By Rick Markley, editor-in-chief
TAMPA, Fla. — So many of you came to our aid when we were down on our knees after Sept. 11, 2001, “we’re ready to repay you,” New York Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said.
Cassano spoke to more than 300 fire service delegates meeting in Tampa to come up with ways to reduce firefighter line-of-duty deaths. The three-day summit comes 10 years after the first such summit that gave us the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives.
Once FDNY rebounded from the terrorist attacks, leaders knew they had to change the department’s safety culture, Cassano said.
There was initial push back from the rank and file that wanted to fight fire the traditional way. We told them they can still be brave, honorable and dedicated, Cassano said. We just asked them to be a little safer.
Shifting the culture meant constant training and constant reinforcement, he said. It has meant showing firefighters that their well being is the most important thing to leaders and getting that message to them from the time they enter the academy.
The accident-reduction and injury-reduction programs FDNY set in motion have reduced accidents, injuries, serious injuries and burns, he said. The department has also rolled out an annual physicals requirement and fitness and smoking-cessation programs.
Seatbelt use was another safety target. Their research indicated that firefighters often didn’t wear their seatbelts on rigs because they didn’t fit.
Cassano said that in the face of tightening budgets, the department spent the money to retrofit all apparatus with seatbelts that fit.
Reducing firefighter injury and illness is an ongoing process in New York. Cassano urged fire service leaders to embrace technology as a way to improve safety — FDNY is adding vehicle data recorders to hits apparatus.
FDNY is also in the process of incorporating two other large-scale changes in how it does business. They are testing a modified-response program in some of the neighborhoods with the intent to incorporate it citywide.
It took a change in mindset to get firefighters to understand that they didn’t have to respond to a report of a water leak with the same intensity that they would a four-alarm fire, Cassano said. “God knows how many accidents we’ve prevented.”
The other major change is in how the department inspects buildings. The risk-based inspection method assigns different hazard levels to buildings based on things like structure age and if it has sprinklers. This change allows them to focus limited inspection resources on the buildings that are most hazardous.
“We just cannot inspect every building,” Cassano said. “We don’t have the people.”
Cassano said once these programs are running, FDNY will make the blueprints available to any fire department that wants to build similar programs.