfalls that could lead to an LODD, injuries, lawsuits, and all of their associated costs.
Getting It Done
Fire departments should assign completing the assessment to someone (or a small group) who is very knowledgeable about the department. In some cases, it might be the fire chief, and the project should always involve the department’s health and safety officer. Allot sufficient time to complete the survey. In addition to a brief profile of the department that must be completed, the survey requires answering almost 400 questions. To expedite the process, the assigned persons should gather information on the following (taken from the FAQs about the program): staffing levels, response capabilities, departmental policies, standard operating procedures, training, equipment, apparatus (age and condition), and personal protective equipment. There are also questions about the health and safety culture of the fire department as well as accountability.
An example of a question asked in the survey is: “Does your department ensure all personnel responding in emergency vehicles are secured by seat belts or safety restraints in approved passenger compartments while the vehicle is moving?” An example of a statement generated after completing a section indicating a department is at “high risk” is: “There is a strong need for corrective measures. Your organization may continue to operate, but a corrective action plan must be put in place as soon as possible. No corrective action may result in the highly costly loss of major tangible assets or resources; may significantly violate, harm, or impede an organization’s mission, reputation, or interest; or may result in human death or serious injury.”
For each question, there is a list of resources where departments can get information or sample policies to address this situation. If nothing else, the VAP is an excellent source of information.
Support and Acknowledgment
The VAP has been recognized by the United States Conference of Mayors, the Congressional Fire Services Institute Advisory Committee, and the Center for Public Excellence. According to the NFFF, there will be future versions of the VAP to include station level risk assessment, company level risk assessment, community level risk assessment, additional resources, user interface enhancements, integration with outside data systems, and a mobile site.
An understanding of the VAP helps one understand why it might be a future requirement for grant awards. It provides excellent focus on the needs of a fire department. As stated earlier, it is a “gateway” tool. For grant reviewers, it is a “no-brainer.”
A special acknowledgment is due do Honeywell for sponsoring the development of the VAP. All the major fire service organizations as well as other agencies were involved in its development. The program was not developed overnight with minimal thought and input. The development process took four years. Thanks, NFFF and USFA. Job well done!
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).