NIST, partners set research agenda for protecting firefighters from harm

March 23, 2016, National Institute of Standards and Technology
A firefighter battles flames during the September 2012 Shockey wildland fire near San Diego, Calif. A new agenda for research and development of firefighter life safety procedures and technologies includes initiatives for improving first responder survivability in wildfire situations. Credit: Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate

If there is anything common among the 1.1 million firefighters—both career and volunteer—serving in the United States, it's that at any moment, they may be required to put their lives on the line to protect people and property from disaster. But who helps protect these dedicated public servants from the on-the-job dangers they face? One group making the effort is the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), whose "Everyone Goes Home" program champions a set of 16 life safety initiatives designed to reduce the number of preventable firefighter line-of-duty injuries and fatalities.

Recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) teamed with the NFFF to host a symposium at which more than 100 representatives of the fire service and fire research communities identified and prioritized firefighter health and safety issues, and then created a guide for addressing them through scientific study and technology development. The new National Fire Service Research Agenda (downloadable at http://www.everyonegoeshome.com/2016/02/03/2015-research/) is now available for individuals and organizations that conduct and support projects that meet the "Everyone Goes Home" goals.

"Fifty-four recommendations were developed with input from the nation's most highly trained and informed subject matter experts, who through education and experience, understand what must be accomplished to keep firefighters safe, fit, healthy and effective," said Dennis Compton, former fire chief for the city of Mesa, Ariz., and chairman of the NFFF Board of Directors.

For simplicity, each of the recommendations approved for the research agenda were grouped into one of three themes:

  • Data collection and data analysis projects—those focusing on developing new foundations of research or expanding existing data/research;
  • Problem or program analysis and evaluation projects—those assessing and improving existing efforts related to firefighter safety; and
  • Research to practice projects—those related to translating research findings into operational resources.

Once grouped, the recommendations were then assigned a high, medium or low priority rating so that those with the greatest impact on firefighter survivability would be addressed first. The recommendations also were categorized by the issues they addressed, such as data gathering, economic impact of lifesaving measures, emergency response procedures, occupational diseases due to line-of-duty exposures, personnel protective equipment, and fighting wildland fires.

NIST, NFFF and the other collaborators on the latest National Fire Service Research Agenda (previous versions were published in 2005 and 2011) are currently educating members of the fire service and fire research communities about the guide and urging them to use its recommendations in prioritizing research goals, designing studies that address the highest impact areas, and strengthening funding proposals to get the resources needed.

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