Safety Research Needs

In last month’s column, I covered the general area of research in the fire service. This month I will review some of the research needs. These are not needs I have identified but are needs that the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s (NFFF) second National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium identified last May.

First, a bit of background is in order. From the NFFF’s Everyone Goes Home® Program emerged the well-known 16 Life Safety Initiatives. It is hard to believe that it has been almost eight years since the initiatives were developed. I think the initiatives have had a direct impact on the recent downward trend in the number of annual firefighter fatalities.

Initiative #7 states, “Create a national research agenda and data collection system that relates to the initiatives.” I have found that most firefighters are unaware that anything has been done to meet this initiative. However, in 2005 the NFFF convened the first National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium in Emmitsburg, Maryland. A report, generated from this symposium, listed the areas in need of research to improve firefighter safety. The NFFF, with its “can do” culture, would not allow this report to become stale. So, last year it convened a second symposium. Seventy participants representing 55 fire service organizations met again in Emmitsburg and developed the Second Research Agenda Report.

The research needs focused specifically on firefighter safety and health. The 70 participants were broken into the following focus areas: health and wellness, emergency service delivery, technology and fire science, community risk reduction, wildland firefighting, data collection, and tools and equipment. From this list, it is easy to see several areas overlapped. However, the facilitators were careful to make sure the final report contained all of the needs expressed, regardless of the focus area. In the end, the report included 41 recommendations. In a departure from the format of the 2005 symposium, the group did not rank the entire list of recommendations. However, each focus group identified one area of greatest need.

In keeping with the mission of this publication, I will review the needs of the tools and equipment focus group. This group ranked an “assessment of current personal protective equipment [PPE] (entire ensemble) performance, functionality and related safety features for today’s fire environment” as its highest priority. The group came to this conclusion based on various criteria. For example, recent studies are indicating that our knowledge of fire behavior science and our methods of intervention are probably flawed, or at least misinterpreted. With technology available to better monitor fire conditions, there is a body of evidence emerging that we may not be attacking fire in the most effective way. Combining this information with changes in fire loads and building construction begs for a concurrent assessment of PPE. From a health and safety perspective, we need to know if the current PPE materials and designs are appropriate for the changing firefighting environment. This one issue in itself will provide for interesting discussions and challenges.

Other health and safety research needs identified by the tools and equipment focus group included the following:

  • Adaptation of emerging technologies and research in PPE design, production, and use.
  • Technology to support improved firefighter situational awareness, which includes physiological and environmental monitoring and flashover/collapse prediction capabilities.
  • Technology to support incident command.
  • Improved extinguishing agents and fire control methodologies.
  • Improvement of apparatus ergonomics and design.
  • Fire department communications-functionality and interoperability.
  • Development of specialized equipment (robotics and simulators) with fire service applications.
  • Facility health and safety guidance for fire departments.

The fire service has always been in need of more high-quality science-based research. There is nothing binding about this report. Researchers are free to work on any issue they wish. However, many research organizations such as universities, individual researchers, and public and private organizations are looking for areas of need. The document produced by the NFFF simply reflects the thoughts of a consensus-based cross section of the fire service. It should be very useful in helping researchers substantiate their requests for funding. The report of the second National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium can be found at:


Stay tuned for more about research in the fire service.

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.).

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