Safety Should Always Come First for Firefighters

Blog by Ed Hadfield

Some will say little has changed in the fire service in the last 200 years. Others will tell you much has changed. The fact remains that one very critical aspect of this noble profession remains the same: The fire service continues to lose firefighters nationwide to hostile events on a regular basis.

Many of those deaths are needless, and could have been prevented. This article looks at safety measures for firefighters, but the bottom line is this: It’s your life. Take safety seriously.

Air Management
According to a study completed by the NFPA, more than 30 percent of firefighters killed in the US since 1990 died of smoke inhalation after they became lost inside a structure and ran out of air.

“Air Management” is not a new concept in the fire service. It is, however, a newer concept in fire service in the United States. The UK national fire service has long believed of self-reliance air management concepts. From the first day of rookie school, the UK demands firefighters are constantly aware of their personnel air management, and company officers are held accountable for the entire crew’s air management.

Listed are a few key items regarding air management, please utilize these concepts to provide a safer working environment for you and your fellow firefighters:

>> Know your personal “rate of consumption.” Each and every firefighter has a differing rate of consumption. Physical fitness and workloads either increase or decrease this factor. Bottom line, the fitter you are, the less air you utilize. Note: Average30 minutes SCBA, 18.5 minutes working time.

>> For company officers, be aware the harder the work effort your personnel are accomplishing, the greater the rate of consumption. Keep constant tabs on your team’s air and rate of consumption.

>> It is recommended all personnel working in an IDLH atmosphere leave the environment prior to the low-air warning device activation. The low-air warning device is not the indication to leave the building. It is an indication you have been in the IDLH environment too long.

Seat Belts
Everyone at this point should be saying, “Well, yeah, always wear your seatbelt. That’s obvious.” Unfortunately, the truth is, most accidents involving fire apparatus resulting in injuries and deaths are a result of personnel failing to properly wear seatbelts. There is absolutely no excuse for not wearing your seatbelt while riding/responding in an apparatus.

One particular item of concern is when firefighters attempt to slip into SCBAs while responding to reported structure fires. SCBAs that are placed into seatbacks encourage this process and in most cases, those responding firefighters are NOT wearing their seatbelts while slipping into the SCBA.

Seatbelt designs that have shoulder harness straps limit the ability to properly wear the seatbelt and also slip into the SCBA at the same time. Therefore, in most cases firefighters simply do not wear their seatbelt, opting to slip into their SCBA while responding to the reported structure fire.

This has proven to be a lethal option for firefighters the greatest likelihood of a vehicle collision is while responding to a reported structure fire.

Captains need to maintain a zero-tolerance policy on seatbelt usage. Here are a few points to remember:

>> Seatbelts are NOT an option, they are mandatory.

>> Never remove your seatbelt while apparatus is moving to put on PPE or SCBA.

>> Remove items in the cab that can fly about in a collision.

>> Remember you didn’t create the emergency, don’t become part of it.

Risk Management
The following is a list of safety items that I have collected over the years from respected mentors and friends. I call these items “wise words from wise men.” Enjoy them and share them with others.

>> We will begin our response on the assumption we can protect the lives and property.

>> We will risk our lives a lot, if necessary, to protect savable lives.

>> We will risk our lives little, and in a calculated manner, to protect savable property.

>> We will not risk our lives at all to protect lives or property that are already lost

>> The best way to make an aggressive attack is to give interior crews a safe environment to work within. Vent early and vent often.

>> If you think you’ll need a 2inch line, pull it first. You won’t get a second chance.

>> Firefighting is like herding cats maintain crew accountability and discipline at all times. No freelancing!

>> LCES goes way beyond wildland. Apply the principles to all fire ground activities.

>> Buildings are always talking to you. Listen to signs of collapse.

>> Defensive water festivals are far superior to funerals.

>> Safety prevents meetings and pink slips.

>> Vomiting firefighters are ugly firefighters!

>> Firefighting is like an airline ticket. Every firefighter gets a round-trip ticket to the call and back to their family. Every. Single. Time.

About the Author

Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience after rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at


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