April 2014

Going The Distance

Meet a leading Oregon health and safety professional

Person Name

Company: Sandy Fire District

Safety manager/Training officer: Jason McKinnon

Workforce: 9 career, 4 office staff, 60+ volunteers

Common Hazards: Sprains and strains, back injuries from lifting in difficult positions and places, bloodborne pathogens, falls, driving hazards.

What is your background and safety philosophy?

I am the captain and training officer at the Sandy Fire District. I have been in the fire service for 21 years (seven as volunteer and 14 as career). My current responsibilities include assisting the deputy chief in daily operations/ assignments, safety, and emergency/fire suppression activities of the fire district. I am also charged with safety training, supervising staff, and other non-emergency work.

I started my background in safety when I took my first incident safety officer class titled"Firefighter Safety and Survival." I then took two more classes related to safety and the role of the incident manager.My training priority is to promote public safety through the developmen tof professional standards and the delivery of quality training.

Everything seems to tie into safety somehow. In my experience, when something goes wrong or something needs to change, safety has the most common approach for accomplishing the task. I find this challenging and intriguing. I was told at an early point in my career that safety and anything involved with safety was the wave of the future.

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What are some of the unique safety challenges your crews face?

If the first arriving officer taking command of a scene does not designate someone as the safety officer, then that individual retains that position during the entire incident. Safety is always our No. 1 priority. It is always my safety and my crew's safety first. We have to remember that we were called to help and we need to be part of the solution and not add to the problem.

We always face unique challenges on incidents, though extrication seems t be one of the most challenging to deal with from a safety perspective. Extrication requires a constant evaluation of hazards from the accident, a re-evaluation of the efforts of cutting a vehicle and removing people from it.

Structure fires would be the next most challenging because, in most cases, homes were not designed to have fires in them. It is required of all members to understand fire prevention methods, building construction, fire behavior, and how all of these factors affect safety.

Being a more rural fire department, do you respond to wildland fires? If so, what are some differences in ensuring safety of your crew compared to structure fires?

We do respond to wildland/brush fires and safety concerns on these vary depending on locations, smoke, heat, and fatigue. Locations can range from hilly areas with steep terrain to heavy brush and wooded areas. This is a prime issue in dealing with sprains and strains from tripping over the terrain or walking up steep hills. Dealing with the smoke from these fires can cause respiratory and visibility issues for all responders and workers. Fatigue becomes a factor when we have long periods of operations due to a bigger incident such as a conflagration.

We address these unique hazards during morning or evening briefings by the command and general staff pointing out safety concerns and hazards that have been observed by crews out working. Safe and effective initial response to wildland fires requires basic training in wildland firefighting. Wildland firefighting skills training is managed by state and local agencies, which often use or adapt courses developed by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG).

How do you keep your firefighters engaged in safety day to day?

During an incident, the incident commander has the ultimate responsibility and authority over operations, including the safety of crews responding. On larger, more complex incidents, the responsibility of safety can be so broad that it prevents the incident commander from managing and commanding the remaining operations effectively. When this occurs, the incident commander may delegate the safety officer responsibilities and authority to a mid-level officer or firefighter. Regardless of the incident, the role of the safety officer should be defined in a department's standard operating procedures.

NFPA 1521, Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer, outlines the role of the incident safety officer and is a good reference to consider when preparing procedures for a department. We teach all firefighters the importance of safety at the beginning of every firefighter academy and continue with the safety message throughout all of our training and real life incidents. Safety is part of the culture.

In our everyday operations, we have a safety committee that reviews all safety concerns that happen in the station and on incidents. This committee reviews accidents and makes recommendations to improve safety issues that may arise.

What advice do you have for other safety and health managers hoping to make a difference?

Statistically, more firefighters are injured and killed while operating on the scene of emergency incidents than any other setting. Using an incident safety officer will significantly reduce the potential for injury and death. I believe if accidents and safety issues are predicable, then they are always preventable. Everyone is always a safety officer, even if they aren't appointed to the safety officer position. I am also always responsible for my safety and the safety of my crews. I never forget that everyone goes home.   ▉


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