Emergency service vehicle crashes are the second-leading cause of death among U.S. firefighters, accounting for 390 deaths since 1994 and more than 1,000 reported injuries per year with little improvements seen over the past 10 years. To reduce vehicle accidents in the fire service, the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health was awarded $1.4 million to implement and evaluate risk-management processes with the Chicago Fire Department, Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue in Virginia and Stayton Fire District in Oregon with training consultation provided by the Seattle Fire Department.
The program will use a risk-management process of scoping hazards, assessing risks, and implementing tailored controls to reduce vehicle incidents in the fire service. Some of the controls being considered include the use of improved driver training and the novel use of vehicle data recorders — a device described as a “black box” for vehicles.
“One of the exciting things we’ll be doing is using vehicle operation data, things like engine speed, acceleration, and braking events to assess driver safety. Since vehicle data recorders are relatively new in the fire service, we’ll be one of the first to study how we can effectively use them to improve driver training and reduce vehicle incidents,” said Dr. Jeff Burgess, associate dean for research at the College of Public Health and principal investigator on the project.
The three-year grant was awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program, which funds proposals to meet the health and safety needs of firefighting and emergency response departments and organizations. Since 2001, AFG has funded projects to help firefighters obtain protective equipment, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources to better protect the public and emergency service personnel.
The research team also plans to include an economic analysis to help departments choose sustainable interventions and program evaluation to guide successful adoption of interventions.
Dr. Burgess said, “Our prior work with Tucson Fire Department revealed how important it was to understand how firefighters felt about the risk-management process and how the process affected their behaviors. Being able to understand what works and what doesn’t and responding appropriately will help ensure the interventions are acceptable and sustainable.”
Risk management is an internationally applied method to reduce critical hazards associated with fatalities and improve occupational operations to reduce injuries. The framework is widely adopted in Europe and Australia in both firefighting and mining industries, but is still rare in the United States. “In a prior study, we found that fire departments with the most advanced risk-management programs in the United Kingdom had injury rates four to 60 times lower than U.S., Australian, and Canadian fire departments,” said Dr. Burgess.
He says the new grant builds on a long history of firefighter safety and health research at the University of Arizona.
Dr. Burgess and his team include Dr. Keshia Pollack, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Dr. Dustin French, assistant professor at Northwestern University, and co-investigators Drs. Stephanie Griffin and Chengcheng Hu from the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. All of the investigators have collaborated on other National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-funded risk-management studies with the Tucson Fire Department and will continue to work together on this project.