The Culture of Safety May Prevent Firefighter Injuries and Casualties

In order to improve on-the-job safety for firefighters, Drexel University was awarded a three-year, $1 million fire prevention and safety grant.

The award, from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), builds on an existing FEMA-funded project at Drexel (FIRST) researching and developing the components of a national firefighter non-fatal injury data system. Both efforts are led by Dr. Jennifer A. Taylor, an assistant professor in Drexel’s School of Public Health.

Taylor and collaborators plan on developing a survey to measure the safety climate with this new grant. The survey is imperative in gauging the strength of an organization’s culture of safety in order to help improve it. After developing this survey, Taylor’s team will need to make sure the survey is freely available to fire departments across the nation. Researchers will then be able to measure a department’s safety climate before and after implementing safety-related interventions, to determine whether an effort to improve safety culture has been effective.

Safety culture among firefighters has been noted as a major gap in firefighter safety knowledge by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). There are 70-80 firefighter deaths in the line of duty each year, according to NFFF. Nonfatal injuries among the nation’s 1.2 million firefighters are much more common, with estimates numbering in tens of thousands.

Taylor’s research team will conduct focus groups and individual interviews with firefighters to rigorously develop survey items specific to the firefighting industry. The resulting survey will be administered to a geographically stratified random sample of U.S. fire departments. The survey results will be examined for the strength of their association with firefighter injuries.

The project will be guided by academic and community partners including an advisory council comprising career and volunteer fire service leaders representing NFFF, the International Association of Fire Fighters, National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Fire Chiefs, FireRescue Magazine and The Secret List, who will advise the project team regarding research site recruitment, survey item development, and dissemination of the project results and survey.

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