On June 20th through the 21st, 2014 the National Volunteer Fire Council presented its first annual training summit in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. There were 100 participants from 31 states. The training summit embraced some of the extremely difficult challenges facing the fire service today. James Burnham from Shelburne Fire department and I were the only two participants from Massachusetts.
The firefighters, future fire service leaders and present fire service leaders need to be more cognizant than ever of the new and exponentially growing challenges.
The agenda included difficult topics such as:
Firefighter traumatic stress and suicide - Do we track firefighter's deaths due to self-inflicted injuries or risky behaviors following exposure to traumatic stress. What signs should we be looking for? What can we do to help? When do we need to intervene?
Cancer in the fire service - The staggering increases in firefighters diagnosed with cancers over the past decade. Vehicle, home and dumpster fires involve exposures to more electronics, plastics, and toxins than ever before. A firefighter cancer support group has formed to address the epidemic. The cancers seen most often include testicular, prostate, jaw, and lung. Can routine cleaning of firefighter PPE have a positive impact on prevention efforts? Does storing your PPE in an open bay expose other equipment whether it has been at a fire or not? Does keeping your turnout gear in your vehicle place your family at risk?
Volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention - How do we discipline firefighters? How do we select fire officers? If lack of leadership is the number one reason that volunteers leave fire departments, how do we develop fire officers to reduce attrition rates? What resources are available? How do we improve to be the volunteer opportunity of choice?
Situational awareness - what are some of the situational awareness traps that cause firefighter injuries and deaths? What can we do to prevent them?
Fire corps - How can we best utilize non-fire department volunteers to improve the delivery of fire services? Can we collaborate with financial advisors, doctors, nurses, human resource professionals, business professionals to provide significantly better delivery of services to our communities?
Hoarder homes or fires with significant fire loads - What are the 5-classification levels of hoarder homes? What are the risks to responders? What determines whether offensive or defensive operations should be employed? How can we identify these homes readily? How can we assist other agencies with interventions?
Community risk assessment - What are the biggest risks in your community? How are you addressing them? How detailed are your pre-plans? Are they shared with your mutual aid partners?
Connecting with firefighter families - a firefighter's wife started an internet blog expressing some of her frustration being a firefighter's wife and the demand's it takes on spouses and families. In a little over a year, this has become a group of over 50,000 members.
Reputation management - How do you manage your agency's reputation? Does your department release information via facebook or tweets regarding incidents? Does your agency use social media to communicate with your community regarding school closings, road closings, water emergencies, flooding, shelter resources available, training activities, awards, rescues, etc.? What websites can be used to monitor what is being said about your department?
Fire prevention activities and the fire service - are we doing all we can to prevent fires? What resources are we dedicating to fire prevention? Is it enough?
After attending this summit, I would strongly recommend that next year as many firefighters and fire service leaders participate and share this valuable information with their area departments.
I would be willing to share any resources that I obtained this year. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Charles Garrity joined the Lanesborough Fire Department as a junior member in 1974, spent 4 years in the US Navy on a Rescue/Salvage ship and has been EMT since 1984. He has worked at the Massachusetts State Police Communications center in Shelburne Falls since 1994 as a supervisor and has served as the Berkshire County Fire Coordinator since 1994. Charles an associate’s degree in fire science from BCC, a BA in Public Administration from UMASS and graduated from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He serves as the Fire Science Adjunct Professor at Berkshire Community College since 2006, has been a member of the Berkshire County and North West Massachusetts Incident Management Teams since its inception and is also a member of the Department of Fire Services Special Response Team.
Please contact me at email@example.com