Volunteer Departments Need Funding For Safety

Small, rural volunteer fire departments need more funding to implement the recommendations of a national program designed to reduce fatalities among firefighters, according to a study by researchers at RTI International.

The study, published online in the RTI Press, evaluated whether the recommendations by the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, a part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), were being implemented by fire departments in the United States.

The researchers surveyed 3,000 departments and found that most are aware of the recommendations and generally follow them. However, a lack of resources plays a large role in whether the safety recommendations were implemented.

According to NIOSH, about 100 U.S. firefighters die in the line of duty each year and another 95,000 are injured.

RTI’s research showed that two-fifths of fire departments in the United States did not have enough funding to train firefighters and more than half did not have enough money for the personnel or equipment they need to meet safety recommendations.

“Fire departments may need help in identifying funding resources so they can purchase the equipment they need to keep firefighters safe,” said Kristina Peterson, Ph.D., a senior survey manager at RTI and the paper’s lead author. “Based on our research, we suggest that NIOSH develop documents that fire departments could use to justify budget requests for needed safety equipment, training and procedures.”

A third of all on-duty firefighter fatalities occur en route to or from an incident, and almost half are due to cardiovascular causes.

Yet, according to the research, only half of the fire departments reported that their firefighters use seat belts “most of the time” or “always,” and fewer than 25 percent of the fire departments have a fitness training program for their firefighters.

Additionally, RTI said only half of the fire departments required screening for coronary artery disease risk factors.

“Our data highlight some easy, inexpensive changes departments can make to follow the NIOSH recommendations and improve the health and safety of their firefighters,” Peterson said. “Most firefighter fatalities in road crashes could be prevented by wearing seat belts, obeying traffic laws, and controlling driving speeds. Fire departments could also provide firefighters with physical fitness training programs and require firefighters to be screened for cardiovascular disease risk factors and cardiovascular disease.”

RTI, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C, is one of the world’s leading independent, nonprofit research and development organizations.

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