FRI 2019 Quick Take: Understanding how to find and evaluate fire service research

Jahnke and Miller offer tips for locating applicable research and determining if it’s from reputable sources


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ATLANTA — Research has the power to positively impact firefighter safety, health and wellness, fire prevention efforts, training, and community safety efforts. But to the average firefighter who is not actively engaged in research efforts themselves, how do they know that the information they find online is legitimate and the findings are worth putting into practice at their department?

In their Fire-Rescue International session “Researching your needs in the fire service,” Sara Jahnke, director and senior principal investigator at the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research, and Richard Miller, fire service program manager with the IAFC Research Center, tackled the questions fire service leaders may have when trying to determine how to manage the influx of information they see online related to fire service research.

Sara Jahnke, director and senior principal investigator at the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research, and Richard Miller, fire service program manager with the IAFC Research Center, tackled the questions fire service leaders may have when trying to determine how to manage the influx of information they see online related to fire service research. (Photo/Janelle Foskett)
Sara Jahnke, director and senior principal investigator at the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research, and Richard Miller, fire service program manager with the IAFC Research Center, tackled the questions fire service leaders may have when trying to determine how to manage the influx of information they see online related to fire service research. (Photo/Janelle Foskett)

Memorable quotes

Following are several quotes from the session:

“Everyone’s a ‘Google firefighter.’” – Miller

“We want to give firefighters trusted information and trusted sources.” – Miller

“70% of the research into firefighter health has been done in the last decade.” – Jahnke

“With peer-reviewed research, other subject-matter experts have validated the information. It’s not just opinion.” – Jahnke

“If you see something that’s a little fishy, that’s when you go back to the original study.” – Jahnke

Key takeaways

Following are several key takeaways from Jahnke and Miller’s presentation about fire service research:

1. Information everywhere: Data-driven information can be found in many places, from safety data sheets to vendor materials to peer-reviewed research.  And most of this information can be found using a simple Google search. But even such, the question becomes: How do you encourage, produce and disseminate objective research and educational information related to the fire service? And how do you know if the information out there is valid?

2. Firefighter Safety Through Advanced Research: Miller shared that the IAFC’s Firefighter Safety Through Advanced Research group is working on fire service research, and translates the research into concise, readily applicable information for firefighters to use. This includes featured studies, fact sheets, infographics and other tools. This group disseminates approved research so firefighters know it’s valid. “We want to give them trusted information and trusted sources,” he said.

3. Identifying reputable researchers: Miller and Jahnke mentioned that a key part of finding reputable research is by knowing the reputable fire service organizations. They highlighted the strong work of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute, the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) and the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI).

4. Research tools – and how to use them: Jahnke noted that two great places for firefighters to find research are Google Scholar and PubMed. She walked attendees through PubMed, noting the keyword search functionality and how to search by author. She also highlighted some of the key elements to look for when reviewing an article, including the abstract (summary), date, author names, methods used and the study results. Jahnke advised that if the article is older than 10 years, there’s probably an updated article to seek out instead. She also advised that the author order does matter, with the lead author listed first, which is helpful to know if you want to contact them with questions. “Sometimes the easiest way to get more information [about research] is just to contact the authors directly,” she added.

5. How to obtain articles: There are several ways to obtain full articles, Jahnke shared:

6. Reviewing research: Jahnke noted that there are news outlets that will cite research, but if something seems off, it’s best to go straight to the original research to check the work to ensure it’s not being misrepresented. Further, she emphasized looking at multiple sources, as some research may show one set of results whereas many more show contradictory results. Finally, she added that people in the fire service are incredibly open and willing to share information, so when in doubt, feel free to reach out to the researchers themselves to ask questions and get additional information.

Read additional Fire-Rescue International 2019 coverage here.

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