The fire service often takes for granted that its equipment and processes are based on quality scientific research. Yet it is surprising how much is taken for granted and how much need there is for additional research. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) was quick to identify this problem several years ago through the development of the 16 Life Safety Initiatives. Hopefully all firefighters have heard of them. For a refresher, they can be found at www.everyonegoeshome.com.
The 16 initiatives were developed during an “unprecedented” gathering of more than 200 fire service leaders in Tampa, Florida, on March 10-11, 2004. As the Web site states, the event was significant in that it marked “the first time that a major gathering had been organized to unite all segments of the fire service behind the common goal of reducing firefighter deaths. It provided an opportunity for all of the participants to focus on the problems, jointly identify the most important issues, agree on a set of key initiatives, and develop the commitments and coalitions that are essential to move forward with their implementation.”
The Need for Research
Life Safety Initiative #7 states: “Create a national research agenda and data collection system that relates to the initiatives.” In speaking with firefighters, this initiative is acknowledged as “probably a good thing.” But since few have an opportunity for participation, the topic lacks the attention it deserves. When I discuss research with firefighters, they are seldom aware of the NFFF’s Research Agenda Symposium Report developed more than five years ago. In fact, the NFFF just held its Second National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium last May. The symposium’s report was released in December and can be found at http://www.everyonegoeshome.com/symposium/report2.pdf.
The report was developed with input from more than 70 participants, representing 55 fire service organizations. It is unique in that it only addresses firefighter health and safety issues. But, crossover into other areas of the fire service is inherent when it comes to firefighter health and safety. The report is only a guidance document. It has no authority or control over issues to be researched. It simply spells out a list of topics on which a cross section of the fire service was able to reach consensus agreement.
The research community is always looking for areas of research that meet a need. One of the best ways to identify a need is to have a needs assessment from a cross section of the user community. In general, the fire service is unaware of the amount of research conducted annually on its behalf. And, there is potential for an increase in research for the fire service if the needs are known. For example, most colleges and universities consider research a part of their primary mission. In larger universities, professors’ primary focus is research, and their performance is often reflective of the amount of research dollars they are able to bring to their university. Teaching is primarily handled by graduate students. The fire service is an attractive area of research to many of these institutions.
As the fire service, we must understand the difference between research and quality research. Vendors are quick to refer to a study or a survey or some other report to prove the merits of their products. Some of the references are valid and some not. A few questions that need to be answered to determine if the report is “quality” material or not include the following:
1. Who paid for the research?
2. Was it done by a reputable organization?
3. Did it include peer review?
4. Was it done in the context with other research on the topic?
5. Was it objective-i.e. did it search for an answer, or was the answer already determined and the research slanted to substantiate it?
If a manufacturer pays for research and the research does not support its product, the report will never see the light of day. The fire service should also be aware of vendors who pick and choose parts of a report and use the selected information out of context. Research conducted or directed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Fire Service Research Foundation, and the research universities with a past history of fire service research are examples of quality research.
Next month I will review the firefighter health and safety research needs identified by the NFFF Symposium.
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.).