We recently spoke with Billy D. Hayes, about his upcoming presentation "Courage To Be Safe" at FRI 2009. Here’s what he had to say:

Q. Director Hayes, What are the top three take aways from your presentation?
A. The first and most important is to re-enforce the message of firefighter safety. Everyday, our first responders take risks to protect the public. However, some of the risks can be significantly reduced by merely changing our behaviors.

The second take away is to educate the fire service on the 16 Life Safety Initiatives that were created 5 years ago to address firefighter safety. We know that the16 Initiatives are a lot to implement, but we break them down to manageable pieces that make sense and are more effective.

Finally, the third take away is that attendees will be challenged to use critical thinking skills. Ideas that we offer are well outside of our traditional actions and “culture” and are to some controversial. Long after the presentation is over, these new ideas will ring in the attendee’s ear as they think about how they have the Courage To Be Safe.

Q. For those who may have heard this presentation in the past, what new objectives will be covered this year?
A. Since FRI 2008, the Everyone Goes Home Program has unveiled the new 7.2 version which contains new videos, new graphics, and new information. However, my co-presenter Ron Dennis and I have developed a new exercise that engages the attendees even more. We call it the “Index Card Exercise.” This exercise is utilized throughout the Courage To Be Safe presentation so students can identify problems and find solutions on the spot. We truly believe that the answers are within the room with the attendees, it’s just our job to facilitate bringing them out. This has proven to be a successful and popular technique that Chief Dennis and I use and that the students seem to enjoy.

Q. Why do you think our culture has become so accepting of the loss of lives associated with firefighting and how can we change that mentality?
A. Our profession has inherent risks that many other professions don’t have. No man or woman wakes up in the morning to go to the fire house to say, “You know, I think I want to die in the line of duty today!” Rather I think there are some that understand something may go wrong and that is part of the job, while I do believe some go to work oblivious to the fact of how dangerous their actions may be to them or someone else. So, I’m not sure accepting is the appropriate term.

But I do believe that we are making considerable progress in changing the safety culture. The numbers don’t reflect that change, but we have to sometimes look beyond the numbers and focus on what we can do today. Situational awareness on the fireground, wearing seat belts, and training are all things that can have results short-term. Cardiac health is not something we can fix overnight. We must start today, but the results will occur over a longer period of time. As it has been said, if we don’t change how we do things, we’ll always get the same results.

Q. What is one thing people can start doing today to change that mentality in their departments?
A. This is a tough one, so I’m going to give you three: lead by example, celebrate success, and feed the hungry.

Leading by example: Somebody is always watching your actions. If you start trying to sell the safety message to the non-believers, then you better be doing it yourself. You wouldn’t believe how often I hear, “Yeah the safety Nazi tried to tell me how important seat belts are and then drove off from the fire station not wearing one!” Be what you preach.

Celebrate success: If you have a successful outcome because of safety, sing it from the mountain top. People believe more in what they can see rather than just what they hear in a message. Share it with the fire service so others may learn from it; results will support your message.

Feed the hungry: If you have people who are excited and believe in the message, and/or want change, recruit them and give them the attention they deserve. Too often we exert all of our energy in trying to change the minds of those who don’t believe and forget to cultivate those who do. With that lack of attention, we then begin to lose our supporters. Go for the quick win and accumulate the powers in numbers.

Billy Hayes, EFO is Director of Community Affairs and Public Information for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department and National Advocate Manager for the Everyone Goes Homes Program. The presentation is being co-presented by Ron Dennis, EFO, Executive Director of the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association and Region IX Advocate for the Everyone Goes Home Program.

This session will be offered at FRI on Tuesday, August 25th from 1:30 – 4:30 pm. You can view the complete FRI program agenda at www.iafc.org/fri

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Comment by FETC on April 28, 2009 at 10:42am
What a Great Class. I am also a CTBS Instructor (Challenge Coin Recipient) and highly recommend EVERY firefighter attend this class.

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