Working in fire service can be daunting and at times dangerous, especially when those in authority do not take necessary safety measures. The safety performance of those working within the fire service environment should be put into consideration because of the nature of their working environment. The policy makers within the fire department should enforce safety measures for the safety of each firefighter. The management of the department and each unit has the responsibility to implement the measures and safety standards to create a safe environment. The fire stations and fire apparatus (physical assets) are the beginning place to ensure the safety of the users (Buchanan and Abu 27). Having a team with all the resources is critical to ensuring that the team is well-prepared to face the challenges associated with fire service. The company officer, specifically, should work towards creating the safe environment within the department and when they are working in fire scenarios.
The Importance of Safety in Fire Service
Those working in fire service are expected to be always alert because the incidents can occur at any time. The sudden and unexpected events occur without the expectations of the same people who are expected to respond to them. It is different from events that are ongoing, progressive, or developing which the person involved can take time to understand and plan for. The incidents are usually unanticipated, unexpected, bizarre, odd, or phenomenal, which means that it is impossible to tell that they will follow a standard path (Buchanan and Abu 27). There is no course of events in fire situations, and hence, it is impossible to perform ordinary calculations in responding to them. The occurrences are also accompanied by the reality that the incidents are not only unusual and unexpected, but they are also dangerous for those who are affected, including the individuals who are expected to deal with them.
Because of the nature of the incidents that the personnel are expected to deal with, their lives and wellbeing are always in danger. They work in such an environment where they are expected to sacrifice to save the lives of others and even property. In this case, firefighters enter buildings or properties on fire to save lives. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided evidence for the danger and the risk the workers are put in because of the nature of their work. It is estimated that on a daily basis, over 12 personnel die in the line of duty. In fact, this translates to more than 4,500 per year. Besides those who die, there are over 4.1 million who end up with job-related injuries or illnesses (Poplin et al. 2). These are deaths and injuries that can be prevented if the right measures are put in place. Hence, the authorities have the responsibility to ensure that the safety of the firefighters is maintained.
Evidence from research and statistics is a clear indication of the reality that the stakeholders in the fire service have not done enough to ensure the safety of the personnel who play the critical role in saving life and property. There are still major health and safety issues that need to be addressed for the best possible outcomes as well as to reduce the number of deaths and injuries resulting from fire service environments. The safety of the emergency responders is necessary given their role in providing safety to those affected by fire or other emergency events. As first responders, the firefighters are always in danger, a good example of the incidents being the West Fertilizer explosion. Some fires or explosions are dangerous that the firefighter cannot save life or property without putting themselves in danger (Poplin et al. 2). This is unfortunate given the reality that all the measures possible to ensure their safety have not been put in place. It is only after the West, Texas that OSHA is seeking measures to ensure that the safety of the firefighters is given the primacy.
Leadership and a Safe Environment
Every fire department has the leadership team and the chain of command that has responsibility for those working under them. Provision of a healthy and safe working environment is among the roles of those assuming the leadership position. Research suggests the need for clear and positive safety leadership in fire service settings as the leaders define the guiding principles for the achievement of safety. At the Fire and Rescue Authority as well as the level of the principal officer, each day should be about ways of ensuring that the workers are operating in a safe and healthy environment (Poplin et al. 2). Visibility and promotion at the leadership level is the basis for safety leadership. With the right leadership, it is possible to develop and sustain a safety culture within the fire department. Leadership has also been revealed as the basis for the establishment of the necessary safety management processes at an organizational level. An organization with such structures is best suited to protect its workers from the effects of fire and other emergency incidents.
The management of the fire department has the responsibility and accountability towards constant engagement of the workers and other authorities in the implementation of best practice and standards for safety. Acceptance of the prime responsibility for prevention of accidents and incidents that put the lives of the workers in danger is the foundation for creating the necessary safe environment. Such leadership ensures close monitoring of the lives and work of the firefighters to ascertain adherence to the best practice and standards. Working in a collaborative environment between the leaders and the workers is critical in ensuring the realization of the health, safety, and welfare interests (Jahnke et al. 111). Engaging the workers, motivation, and creation of communication systems is a leadership role that is necessary for safety standards to be achieved. Suitable management structures promote and achieve the positive safety and health culture that are critical for all fire service settings. The culture is usually characterized by clear understanding of the role each stakeholder should play in creating the right environment.
Proper leadership is essential for the establishment and communication of individual responsibilities entrenched in the activities that each person engages in. The leadership creates and implements the critical safety management system that sets out the roles of each member of the organization, including the firefighters working at the lowest level in the hierarchy. Worth noting is that safety must be an identifiable function within the organization, with each member having an input in its achievement (Buchanan and Abu 74). To control the operational risks, there should be well-established incident and command arrangements implemented at the management level but understood and enforced by every member of the department. Involving firefighters in the establishment of the policy measures is critical in ensuring compliance, which is a fundamental factor for success. The workers should operate in an environment where they feel appreciated and where their well–being is a major concern for the leaders.
Preventive measures are critical for ensuring the safety of firefighters in the course of their duties. The incidents that cause injuries or deaths of the firefighters are not accidents. Wherever they are affected, in the department, while responding to emergencies or fighting fires, it is due to cases that can be prevented (Poplin et al. 3). The officer in the fire department should ensure that there are measures in place to inhibit the incidents that are preventable to save the lives and protect them from the cost of injuries related to their work. Creating a safe environment for the workers should go beyond the department to ensuring that the workers are safe when they are responding to emergencies or fire incidents. Following the best practice in firefighting operations is the basis for ensuring safety. However, the firefighters should be taught the best practice that they should follow to make sure they are safe while at work. The standards should be set as policies to guide practice in the fire department.
Working in the fire service environment necessitates a great deal of knowledge and insights on how to stay safe. Hence, it is critical for those working in the environments to have adequate training through experimentations and simulations before they are sent out to practice whatever they have acquired (Williams-Bell et al. 3). The process can be achieved through a series of experiments providing critical data as well as visuals for understanding the actual situations expected in practice. While training is performed in a theoretical setting, it should be understood that there are differences between the environment of training and the real fire incidents. For instance, the fuels that are utilized in the training settings and the ones that are expected in an incident of fire are typified for the rate of release of heat, characteristics of burning, and the outcome of combustion. During training, the individual is taught about all the aspects, but they are not as real as when faced with an actual fire incident.
Preparation before facing a fire incident is a critical process to ensure the safety of those working in the fire service environment. The training allows the individuals to develop a better understanding of the different fire scenarios and other incidents they are most likely to encounter while responding to emergencies. The firefighters are taught about the impact of pressure ventilation and the tactics they can apply in suppressing the fire. Although the test fixtures used in training could be different from the real incidents, the training provides the means necessary to face the real life situations and ensure the safety of those who are trained. During training, it becomes possible to anticipate and deal with challenges that are likely to be encountered by the firefighters in real situations (Williams-Bell et al. 4). Indeed, this is achieved through transfer of the skills and knowledge from the training setting to the real fire situations. Implementation of a comprehensive fire service training plan will make sure that science meets practice.
Training is not enough for the achievement of a safe environment. It is only one of the conditions that will ensure the safety and wellbeing of those working in fire service environment. Another important condition is for the leaders to ensure that the firefighters have the necessary resources and equipment to perform their work. Given the dangerous nature of the work of first responders, they cannot approach the incidents haphazardly and expect to gain positive results. The necessary resources should be availed to the workers to make sure they provide a high level of service amid a safe and health setting (Buchanan and Abu 127). Operation and business decision making is critical for proper and adequate allocation of resources to the firefighters. With the training to enhance competence in the performance of the roles, resources are critical for effective response in emergency situations. Adequacy of the resources is critical for the balancing of the risk and benefits involved in emergency incidences.
The operation of the firefighters involves their work in very extreme conditions, during training and when faced with emergencies. It is important that they are well equipped to overcome sophisticated and unique situations. Besides providing them with the necessary equipment to work better, they should be provided with the necessary safety attires to protect their bodies from the direct harm, including the weather. The cold and hot conditions within which they work can have serious ramifications on their health and safety. Depending on the weather, it is important to ensure that they are dressed appropriately and that they have all other attires necessary to allow them to work well and in a protected manner (Jahnke et al. 112). Some of the necessary items that they can be provided with to prevent direct injury to different parts of the body include special safety goggles. Goggles and face protection provides a shield from the dangers directed on the face and the eyes. When dealing with emergencies, there is risk of chemicals, extreme light, caustic liquids, and flying particles.
Apart from the face, there are other parts that need protection, including the hands. Wearing protective gloves can play a role in preventing cuts, punctures, scrapes, chemical absorption, burns, or extreme temperature. They should also be provided with helmets for protecting against falling objects or hitting overhead objects. The feet should be protected from sharp or heavy objects using safety shoes. The workers should not be allowed to go to the site without such shoes because of the nature of the grounds they are expected to work on. Ear muffs or plugs can be used for the protection against high pitched sounds which are common in some emergency situations (Kobes et al. 3). Besides the material resources, it is critical to ensure that they are well fed to give them the energy they require to perform their duties. When their needs are well met, the firefighters get the motivation to perform their duty regardless of the challenges they face in their line of duty.
Maintaining an Orderly House
For many firefighters and even the leaders of the fire departments, there is a lack of understanding of the negative ramifications of poor housekeeping. There are serious safety and health hazards relating to an unkempt fire station. Safety measures for the firefighters should begin right from the station even before they face the more critical risk of emergency incidents. As long as accidents and work-related injuries can be prevented, it is critical to prevent them by making fire service environments safe for the personnel. Housekeeping is not only the focus on personal hygiene but covers many other areas, including keeping the working environment orderly to avoid potential slip-and-trip hazards. It is critical always to carry out an assessment of the work environment, paying attention to various aspects including the workplace layout as well as maintenance (Kobes et al. 4). Whenever potential dangers are identified, they should be addressed immediately. To reach this point, the leadership should inculcate the culture of orderliness into the workers through teaching best practices.
Balancing Risks and Benefits
Working in the fire department entails a great deal of risks that are hard to avoid. From the movement to the scene of the emergency to the response itself, the entire process is founded on taking risks, some of which could be considerable. Therefore, for those working in the fire service environment, fast calculations and reactions are critical. The first responders have to be fast in making the decision on how to approach whatever situation based on the uniqueness of each condition. Not all the fire incidents or emergencies are the same (Kobes et al. 5). For example, a fire in a house caused by a gas leak will be different from an explosion resulting from a car crash. It is necessary for the responder to take the shortest time possible to investigate the situation before responding and at the same time respond as fast as possible to save lives. Firefighters should develop the capacity to perform the mental calculations promptly and act accordingly.
The mental calculation involves the weighing of the risks or costs against the benefits of taking a particular course of action. The process begins with a comprehension of the health and safety needs of emergency response services. In fact, this is followed by the ability to balance the risks against the benefits, and where the costs are more than the benefits, the course of action could be reconsidered (Jahnke et al. 114). A good example could be a situation where a house on fire is about to collapse, and entry would cause the deaths or severe injuries to the firefighters. In such a situation, the cost of saving the lives of those inside the house outweighs the benefits. Regardless the fact that the first instinct for a firefighter is seeking to save lives, such a decision could lead to greater loss of life. With adequate training and skills development, such decision making would not come as a major challenge for the firefighters in the course of their duty.
Implementation of the Safety Management System
Achievement of safety for those working in fire service settings cannot be achieved in a vacuum. It should be a well thought out structure with the critical steps towards the achievement of the plan. The implementation of the management system should be deployed following a design such as the Plan-Do-Check-Act. The design is based on the importance of achieving continued improvement of the safety management system that is adopted. Indeed, this is the approach that has been revealed as the most available to businesses in all sectors (Kobes et al. 5). For the fire departments in some of the most complex organizations, the model is the most commonly used for the best results. The concept is used for the implantation of the safety management system for fire departments.
Planning for safety should be the beginning step in the implementation of the safety management system. At the planning stage, the safety management policy is created by the management. Notably, this is also the point where the plans for the implementation are created, as well as the setting of the goals and objectives to be achieved by the end of the implementation of the management system. At the execution phase, the real work begins, including the application of the safety implementation plans (Al-Qutop and Harrim 193). Risks are also profiled to come up with the most effective ways of mitigating them to avoid the negative impact they could have on the firefighters. The training of the firefighters and other stakeholders is critical since at this point they are the actual implementers of the change and in case they resist adjustment things can become highly complicated. Engagement of the workers in the implementation process is a critical success factor and so is the allocation of adequate resources.
Checking the performance and monitoring the achievement of the objectives of the safety management system is the third phase in the implementation model. Data is collected before and after implementation of the plan to measure the impact of the system in mitigating the risks and preventing the detrimental outcomes for the first responders. The events after the plan should be better than before the plan for the system to be defined as effective in addressing the safety issues associated with firefighting. Acting entails a review of the performance of the system in achieving the defined objectives. Positive performance suggests that the plan is moving in the right direction (Al-Qutop and Harrim 193). Learning from the experiences and making necessary amendments is a critical part of the management system. At this point, the objectives that have not been achieved are reviewed, and the necessary changes are made to improve the system to make the working environment safe for the firefighters.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Enhancing safe working environment for those operating within the fire service settings is critical. Worth noting is that firefighters are faced with serious challenges and risks long before they encounter the emergency situations that require their timely response. In their line of duty, firefighters are faced with major risks leading to deaths and injuries. The risks necessitate critical steps to be taken to make their working environments safer. As has been noted in the discussion, there are various measures that should be assumed in making the working environment safe and healthy.
The leadership has an important role to play in defining and inculcating best practice within the workforce. The solution lies in the development of a safety management system, which should have a strong basis on the organizational structure. Hence, it should be designed as a policy implemented within the organization and communicated to all the workers to ensure compliance. Once the policy is in place, it should be reflected in the culture of the organization. Hence, the leadership should ensure a culture change to one that is supportive and accommodate the safety management policy. Ongoing improvement of the policy is also necessary because of the dynamic nature of emergency situations. Therefore, the leadership should continue to work with the firefighters to ensure that the best practice standards developed are accepted and used in practice.
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