Wingspread VI: Inside the Opportunities

Robert Tutterow   Robert Tutterow

In last month’s column, I wrote about the Wingspread VI report that was released early this year. This was the sixth Wingspread Report, a once-in-a-decade report that has been issued since 1966.

Forty fire service personnel representing a diverse section of the U.S. fire service developed the report. The group met in Racine, Wisconsin, at the Johnson Foundation Conference Center last July and came up with 14 “Statements of National Significance to the United States Fire and Emergency Services.” The statements are, in effect, an overview of the threats and opportunities facing the fire and emergency services.

In this column, I will highlight a few of the statements that relate directly to firefighter health, safety, and equipment. Of the 14 statements, at least half of them are directly related. The other half have an indirect influence.

Statement #3

This statement reads, “The United States fire and emergency services must recognize and address the impact occupational-related disease and injury is having on the industry. The health of fire and emergency services personnel is of paramount importance to the community and to fire and emergency services. Every fire and rescue agency must focus on improving overall health, wellness, and fitness levels of its members.”

Certainly, the cancer risks from contamination need attention, especially as they relate to personal protective equipment (PPE). But much more is needed from federal, regional, and local levels. For example, the National Fire Protection Research Foundation is currently developing a program titled, “Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control.” The project’s overall goal is to develop an educational campaign to control the spread of harmful fireground contaminants. This campaign will go beyond PPE and look at contaminated equipment, apparatus (especially cab interiors), and fire stations. And, this is just the start of addressing contamination from angles other than PPE.

Other key issues within statement 3 are member suicide, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and addictions. These are issues that do not traditionally get a lot of print or discussion. However, despite a lack of quantitative data, there is plenty of indisputable evidence that the problem is growing. As the statement background and action plan illustrate, every fire and emergency organization must have programs to prevent these conditions. In addition, every organization should have a qualified medical professional monitor every member’s behavioral and physical health.

Statement #4

This statement reads, “The United States fire and emergency services must embrace and participate in the ongoing development of sensors and other technologies to protect the health and safety of their members.”

Sensor technology is emerging faster than design and performance standards can keep up. Regardless, adapting sensor technology has tremendous benefits not only for members’ health and safety but for the overall service effectiveness of fire and emergency service organizations. As the statement describes, sensors are available to improve situational awareness as well as physiological monitoring. It is important that fire and emergency services embrace and help develop this technology so it transforms into robust and user-friendly applications for emergency services. As with all electronic technology, the price will come down, making it easier for the fire service to acquire. A parallel opportunity to sensor technology is embracing the youngest of our members to become the early adapters and teachers for those among us who are skeptical and slower adapters.

Also included in this statement is the opportunity to further address the firefighter cancer epidemic with a comprehensive approach, including applicable health screenings and contamination control measures.

Statement #6

This statement reads, “The United States fire and emergency services must encourage the development and use of realistic training simulations (similar to commercial aviation flight simulations) delivered in ways that are intrinsically safe. Crew resource management and current hazard management certification programs should be modeled as examples of best practices in the development of training simulations.”

Chief (Ret.) Brian Crandell, of the Rae and Sourdough (MT) Fire Departments, is the subject matter expert when it comes to applying training to practical street level evolutions. He is a strong advocate and has proven techniques to use simulation to advance the skills of emergency responders. A participant and presenter at the Wingspread VI conference, Crandell offered two key thoughts: “Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it ….” and “I gotta do it to get it.” Hence, simulation is an intrinsically safe way to train. A key is to use evidence-based scenarios from actual incidents and use “sets and reps” to develop the requisite skillset for members.

Furthermore, the group at Wingspread took Crandell’s presentation and saw the potential for using simulations for training on the administrative side of the fire and emergency services organizations as identified in the report.

In a future issue, I will discuss at least four more statements that relate to the health, safety, and equipment used by fire and emergency services. The full report can be found at and other Web sites by searching for “Wingspread VI.”

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 Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).

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