Hey all.

I'm a newly appointed Safety Officer for my from home volunteer department. While we are a pretty good department at doing things safely, there are things that we have been doing for years that can be improved, and in some cases need to be changed. I'm looking for any tips that might help me go about getting the rest of the department to take safety as seriously as we need to without causing the membership to pack up and leave, as well as ways to hold the membership accountable for not following safety sop's when they are volunteers and can just leave. We have a great group of members but many of them are stubborn when it comes to change and there are things we need to change. Any help would be great thanks.

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Well.my take on this is something that comes down to a choice. Whether your safety concerns are life endangering or not, you have to ask in what way would you rather see these "unchangeable" members leave. you have 3 choices...alive, injured or dead. Your position will always be to keep them alive, the best you can, in all cases.

Like I mentioned, I don't know how endangering these are, but jolly volly pointed out a couple, easy to fallow safety rules, and a sample of accountability that will help keep firefighters out of harms way.

Ask them how they/you can make things safer when "working".

best of luck to you.

Thanks guys.

Jolly, I like that idea about having the id's clipped to the seats. We do use the ICS accountability system and do a good job with it. We dont currently have assignments for each seat because we have members at different experience levels and since we dont staff the station we could get any of our members showing up. (ie some members are not cleared for interior/roof ops untill we can get them live fire training so we assign jobs by who shows up for the call.)

PARs are great and I will admit, we don't use them often enough but that is one of the things I plan on including more. Though we do a good job of the crews communicating with ops and command.

We do a very good job with rehab and rotation of crews so thats not an area im concerned with right now but your right its very immportant.

Your right Derek, I do want my fellow members to leave the department alive and injury free. That's one of the reasons I was asked to take this position. The Chief knows I will put the time and effort into this position for us to get better where we need it.

My biggest safety concerns are our response in apparatus, seatbelts, and some tactical areas. It's not that we are horrible, those are just the areas we need to improve on first.

We have an officers meeting coming up and I will have a list of concerns that Ill be bringing up too.

What do your departments do if a member does violates a safety policy or does something else that is considered unsafe? Like I said, we are a from home volunteer department so our members aren't recieving any money and most arent here to try to step into a paid position somewhere. They are here because they want to be and I want to be able to keep them here.

I want to be able to have them understand how important safety is and for all of us to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. Like I said, we are a good department, we just have some areas that need work.

Ok I will take a shot at this. I travel around alot, I go into departments and provide assessment, then make recommendations.. be it policy, procedures or training. Basically what you are asking here on FFN.


If I read correctly your concern and you stated it twice is how to implement safety when they are volunteers. Quote, "pack up and leave" and "can just leave". For these specifc comments to be brought forward in a single paragraph, they were obviously stated or more likely shouted during a past incident or debate.


The first problem is the department culture. We all understand culture is inherited from years of tradition, lack of or many great operational procedure(s) and well a little luck.  More than likely someone specific or a department administration has supported the above comments because they were concerned that nobody would continue to turn out and volunteer. That has supported your underlying problems of today.  Congrats on the desire to take on the challenge. 


It doesn't matter what your status is. If your "Paid", "Paid Call", or a true "Volunteer", I always tell people "Dead is Dead".  You mentioned holding membership accountable to safety sop's. This is the backbone of the department's operational success. Without solid procedures or guidelines, then the membership is free to operate however they feel is appropriate.  Now as far as, "What do others do if a procedure is broken" well we must remind our memberships that being a volunteer does not afford them a right to be here. It is a position that must follow the rules or the consequences may include displinary action.  I have seen Fire Chiefs revoke a members "privledge" to respond, or turn out if he or she will not follow the rules. The department owes the membership the respect to be fair and equal, consistancy is key and if you let Little Johnny have a pass on not wearing his seatbelt, you can't expect Suzy to wear hers next time.


My recommendations to most department's include formulating a list of offenses that will require immediate action. These are usually the more serious topics that can cause serious injury or death and can include, suspension or termination. For everything else, the offender should be told he is going to have to meet with the officer's and explain his position and the officer's will issue any discipline or correct actions (training) by the majority vote. That takes out the single-person, power play dynamic of friends, family, etc.


Two examples: On scene and do not have a personal accountability tag or caught freelancing the established accountability system, removed from the operation, sit in the truck and watch.  You sit through a fire and you will never forget your tag or freelance again!   Caught not wearing a seat belt in a department apparatus. Sent home, accountability tag and pager revoked for a week.  Granted you lose a responder for the week, but if the firefighter gets lost, hurt at a fire or the apparatus crashes, the cost mentally, physically, and financially may NEVER be recouped.  If you care about your personnel, your job as an officer is not to be their friend it is to implement and enforce the policies and procedures set forth that will provide the best possible chance of having a long healthy volunteer career and life.


Good Luck Brother,

Bill (FETC)




Being safety officer isn't just about trying to change the culture of your department.  Should a serious injury or death occur, one of the things that will be looked at is where was the safety officer, who is the safety officer and does the safety officer meet NFPA Standard 1521.

While this link is from Alabama, I think it defines the situation rather clearly.


NFPA 1521: Standard on Fire Department Safety Officer
This standard requires fire departments to appoint a safety officer with the authority to identify health and safety hazards and ensure that they are corrected. Duties include:
•ensuring that OSHA record-keeping and reporting requirements are met
•preparing safety policies and ensuring they are followed
•monitoring activities/incidents where accidents involving department members could occur
•establishing and monitoring programs for detecting and correcting hazardous conditions
•reviewing and approving safety features of apparatus, equipment, clothing, etc.
•conducting safety training for the department
•investigating all accidents and incidents involving death or injury to department members
•keeping informed of health and safety issues
•requires that the safety officers also must be at least a Fire Officer Level I per the requirements of NFPA 1021, Fire Officer Professional Qualifications standard.

Good point Jack. Thanks.

I have already reviewed the NFPA and WA state requiements for Safety Officer and am reviewing our current policies and creating new ones as needed.

My initial question was aimed more at ways to get the membership to understand what changes need to be made and why as well as how other fd's deal with violations of safety policies.

I appreciate the input and I am working to meet all of the NFPA and state requirements for Safety Officer as well as make sure everyone in my department stays as safe as possible and goes home every night.

Speaking (typing) as a firefighter, and not as an officer, I would suggest that you not try to implement too many changes too soon. Think of the psychology involved with bringing about change to an already stubborn group. Baby steps will likely bring about the gradual changes that will be accepted by the members, rather than an all-out assault on long-established patterns and habits.


Good luck to you.

Thanks Joe thats a good point. I have had a couple others say that too. I definitely don't expect a perfect change overnight or to snap my fingers and have it done. Luckily I have enough experience with this department and enough respect from the other members that I shouldn't have too much trouble getting the things we need to fix taken care of.

Thanks for the input.


As a training officer and safety officer I have found that communicating other firefighter's mistakes or close calls helps me drive the safety point home.  There are a couple programs in our industry that have surfaced the last few years which can be accessed via the internet, one is firefighternearmiss.com, which publishes a report of the week you can use as basis for training, or just getting your crews to think through similar situations they have encountered.  The other is firefighterclosecalls.com.  Both sites have great information for promoting safety in your organzation.  Another good source of motivation is the NIOSH firefighter mortality reports http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2009-155c/ .  Whenever a firefighter is killed on-duty, NIOSH performs an investigation, the results of which are published by them.  These reports underscore the need for safety as they often outline sops or recognized firefighting standards that were either overlooked or neglected which contributed to the death.  They also make recommendations to prevent future occurrences.  Sometimes it is helpful as a new safety officer to have these resources to back up what you are trying to accomplish.  The bottom line is to be patient and continue to emphasize that following recognized safety practices in our industry isn't only prudent, it enables your firefighters to do their jobs better as well as to survive.  They have to know from those that have been foolish in the past, that dying or gettnig injured in the line-of-duty by ingnoring sound safety principles doesn't enhance an organization's reputation in the community, but rather leads to scrutiny, and people losing faith in their fire department.   So, perservere with the message, always train safety, and best of luck with your new role, it is supremely important in our business.   

Thanks! I'll look into those sites more.

Nathan, You have gotten a lot of good advice in regard to what your duties are and the importance of safety but from an old fire instructors perspective, I thought you would enjoy some of my off the wall training topics to get folks to think about safety. You have to remember that you are dealing with adult learners, which means a myriad of learning abilities and disabilities coupled with your departments culture, time on the job and a ton of other things that influence your departments culture. With you being new, and your folks again having a culture to take safety seriously or not means that you could have a pretty tough job ahead of you. Maybe impossible?


Recommended Guidelines to Manipulate FF's to Think Safety

Rule Number 1: Don't micromanage your folks just because you are the safety officer. People should be expected to know their job and you should only get involved if someone does something that can or did cause an issue. Always remember that there is a chain of command and you will always be in a better position letting somebody with a higher pay grade be the heavy. You need to foster a relationship with your troops where they know that you are all about protecting and teaching them new things that are interesting and timely. But how does one teach to ensure that this can occur?

Rule Number 2: Medic Pay... that's how I remember it but there are basically four steps in teaching. You don't break these rules or the order, it's just how it's been done since WWII when these teaching styles and rules were first invented. Our country had to train thousands of men, and quickly, so methodology was developed to make this happen. Here's the four steps:

  1. Motivate
  2. Prepare
  3. Apply
  4. Evaluate

Motivate: In order for adult learners to learn new concepts or consider changing existing perspectives or prejudices, you have to reach the student through engaging their imagination and senses. If they are not interested in what you have to offer, then you've lost them. You want people to come back for more, anticipating what you will come up with next, making the learning experience fun. But you have to grab their attention first to motivate them to want to watch, listen, perform and use in their routine activities.

Example 1: Vehicle Fire Safety, Apparatus Placement and Water Supply - Watch this video provided by Chief Mike France and think about showing this video to your firefighters, breaking them up into groups, asking each group to identify what kinds of safety problems they see and how they would prevent it.


After watching this video, can you see how some good discussion can result because you shared this video and got folks talking about... safety. That's the goal here right?

Prepare: In order for learners to learn something, you have to slowly and methodically prepare them for the lesson, class, evolution, whatever. Take for example the top photograph showing black light glowing or urine, feces, and other human body excretions in a bathroom. There's your motivation to understand that you can't always see things that can hurt you... or gross you out.

Apply or Application: This is where you find a way to bring the lesson into full focus and understanding by the firefighter. You can call this the lesson plan, instructors notes or whatever but it is the part where you are going to actually teach something.

Example 2: In order to prepare your students for learning, using the dirty toilet photo as the motivation tool, and understanding that for this drill you are going to need some props to enable the student to be prepared to learn new information, by again, using as many senses as you can. Here's what you need:


Blacklight to illuminate the biomaterials as seen in the bathroom or, in this case everywhere an individual touches themselves because you have a secret teaching tool for this drill and it's called Clue Spray or Tagger Spray. In conjunction with a black light, anything that this invisible spray touches will glow under a blacklight. And by now, most folks are familiar with RAVE parties... or Elvis Blacklight Posters.


So now that you are thinking about psychedelic images, and hopefully by now, I've got you sucked into reading about where I'm going with this which is the point. You want to engage the learner to take on new information and again, I'm pretty sure that I've pegged your interest to see where I am going with this. 


Assuming that you have these two necessary materials, e.g. blacklight and Tagger Spray, all you have to do is spray a piece of paper that has some writing on it, possibly a safety bulletin with pictures and big print.

You don't need folks to handle it much, but you have to ensure that every student in the classroom passes the paper between themselves and the other students. You want them to handle whatever it is that you are passing around because the dirty little secret and key point to this safety briefing is that once they have passed the paper on, EVERYWHERE THEY TOUCH WILL BE HIGHLIGHTED WITH NEON BLACKLIGHT COLORS!

People will touch their face, neck, and other places and things including their crotch... Once everyone has handled the secretively "contaminated" piece of paper or object, turn off all the lights in the room and use the blacklight as a "monitor" to scan the student for signs of contamination. Trust me on this one, at least one guy is going to scratch his crotch. It happens... And it reinforces the lesson that things that you cannot see can get you. So can not chalking the tires on a fully involved vehicle on a grade, not catching your own water or parking too close to a burning vehicle, but that's a different training topic for Safety next month...

The above video shows how the use of the blacklight and Tagger Spray is used to teach exposure to pesticides, and even though one goes through a decontamination process, not everything is cleaned off. The best way to teach this is to use the FT technique explained in the video. You don't need to purchase a "kit" but instead, understand the concept and buy your own blacklight and spray.

Evaluation: This is the final step in teaching which using the example of a decon drill, have folks do the actual decontamination process and use the blacklight to see if they did a good job or not. This is the final step to affirm that what you wanted to get across to the students was accomplished.

Here's an actual lesson plan on video for instructors using blacklight for teaching pesticide exposure risks. 

I hope this helps you think outside of the box, effectively communicating with your troops and preventing injury or worse to your FF's. One final thought... you can't research your lesson plan enough so live and teach the concept that failure to prepare is preparing for failure, so be prepared!

Best of luck with your new job. It's an important one! 

You are only limited by your own imagination.

Stay safe,




"Hey all.

I'm a newly appointed Safety Officer for my from home volunteer department. While we are a pretty good department at doing things safely, there are things that we have been doing for years that can be improved, and in some cases need to be changed. I'm looking for any tips that might help me go about getting the rest of the department to take safety as seriously as we need to without causing the membership to pack up and leave, as well as ways to hold the membership accountable for not following safety sop's when they are volunteers and can just leave. We have a great group of members but many of them are stubborn when it comes to change and there are things we need to change. Any help would be great thanks.


My biggest safety concerns are our response in apparatus, seatbelts, and some tactical areas. It's not that we are horrible, those are just the areas we need to improve on first."


Just remember what the role of Safety Officer is all about. You are there to watch out for your brothers and sisters. That is and should be your #1 priority. 

When you operate at a scene as an Incident Safety Officer, don't be "that guy" who goes around looking for safety violations and infractions. You are there to observe for things and conditions that pose a life safety hazard. Example, collapse indicators, changing smoke conditions that may lead to a backdraft or flashover, ground ladders not being thrown to upper floor windows, to many handlines through one doorway, security bars not removed and doors not forced to provide emergency egress, etc. Your job is to observe for conditions like this and report them to the IC and make recommendations on how to mitigate the problems. It's kind of hard to do this when all you're doing is walking around looking to see who's shoes are tied, or who's chin strap is not completely cinched down.

After the fire is out, the IC should conduct a tailboard critique of the incident before leaving the scene. Provide feedback on what you saw from an Incident Safety Officer's perspective. Be sure to praise things members did that improved firefighter safety, and then things you saw that could have gone better. It's not your job to punish or reprimand. That's for the IC and chiefs to take care of later.

Your secondary role is that of Health and Safety Officer. This is where you have to work with the Chief, and training officer(s) if you have them, to make changes. It's not your job to make SOPs/SOGs, on operational matters. You should have a role in giving advice and opinions from a health and safety standpoint on operational SOPs/SOGs. 

One of the best ways to address safety concerns such as response and seat belts is training. I'm not sure how your FD conducts training, but if there is weekly or monthly training members must attend you can ask the chief to allow you to conduct an "unannounced" class on Arrive Alive at the next training day. Give a good presentation on the importance of safe driving and seat belt use during response. Research a couple of recent NIOSH LODD reports involving apparatus crashes and use them during the presentation. Make it an open forum discussion where the students discuss what could have been done to either reduce or prevent the event.

Just remember that you are not there to write people up or punish. That's an administrative duty that should be handled by a chief through line officers.

Good points, Thanks.

I definitely plan on not being a 'Safety Nazi' and yelling at people for every little thing that I see. Or trying to change the way things are done without going through the Chief officers and making my suggestions. Thanks again.

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