Firefighting is a dangerous occupation, and that goes beyond the risk of fighting fires (see “The Hidden Killers of Firefighters,” also in this issue of CFP News). First responders selflessly sacrifice their time and put themselves at risk to help their communities, so it’s good to know there are organizations that acknowledge their personal sacrifice and are dedicated to improving their safety and health. This article outlines a few of the national organizations.
Established in 1989 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization, the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) educates members of Congress about the needs and challenges of our nation’s fire and emergency services and helps them understand how the federal government can better support local first responders. Members of Congress turn to CFSI for information on a broad range of issues that address first responder health, safety, training, equipment needs, and more. CFSI shares information with Congress about the important work of our public safety educators and contributions by the public safety industry to reduce the threat of fires and other dangers in our communities.
With the support of the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute and local fire departments, CFSI offers a modified structural firefighter training class and ride-along program. It conducts Capitol Hill briefings that cover pending fire service legislation, publishes white papers and position papers on public safety topics, and responds to congressional inquiries on a range of public safety issues.
Since 2005, the nonprofit Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) has provided assistance and one-on-one mentoring to thousands of cancer-stricken firefighters and their families. FCSN delivers extensive firefighter cancer awareness and prevention training nationwide. Started by Los Angeles County firefighter paramedic and cancer survivor Michael Dubron, FCSN’s key partners include the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), Firefighter Close Calls (FFCC), National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), and other respected fire service organizations. FCSN is a founding member of the Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance and works with the American Cancer Society and Live Strong Foundation.
FCSN has active operations in 39 states and can start helping immediately following a cancer diagnosis. It quickly provides a “cancer-support toolbox” and free badge-to-badge peer support to fire/EMS members and their immediate families. Its unique network includes more than 130 volunteer peer-support mentors—nearly all of whom are firefighters and paramedics who are cancer survivors. FCSN delivers extensive occupational cancer awareness and prevention training to thousands of firefighters across America every day. Its popular train-the-trainer program gives instructors cancer-fighting tools and a curriculum to take back to departments, and it directly provides training for fire departments large and small. FCSN also conducts research on cancer’s impact on the fire service and prevention methods.
The First Responder Center for Excellence is a charitable corporation organized and operated in support of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (see below) through charitable and educational activities. The center serves as a quality education and research network committed to reducing first responder occupational illnesses, injuries, and deaths. The underlying theme is that first responders answer the call to duty without hesitation; and while they train and prepare tactically for their daily responses, they must also be physically and mentally prepared for those same calls.
The First Responder Center aspires to be the leading resource for first responders and their family members in addressing physical and psychological health issues. It promotes research in relevant fields to increase awareness of first responder health issues as well as to prevent first responder deaths and injuries. The center develops innovative methods to address cancer in the first responder community, expand Stress First Aid (a new behavioral health intervention program), and develop similar programs in the cardiac and general health and wellness fields.
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) honors and remembers America’s fallen fire heroes, provides resources to assist families in rebuilding their lives, and works within the fire service community to reduce firefighter deaths and injuries. The NFFF was created by Congress in 1992 to lead a nationwide effort to honor America’s fallen firefighters and has developed and expanded programs that fulfill that mandate.
The NFFF supports other projects that honor fallen firefighters, provide resources to survivors, and reduce firefighter deaths and injuries. Its work in educating the firefighter community about health and disease prevention has identified a broader need for all first responders—which includes firefighters, law enforcement, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and other emergency service providers—to have access to and receive training in addressing common health, wellness, and injury issues that arise due to the unique and important nature of their work. Identifying this gap in education currently available to first responders led the NFFF to form the First Responder Center for Excellence for Reducing Occupational Illness, Injuries and Deaths, Inc. (see above).
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) is the leading nonprofit membership association representing the interests of volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services. The NVFC serves as the voice of the volunteer in the national arena and provides invaluable resources, programs, education, and advocacy for first responders across the nation through services that:
- represent first responders in the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, and national standards-setting committees
- conduct health- and safety-focused programs
- help departments recruit and retain fire service and EMS/rescue personnel
- provide training on topics that matter to fire service and EMS/rescue personnel
- assist departments in establishing support programs
- foster the next generation of firefighters
The Volunteer & Combination Officers Section (VCOS) of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) understands that it’s critical for emergency service organizations to ensure the health and safety of their members, because an inability to do so increases risks to individual members and the community. The mission of VCOS is to produce a comprehensive framework to assist communities and their fire and emergency service leaders to create and maintain dynamic organizations.
VCOS services combine efforts of fire chiefs from across the United States and Canada to address the needs of volunteer and combination emergency response agencies. It focuses on specific areas of organizational management that present challenges to creating and sustaining viable emergency response programs. For example, in conjunction with the NVFC, Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance, and FCSN and with support from California Casualty, VCOS produced a poster of the 11 best practices for preventing firefighter cancer. The poster delineates specific actions to address the cancer epidemic and protect firefighters and is available at their website.
The Volunteer Firefighter Alliance is a national organization that advocates for volunteer firefighters. Among its many programs are services that help improve firefighter safety and health. These include:
- Response Recovery Program: The program helps firefighters get the emergency response funds they deserve and will take whatever actions are necessary, from collecting claim information to writing a check every month.
- Firefighter Cancer Alliance: The Firefighter Cancer Alliance is a major program of the Volunteer Firefighters Alliance that promotes cancer awareness and prevention training nationwide. It offers specific information, services, and support to firefighters and families.
- Firefighter Discounts: The Alliance provides a free membership website for all first responders and volunteer firefighters. It offers exclusive discounts on hotels, dining, movies, theme parks, and much more—all to help maintain a good state of mental health.
- First Responder Crisis Support Helpline: The organization has a national telephone helpline—1-844-550-HERO (4376)—with access to confidential support, resources, and referrals any time of day or night for first responders and their families.
- Line-of-Duty Death Benefits: Through grants to volunteer fire departments, the Alliance offers free survivor benefits of up to $10,000 per firefighter.
There are other organizations out there that work with firefighters and first responders. Firefighters should never hesitate to take advantage of these services and never ignore signs that may indicate a health issue. Cancer, heart attack, and suicide are all major killers of firefighters, but all three can be combated through early detection and treatment. For more information, contact your ISO Community Hazard Mitigation representative or visit our website.
Two fire service organizations awarded Sarbanes Fire Service Safety Leadership Award
The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) and National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) recently selected the Florida Firefighters Safety and Health Collaborative and the Denver Fire Department as the corecipients of the Senator Paul S. Sarbanes Fire Service Safety Leadership Award. The award will be presented at the 31st Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner on April 25, 2019, in Washington, D.C.
The award is named for retired Senator Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, a strong advocate for our nation’s firefighters and rescue personnel during his 36-year career in Congress. It recognizes organizations for outstanding contributions to firefighter health and safety.
The first winner, the Florida Firefighters Safety and Health Collaborative, was established in 2016 as a nonprofit organization to bring together members of the fire service and health and safety advocates in Florida to share information and best practices on firefighter health and safety. The program’s key areas of focus are firefighter cancer prevention, emotional and mental wellness, health and physical fitness, and safety at emergency incidents. The program covers five regions of the state, with plans for future expansion.
The Denver Fire Department, the second winner, is being recognized for developing the Denver Fire Department Safety and Training program. This comprehensive health and safety program incorporates fitness, nutrition, and behavioral health and can be tailored to the needs of each individual firefighter. The program is integrated with the department’s safety and training program and begins when the firefighter is a recruit, continuing throughout the firefighter’s career.
CFSI President Bill Jenaway and NFFF Chairman Dennis Compton issued a joint statement recognizing the 2019 recipients of the Sarbanes award: “We are witnessing dramatic changes in the fire service on the issue of health and safety—changes inspired in part by firefighters at the local level who are passionate about making the profession safer. We commend both organizations for establishing two successful health and safety programs. What makes these programs successful is the collaboration and cooperation of so many individuals at the local level who care deeply about the health and safety of their fellow first responders.”