October 17, 2016 Guest writer: Beth K
To commemorate National Fire Prevention Month that is observed every October, firefighters across the nation take to schools, libraries and community centers to educate everyone about the importance of taking preventative measures. The first Fire Prevention Weekwas started to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which killed more than 250 people and left 100,000 homeless. This famous blaze forever changed the way that firefighters and public officials thought about communicating fire safety. On the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, today’s International Fire Marshals Association decided that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be celebrated in such a way that would help keep the public informed and aware of the dangers of fire.
But what of the safety culture – the value placed on both physical and mental wellbeing – in fire departments? Firefighters and emergency professionals risk their lives each day: according to The National Fire Protection Association, every 24 seconds firefighters respond to a fire somewhere in the nation. But safety training often comes in second, and it is oftentimes difficult toimplement a major shift in attitudes about what it means to be “tough.”
Safety is put in jeopardy when firefighters adhere to heroic concepts and do not address the unique physical and mental stressors of their job in a timely manner. Stopping a strong gut instinct and waiting for the right time to enter a building is a mental struggle that only professionals can grasp after many years on the job. Burns, broken bones and other injuries are common for firefighters who don’t put their health first. But professionals must prioritize their own health so that they can continue to help others – including their own.
There are no easy solutions to a firefighter’s daily struggles, but there can be some simple preventative measures. Fire chiefs are where workplace safety starts. Before an emergency call, every professional should be properly geared up with a safety belt across their chests. By taking safety seriously at the firehouse, those concepts can be extended to the field workplace. A fire from the previous day can be the focus of a small meeting. When firefighters can speak about their concerns, their mental well-being can improve. Fire chiefs might note if anyone is having deeper issues with a trauma. Group sessions, professional referrals and other resources may be offered so that everyone deals with the issues in a healthy way.
As mental health comes into the light, more fire-fighting departments are working with their teams to help anyone who needs it. In many cases, every experienced firefighter may need some counseling to deal with the day-to-day stresses that they encounter. All members of fire and rescue teams use every piece of their training to save families and property from the damage and danger of smoke and flame, but “training” comes in many forms. If an individual has never been taught to observe the warning signs of behavioral health trouble in himself or his teammates, it’s hard to know how to take action.
Helping promote a culture of safety concerns everyone – firefighters, emergency personnel, and the public they serve. National Fire Safety Month exists to improve everyone’s understanding of the importance of preventing disasters before they occur. Three out of five home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms – and smoke detectors don’t last forever. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)requires smoke alarms to be replaced at 10 year intervals, but because the public is generally unaware, many homes have smoke detectors past their expiration date. More families today are purchasing smart home fire systems, which typically off some form of remote monitoring – either continuous or on-demand – to help tip off residents if a fire starts at any time. But smart alarms and technology cannot do it all.
As National Fire Safety Month continues throughout October, it’s an opportune time to shed light on the crucial importance of a department’s safety climate and improve everyone’s relationship to preventative safety measures.
Beth K is a freelance health and family blogger based in the Midwest. After she graduated from DePaul University with a Communications degree in 2011, Beth moved to South Korea to teach English and study traditional holistic health and yoga practices. Today she lives in Chicago with her rabbit, Anthony Hopkins.