NIOSH Fire Service Community Comments

By Bill Carey
2 February 2023

In June of last year, the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program held an online Fire Service Community Meeting to discuss the current and future operations of their firefighter line of duty death program.

Participants included the NIOSH program staff and invited members of national fire service organizations and registered participants. The meeting reviewed the scope of the program and its recent accomplishments. It then heard from the invited and registered guests’ responses to four questions sent out before the meeting:

  1. Who are the top 3-5 audiences within the fire service? Are there any audiences outside the fire service that you consider to be a priority? If so, who?
  2. Thinking about length and timeliness, should we aim for: Longer reports with more details that may not be published for up to two years OR More concise reports published within one year?
  3. What are the top three important report components?
  4. If you could make one change to the reports, what would it be?

Working as a fire service news editor I have always wanted to weigh in on the NIOSH reports. I’ve heard and read the comments about them and have my ideas based on seeing how the reader engagement on these reports varies. Not knowing if I would be given time to speak, I submitted my answers and then attended the meeting. 

It was a very good meeting, in my opinion, and seems to have given the NIOSH program staff some very good material and ideas to consider. Some representatives postured on ideas for change that fell in line with their organization’s mission and that was expected. Almost everyone has a special interest tied to their identity that they want to have made known as much as possible. I noticed there was no one from any of the fire service media websites in attendance.

Invited Attendees:
David Bernzweig, IAFF
Scott Kerwood, IAFC
Barry Chase and Rita Fahy, NFPA
Steve Kerber and Dan Madrzykowski, UL
Billy Goldfeder, Firefighter Close Calls
Bill Troup, USFA
Fabrice Czarnecki, ACOEM Public Safety Med

For the most part, there was little disagreement on ideas among the invited and registered guests. I did find that some ideas showed a lack of knowledge about what the NIOSH program can and cannot do, but overall everyone had an interest in making better the education that comes from these reports. One area of immediate and repeated agreement among all attendees was to remove anonymity from the reports.

Here are my answers to the questions above and other questions posed to the attendees:

Do the revised Trauma priorities reflect the needs of the fire service? 
I believe the revised Trauma priorities reflect the needs but where are vehicle incidents (driving/riding/struck by) in this?

Do the revised Medical priorities reflect the needs of the fire service?
I believe the revised Medical priorities reflect the needs of the fire service.

Should any of the priorities be reordered?
I do not believe the priorities should be reordered. They are not presented in ranking order.

Are we missing any topics or areas that should be considered?
I do not believe there are any topics or areas to be considered that are not already included in the revised priorities.

For the FFFIPP fatality investigation reports, tell us who you see as the top 3-5 audiences within the fire service.
Based on my many years of experience as a news editor my definition of the fire service is broad. The top five audiences that I see are:
1. Fire Service Website Editors/Content Managers
2. Fire Department Behavioral Health/Wellness/Medical Officers
3. Company Officers
4. Training Officers
5. Firefighters

Are there any audiences outside the fire service that you consider to be a priority? If so, who?
I believe the following audiences should be a priority:
1. FEMSA/FAMA Board of Directors
2. Congressional Fire Service Institute Board of Directors, Staff, and the Congressional Fire Caucus
3. National Governors Association

Is it more important to have a longer report with all the details that take more than one year to release or a concise report with prioritized details that could be released in less than one year? 
Over the years of posting and sharing NIOSH reports a common theme from many readers is that the reports carry a lot of extraneous information. No one cares much about the information on the dive team if the incident involves a collapse. No one is interested in the background peripheral details about departments. The readers, thanks to social media, already know the who, what, when, and where of a tragic incident. All they want in the report is the how. I’m in favor of not rushing a report to meet a deadline. I see no need or benefit in trying to release a report in less than a year if it is incomplete.

Think about what aspects of the current reports best address the FFFIPP objectives mentioned above. 
For traumatic deaths, the investigation narrative, timeline, and technical expert review.
For medical deaths, the medical evaluation, investigation narrative, medical findings, and recommendations.

What are the top three most important aspects of the current reports? 
1. Investigation Narrative
2. Medical Findings
3. Recommendations

If you could make one change to the current reports, what would it be? 
Just one? I would release downloadable audio versions.

Here are my other comments. You can read all of the comments from all of the participants below. They are transcribed so there may be errors and unclear statements. I have edited mine for clarity. They are my own and not representative of my former and current employers.

“Spotlighting older events, or anniversaries does little to impact today’s reader unless the information is presented with new highlights or recently identified trends. If not, those evergreen posts will get very little engagement. In 10 years, likely, today’s firefighter will be a company officer. Today’s company officer will be a chief officer. They need to be engaged today at their level on the platforms they use.”

“Based on my experience in [the fire service and as an editor] items [to highlight] will be eliminating extraneous information from the reports. One thing I’ve heard mentioned from several readers and coworkers and others is that in the case of a firefighter killed the building collapse [we] don’t need to know the composition of the dive team or dispatchers’ shift schedules. [It] has been mentioned before, a lot of our audience is the newer generation, a bite-size generation, a socially informational distracted generation, and with the advantage and disadvantage of social media when something happens, they already know the who, what, where, when, even before companies return to quarters. What they’re looking for in reports is the how and maybe even the why.”

“One thing that I would like to add, looking forward to this [experience] and [knowing] some of you individually and some of the organizations are clients of mine or have been represented by us, or they’ve been providing information that in my [employment] helped put it out there to the fire service in general. No matter how good your information is, no matter how much multimedia you have in it, no matter how concise, it is or how detailed it is, [if] it does not hit the audience you have lost your good marketing. You can go right now [and] I went on before this meeting to all the three sites, Firehouse, Fire Engineering Fire Rescue 1, and if you use their search field for NIOSH you don’t get the latest reports that have come out this year. Part of that may be how their sites are designed with search features, but something of this nature should be easily found across the three large fire business media sites. To Joe’s suggestion that we get the sites, the magazines more involved in that, [it has] always been a practice as far as where I’ve been employed. But I can tell you that as far as the reports, a NIOSH report of a flashover or a building collapse, with photos and diagrams, gets tons more engagement than a NIOSH report of a firefighter who suffered a heart attack at a county association meeting.”

“It just depends on the audience and so as far as how the information is collected you definitely need to have an equally robust or more so robust marketing plan that might even go as far [to include] the use of multimedia [and] social media. I would think even include a website redesign for NIOSH, especially to enhance the search feature in there that can be broken down where reports can be found by either department demographic or suburban, urban, rural, or even the type of cause of nature of death.”

“I believe that no matter whatever results come out of this if you don’t have an equally detailed plan as far as delivery, it’s not going to matter much.”

No matter if it is NIOSH, NFPA, UL FSRI, or some other organization, if they are asking for your input you should take the time to give it. We will see what happens.

Meeting Agenda
Meeting Presentation
Meeting Summary
Meeting Transcript

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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