By Eric Valliere
It wasn’t that long ago that safety was merely a check box on the incident commander’s (IC) tactical worksheet. Within the Incident Command System, safety has always been the IC’s responsibility, but in the past, it was a passive process that was touched-on during the tailboard critique after the fire. Work Place Safety was the term most used and it pertained to more of an Occupational Safety and Health Association check-off at the fire station. I know you remember the person responsible for this check-off saying, “Let’s make sure those grinders at the stations have a guard on them.”
As we progressed and evolved in the fire service, we began to understand that safety needed to be a more engaging and active. How else could we begin reducing injuries and LODDs? To be successful, it needed to be addressed on the fire scene where it could make a difference and that meant additional training and a person assigned to that role at every fire scene. We rushed right into the process, got that person an Incident Safety Officer Class that had great information, and came with a certificate of completion, which proved they attended. Then we had this person respond on every fire as the incident safety officer (ISO) and figure out how to fit into the process. It was a start, but its success was sometimes questionable.
Today, the ISO should be trained in a program that is supported by an ISO text that aligns with NFPA 1521 Standards and has their competencies tested to receive an accredited certification from an organization like the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA, www.fdsoa.org/). This training gives our ISO the skills, knowledge, and abilities to operate effectively on a fire scene within the Incident Command System. This person has a segment of the tailboard critique and should assist with the deliveries of lessons learned on the incident–a more active process in safety.
Going beyond the ISO, the goal of every organization should be to have a safety officer that has this level of training, as well as knowledge and focus on Wellness/Behavioral Health, to support the ongoing needs of the emergency responder before and after the call. This person should track, trend, and complete root cause analysis on accidents/injuries to help reduce future issues. They are the Safety conduit for their organization and should have a connection to a regional safety committee.
One last challenge–as we progress into the future and continue to strengthen our safety culture as emergency organizations the next goal should be to have every captain or lieutenant or front-line supervisor acquire this level of training/certification. It would arm our crews with a Safety Officer on every call, around the stations, and throughout their shift.
What else? We should continue to challenge each other to be safer, and to strengthen safety in our organizations. Saving our own is worth the effort!
Eric Valliere has been an active member of the fire service for the past 24 years. He started as a firefighter with the Mesa (AZ) Fire Department in 1991 and came to the Scottsdale (AZ) Fire Department (SFD) as a battalion chief in 2005 when the department was transitioning to a municipal organization. He has been a certified paramedic since 1996 and a Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) nationally certified incident safety officer since 2004.