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Joint Program Aims to Reduce Firefighter Injuries

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2009 – Firefighting may be near the top of the Defense Department’s list of high-risk occupations, but there’s a move afoot to make it safer.

Defense Department firefighter injury reports -- more than 1,000 new incidents each year -- have cost the department nearly $30 million a year.

When the Defense Safety Oversight Council realized more than a year ago that firefighters’ injury-related lost time rates were higher than any other civilian occupation within the department, it sought help in turning the situation around.

Enter the Department of Defense Fire and Emergency Service Working Group.

“[The Defense Safety Oversight Council] wanted us to look into what was causing the injuries to see if we could come up with suggestions on reducing the injury rates and the lost work days,” said Carl Glover, the director of the Navy Fire and Emergency Service for Navy Installations Command. “[The working group] thought that the awareness training would be an opportunity to … spread the work on the problem and create some awareness and potentially reduce the [accident rates].”

Glover served as chairman of the working group. He no longer holds that position, but continues to be engaged in the project.

The Firefighter Injury Prevention Training project started with a 26-month analysis of firefighter injuries within the Navy, he said. Of all the injuries reported, 41 percent were classified as “falls, slip, trip, or bodily exertion.” Of those cases, 40 percent, or 75 incidents, were directly related to the firefighter entering or exiting the fire apparatus and lifting patients.

Comparing Navy incidents with those of other department components showed similar types of injures. “We operate under the same instruction and same methodology,” Glover explained.

The resulting effort to lower the rate of injury is an eight-lesson, Web-based training program. The multimedia program uses text, audio, video, photographs and graphics to demonstrate proper techniques for the actions determined to lead to falls, slips, trips, and exertion injuries.

Video for the course which was shot at Bolling Air Force Base in the nation’s capital, and features participants from Defense Logistics Agency, the Air Force, Army and Marines. The Navy has been using it for about a year, Glover said. Funded by the Defense Safety Oversight , the course also has been provided to the other services.

Though it’s being used and is creating awareness of the issues in question, it’s too soon to tell if it’s actually been effective in lowering incident rates, Glover said.

“We’ve had some internal Navy feedback that it’s well-received,” he said. “We just don’t know if it’s achieving its desired result yet. I don’t have any statistical numbers to [prove] that our number of injuries have reduced.”

The plan is to evaluate the program’s success once it’s yielded enough data to study.

“If it’s successful, maybe we approach DSOC for a Part 2, but tackle a different specific type of injury,” Glover said. “Or, if it’s not successful, then we’ll go back to DSOC and say, ‘Is there some other option we can look [at] … to see if there’s some other program we could implement to reduce the injuries.’”

The Navy intends to make the course mandatory for all new firefighters and an annual requirement for all firefighters.

And though it was created for Defense Department civilian, military and contracted firefighters, the program easily could be of value to any firefighter, Glover said.

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Related Sites:
Navy Installations Command
Department of Defense Fire and Emergency Service
Navy Fire and Emergency Service

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