NIOSH Stakeholder Meeting
19 November 2008, Chicago, IL

Relevance, Quality, & Impact

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a public stakeholder meeting in Chicago, IL on 19 November 2008 to hear input and recommendations on the Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. Dr. Christine Branche, Acting Director of NIOSH opened the meeting by emphasizing that this program must be relevant, have high scientific quality, and impact on firefighter health and safety. Dr. Branche requested the participants to review and provide input on Draft strategic Plan for the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.

Tim Firefighter Fatality Investigation Program Project Officer Tim Merinar and Dr. Tom Hales who manages the Cardiovascular Disease and Medical elements of the program provided a program overview and outlined future directions that were identified on the basis of the 2006 stakeholder meeting and other program review efforts. One key area was an increased emphasis on fire dynamics. NIOSH has taken some steps in this direction through staff training and recruitment of investigators with a fire service background. However, much more remains to be done!

Strategic Plan

Paul Moore, Chief of the Fatality Investigations Team provided an overview of the Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program Strategic Plan. This plan includes strategic goals (top level goals that state a specific desired change), intermediate goals (activities that NIOSH believes should be taken by stakeholders), activity/output goals (statements of NIOSH program activities), and performance measures (metrics indicating progress).

I was encouraged by a number of the goals identified in the strategic plan related to reducing deaths and injuries associated with structural firefighting.

Strategic Goal 2: Reduce deaths and injuries associated with structural firefighting operations by 2015.

Intermediate Goal 2.1: Fire Service agencies and labor organizations will develop safety interventions based on fatality investigation findings.

Intermediate Goal 2.2: Fire departments will modify training, policies and practices based on investigation findings

These goals are a good starting point. However, if investigation findings do not clearly identify causal and contributing factors, accomplishment will be difficult.

One of the intermediate goals in this section was a bit more problematic.

Intermediate Goal 2.3: Standards setting agencies will modify standards that apply to the design, maintenance, operation, and training regarding fire fighter personal protective technology based on investigation findings.

What could be wrong with this? It sounds perfectly reasonable. It is, but it does not go far enough. Standards setting agencies such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) develop standards for many aspects of our work, including those related to professional qualifications which frequently determine the content of fire service training programs. I believe that this goal should be expanded beyond personal protective technology to include professional qualifications and operational practices.

Some of the activity/output goals identified in the strategic plan were similarly encouraging:

Activity/Output Goal C: Seek peer and stakeholder input to improve the quality of products and impact of the program.

Performance Measure C.1: 75% of fatality investigation reports will be reviewed by external experts prior to finalization and 100% of other publications will be reviewed by peer and/or stakeholder reviewers prior to finalization.

Performance Measure C.2: Expert consultation and/or equipment testing will be sought on all investigations suggestive of personal protective technology malfunctions or failures.

Performance Measure C.3: Stakeholder input will be sought at least every two years through a public meeting and/or docket.

I would encourage NIOSH to examine the process by which they select peer or stakeholder reviewers for specific types of incidents to ensure the greatest technical expertise is brought to bear. In addition, it would be useful to expand Performance Measure C.2 to include more than equipment. In depth fire behavior analysis and in some cases fire modeling would provide extremely useful information to development of effective intervention strategies. Ongoing feedback from the stakeholder community is critical. However, the turnout at this meeting was disappointing with few stakeholder presentations outside those made by national fire service organizations such as the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), IAFC Health, Safety, & Survival Section, and NFPA.

The strategic plan also spoke to the need to increase the fire service expertise of the NIOSH staff involved in firefighter fatality investigations.

Activity/Output Goal D: Increase the fire service expertise of FFFIPP personnel.

Performance Measure D.1: Each fatality investigator will take at least one fire service training course or attend a fire service conference specifically for training purposes annually.

Performance Measure D.2: Any announcements seeking to fill investigator positions will require previous fire service expertise in addition to occupational safety and health training and experience.

These are positive steps, but it would be useful to provide a bit more direction with regards to what type of fire service expertise should be developed. For example, if the investigators will be examining incidents involving structural firefighting operations, developing competence in fire dynamics and the impact of tactical operations would be a high priority. In considering the experience of potential investigators, it is essential to examine both the breadth and depth of that experience, particularly in relation to understanding of fire dynamics and influence of tactical operations on fire behavior.

Feedback on the Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program Strategic Plan can be submitted until 19 December 2008 via e-mail to niocindocket@cdc.gov (attachments should be formatted in Microsoft Word). I would encourage all of you to take the time to review this document and provide your input on this essential program.

Continuing Concerns

My feedback on the limitations of NIOSH death in the line of duty reports dealing with incidents where fire behavior and/or limited understanding of fire dynamics were causal or contributing factors in line-of-duty deaths was well received. In addition, my observations were supported by several of the other stakeholders, most strongly by Rich Duffy, Assistant to the General President of the IAFF.

While constrained by limited resources, the NIOSH staff is committed to serving the needs of the nation’s fire service and truly desires to provide quality information that is relevant, and most importantly has a positive impact on firefighter safety and health.

I will continue my efforts to ensure that this becomes a reality in fire behavior related incidents.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

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