AUTHOR: Curt Floyd

January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month. How Can You Make the Most of It?

As we begin the new year and gear up for the work that lies ahead, firefighter health and safety remain a priority for all of us at NFPA®. That’s why we’re helping promote Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, which works to increase public and member awareness about firefighter cancer risks and proactive steps to mitigate them. Sponsored by the Firefighter Cancer Support Network in coordination with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and a host of other groups, organizations, and individuals, Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month is highlighting specific aspects of the firefighter cancer problem throughout January, providing information and resources to help tackle these risks. Exposure and contamination control At NFPA, one of the ways we’ve been working to better protect firefighters from harmful exposures is through the development of NFPA 1585, Standard for Exposure and Contamination Control. The first edition of this new standard, which will be published in 2025, establishes the minimum requirements for an exposure and contamination control program for emergency services incident scene operations and training. In particular, the standard will address exposure and contamination control in emergency services facilities, in emergency vehicles and apparatus, during procedures at an incident scene, and at any other location or area where emergency service members are involved in routine or emergency operations. Public inputs for NFPA 1585 are now being considered and can be viewed at After the first draft is published in March 2023, the document will be open for public comment until May 31, 2023. Anyone with a vested interest in helping ensure the program requirements within NFPA 1585 are as effective and impactful as possible should take the time to review these comments and provide feedback by the May deadline. Prevention and detection I also encourage all firefighters to get an annual physical exam. As we all know, early detection can play a life-saving difference in effectively treating cancer and other illnesses. On a somewhat related note, NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, which requires specific cancer screening tests (Chapter 7), is currently in the process of being consolidated—along with NFPA 1581, NFPA 1583, and NFPA 1584—into a new document, NFPA 1580, Standard for Emergency Responder Occupational Health and Wellness, which is scheduled to be published in 2025. Listen to a related podcast on the link between firefighting and cancer   The overall goal of this consolidation is to combine like documents and provide an easier combination of related information in one document. Overall, I urge every firefighter to review the information provided through the Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month website and to be an instrument of change in your own department. Speaking as firefighter from an age when we did not know what we do now about certain exposures and cancer risks, taking action now is a gift to your health and safety, and to your family and fellow firefighters. In addition to the information provided through the campaign, check out additional resources from FEMA, the CDC, and the IAFF.

The Vital Role of Fire Inspectors and Fire Inspector Certification

According to the latest “Fire Loss in the United States” report, published by NFPA in September 2022, there were roughly 1.35 million fires in the United States in 2021, causing a reported 3,800 civilian fire deaths and 14,700 civilian injuries. The property damage caused by these fires was nearly $15.9 billion. Although the number of fires has decreased over the last few years, it is still way too high, and we are seeing too high a cost in human lives lost and property damage. Clearly, this is a problem that needs to be addressed. So how do we fix it? Looking at this problem through the lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™, it will take all of us working together to create positive change to improve those numbers. The Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem is defined as “a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards.” A critical part of reducing the loss of life, injuries, and property damage from these hazards is fire prevention. Having been in the fire service for many years, I can tell you that part of our basic priorities was always what we called LIP—life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation. And what is one of the best ways to help accomplish these priorities? Through dedicated prevention programs. An important cog in the Ecosystem and one that can too often be overlooked and under-resourced is code compliance. In other words, getting out into your jurisdictions on inspection details to assist the community in complying with their safety codes and standards. Typically, across the US, the lion’s share of the fire protection budgets of our communities is focused on fire suppression and other response assets and, in some cases, justifiably so. It’s worth noting that I absolutely believe we will always require brave women and men to staff department apparatus and respond to emergencies 365/24/7. But if we focused just a bit more on the front end—preventing those emergencies—it will be more cost (lives and property) effective at the end of the day. The good news is that according to the Fifth Needs Assessment of the US Fire Service, published by NFPA in December 2021, approximately 77 percent of departments surveyed perform some form of fire prevention. Yet of those same departments, only 37 percent engage in code enforcement. Now that’s not to say it isn’t being done. Many smaller communities, mainly the ones serving a population of 10,000 or less, rely on building or other officials to take on the code enforcement duties. But even in the larger jurisdictions, there just is not the budget available to conduct fire and life safety inspections in all of the buildings that require them. Investing in certified fire inspectors is one of the best ways communities can help close this gap. What is a fire inspector? Unlike health inspectors or even code inspectors, a lot of people likely haven’t heard the term fire inspector before. So what do fire inspectors do? In some circles, the term fire inspector is one title for a specific type of code official. A code official is a qualified person who enforces a particular code or codes under the authority of a jurisdiction that uses those codes. The code or law might vary depending on the jurisdiction. A fire inspector is often a qualified person working under a fire marshal authorized by law to enforce a specific code, such as NFPA 1, Fire Code, or NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®. Some jurisdictions will use these codes but create specific amendments to suit the specific needs of that community. Fire inspectors not only conduct inspections, but they can also review and approve aspects of construction plans and issue permits; however, this also varies by jurisdiction. In some smaller communities, the building official is also the fire marshal. So it really varies from community to community. Do fire inspectors need to be certified? It depends again on the jurisdiction, but in most cases where they are enforcing an applicable code or codes, they would need to have not only jurisdictional authority but also special training that leads to proven competency, such as a certification that requires upkeep or continual training. Fire inspectors require training on the code or codes that they will be enforcing and how to conduct an inspection. They need to understand building construction, fire protection systems, fire dynamics, and human behavior, to mention a few subjects. They need to understand certain case law that guides how they operate and how to review and interpret construction plans. How do they get certified? There are a number of options for fire inspector certification. Certification involves a multi-step process of education built around fire dynamics, fire protection systems, specific occupancies, accredited standards, a certification exam, and practicum. NFPA offers a comprehensive learning path to help candidates prepare to become certified fire inspectors. Simply taking a class isn’t enough. Ultimately, a good training class is only part of a pathway to certification. Though having some background in fire protection is helpful when becoming a certified fire inspector, it’s not entirely required. A good fire inspection certification program will provide a basic knowledge of fire dynamics as well as fire protection. Another important piece is ensuring that the program is written to proven consensus-based and accredited standards. NFPA 1031, Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Inspector and Plan Examiner, is one such standard that is accredited as a standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Pro Board. The standard provides job performance requirements (JPRs) for fire inspectors and plan examiners. Most good certification programs will build their curriculum to meet these JPRs. Once a candidate successfully passes the certification exam, they will also need to successfully complete a practicum that includes showing competence by conducting, under supervision, a number of inspections. And when that has been completed successfully, the candidate becomes certified. NFPA has just the program to take you through that certification pathway and provide you with the knowledge and practical skills necessary to successfully attain Certified Inspector 1 status. The Certified Fire Inspector 1 program includes 10 self-paced, online modules that can be taken as a bundle or individually. This program, which has been recently updated to cover the most up-to-date codes and standards, received a gold medal in the Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Awards in 2021. Fire inspectors play a vital role in our drive to make our homes, businesses, and our communities safer from fire, electrical, and other hazards. One of the many ways that we can strive to reduce the loss of life, injuries, and damage to property is to invest in a strong fire prevention plan that includes code enforcement. The inspectors who perform these duties need to be trained and certified, and they can accomplish that with the NFPA Certified Fire Inspector 1 Learning Pathway.  
A female firefighter gets into a firetruck

Why Women in the Fire Service Need Better-Fitting Gear

Have you ever tried on clothes only to find out you are no longer the size you thought you were? On a recent trip to Europe I was in a men’s clothing store looking to purchase a new suit. What I thought was my size—a large—turned out to be a supersized XXL in the European system. Yikes! Now take that experience and think of it the other way around. Imagine having to wear a coat or trousers two to three sizes larger than you need. That is similar to what many women in the fire service have had to face for decades when it comes to their personal protection equipment (PPE). According to the 2020 US Fire Department Profile report, there are nearly 90,000 female firefighters in the United States—that’s 9 percent of all firefighters in the US. Of that number, 17,200 were career and 72,400 were volunteer. Over the last 10 years the number of female firefighters has increased. Yet many women firefighters, especially in the volunteer fire service, end up being issued used gear that was designed for men. Finding the proper fit is about more than just sizing down. Most of the time, a women’s size is not just a smaller men’s size. Proportions are different and they need—and deserve—the right-fitting gear. Why improper fits are more than just an inconvenience Studies dating back more than a decade have shown that as many as 80 percent of female firefighters experience issues with improperly fitting PPE. Improperly fitting gear—such as firefighter gloves, firefighter boots, bunker pants, and bunker coats—isn’t just a nuisance for women in the fire service, but it can also lead to injuries. Bunker pants that are too long or bulky, for instance, can lead to trips, falls, and an inability to move efficiently. Bunker coats that are too long can lead to injuries while using an axe or power equipment or advancing a hoseline. Four percent of firefighter injuries happen to women, according to the Fire Department Profile. This figure isn’t all due to poor-fitting gear, but that can certainly be a contributing factor. In an interview published by NFPA Journal® in 2021, Dr. Meredith McQuerry, a Florida State University professor and expert in clothing comfort physiology, said female firefighters have a 33 percent higher risk of on-duty injury than their male counterparts. “Ill-fitting PPE is certainly playing a role in that greater risk of injury and even risk of fatality,” McQuerry told the magazine. “They’re not able to move as easily or as quickly as they need to. That puts them at greater risk.” What does the future of female firefighter PPE look like? Some very interesting research has been done by McQuerry that will help drive solutions to the problem of improperly fitting gear for female firefighters. With support from the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA®, McQuerry and other researchers were able to recently create the first-ever database of female firefighter anthropometrics—a fancy way of describing a person’s physical measurements. With that data, which included measurements from nearly 200 female firefighters, McQuerry and her team hope to ultimately propose a sizing system for female firefighter PPE. That system could then be shared with and considered by manufacturers as well as the technical committees responsible for updating NFPA 1970, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural and Proximity Firefighting, Work Apparel and Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, and Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS). “Our ultimate goal is to propose female sizing systems for structural and wildland PPE, to share those with the fire service [and] to share those with manufacturers and standards bodies to create, hopefully, in tandem, real change for women in the fire service,” McQuerry said during a recent webinar hosted by NFPA. You can watch the full hour-and-a-half presentation in the “Archives” section of the NFPA Webinars webpage.

Responding to incidents involving oxidizers takes awareness and planning

Responders are called to an ever-increasing number of diverse types of incidents these days, which makes it difficult to stay prepared and practiced for all the possibilities we may encounter. That especially applies to responding to hazardous materials incidents. So, if you are not on a hazardous materials response team how often do you review and refresh your knowledge on the classes of hazardous materials we encounter in the course of doing the job? Sure, it’s important to keep sharp on fire operations but those calls that we don’t respond to very often can really hurt us or worse. Recent events like the devastating explosion in Beirut, Lebanon give us pause to think about those firefighters who were just doing their jobs and, boom, tragedy happens. This incident makes me think about the impact that oxidizers can have on fire and what they can do when they mix with incompatible material such as organic compounds. Guidelines for safely handling incidents involving oxidizers A good definition of oxidizers can be found in NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code, 2022 edition. Oxidizers are: “Any solid or liquid material that readily yields oxygen or other oxidizing gas or that readily reacts to promote or initiate combustion of combustible materials and that can, under some circumstances, undergo a vigorous self-sustained decomposition due to contamination or heat exposure.” Furthermore, oxidizers are broken down into four classes from Class 1, “…does not moderately increase the burning rate…” to Class 4, “…can undergo an explosive reaction due to contamination or exposure to thermal or physical shock…” NFPA 400 provides a wealth of information and can be a helpful resource. Annex E covers Properties and Uses of Ammonium Nitrate and Fire-Fighting Procedures and is included for informational purposes only, but can be a helpful guide when developing department standard operating procedures for handling events that include oxidizers. An additionally helpful chapter is Annex I, Emergency Response Guideline. This chapter speaks to the emergency response training requirements for handling hazardous materials emergencies found in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120, including the levels of awareness, operations, technician, specialist and incident commander also explained in NFPA 470 Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Standard for Responders, 2022 edition. Sure, the larger cities have hazmat units to handle all that, but many of our more rural departments may rely on a regional response team who is several miles away or some teams may have to assemble at the station before they respond to your incident, which takes time. Some departments don’t even have that luxury, so what do we do? Oxidizer identification and pre-planning matter One of the first things that is necessary is identification. Identifying what oxidizers look like, how they are identified, and where they exist in your response area is an important step. You can do that by reviewing what the container markings look like and by getting out into your response area on pre-planning trips to learn about what and where they are used and stored. In the case of rail transport, what is traveling through your jurisdiction? I would recommend connecting with the rail transport organizations that have stock rolling through your jurisdiction. Pre-planning is a very important part of keeping your team situationally aware and prepared for an incident at a specific location. When arriving on-scene, the Emergency Responder Guide (ERG) can help Another very useful quick guide is the Emergency Response Guide (ERG). This guidebook created by the US Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is a guide designed to provide important information to responders in the first minutes of an incident. The guide is set up with separately colored pages that provide important information about material identification, classification, attributable hazards, and response and evacuation guidelines. For example, information on general oxidizers can be found in Guide #140. In this yellow page portion of the document, you will find information on potential hazards such as fire or health, what considerations to make on protective clothing, evacuation measures to consider, emergency response actions in the case of spill or fire, and first aid measures to take if exposed. The information found on this guide page and others can be reviewed with your team in a quick drill format and be a useful refresher on dealing with oxidizers. Another example of what can happen when oxidizers are exposed to heat is an incident that occurred May 28, 2013 in Rosedale, Maryland when a three-axle roll-off straight truck entered a grade level train crossing and was struck by an oncoming freight train. Fifteen of the train cars derailed with three of the cars carrying hazardous materials. Two of the cars spilled their contents, including an oxidizer and an organic acid, resulting in fire. The heat from the fire caused the oxidizer to explode early into the fire. Fortunately, the responding units had not arrived, or the results might have been tragic. Additional information about this accident may be found in the investigation report, which can be accessed at the NTSB website under report number NTSB/HAR-14/02. Slow down and be cautious So especially when responding to bulk storage units or large capacity transportation rail cars, use the utmost caution until you can verify the identity of the contents contained within. Based on the reports of the first due units trained to identify railcars carrying chemicals such as oxidizers, they can alert other incoming units and help initiate the appropriate action plan. Remember when responding into a potential hazardous materials incident: slow down and take some time to look for signs that indicate what you may be dealing with before getting into a potentially career ending event. Take the time to refresh on the basic types of hazardous materials and what their characteristics are. Especially with oxidizers, remember that when exposed to other types of organic compound they can react explosively and when exposed to heat they can explode. It’s all part of situational awareness. Be aware and be safe.

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