Improving the Health & Safety of all Emergency Responders

Submitted by Jeff Merryman, FDSOA Board member


Investing in safety pays dividends

Sam Reyes, Captain
City of Alexandria, VA, Fire Department

As a leader and trendsetter in the health and safety field, the City of Alexandria, VA, Fire Department (AFD) sent eight members to the 2018 FDSOA Safety Forum conference last January in Scottsdale, AZ. Sponsoring members to attend the FDSOA Safety Forum is a true testament of the commitment AFD Fire Chief Robert C. Dubé has towards health and safety.

AFD was the first in our area to adopt initiatives such as a health and safety review committee where accident and injuries get reviewed by peers. We also implemented the use of drive cams for the protection of our members, the use of the Industry Safe software for tracking trends in accident and injuries, deployment of a fireground decon kit and multiple stand-alone policies specific to the realm of health and safety.

Through a competitive process I was honored to be selected as one of the members sponsored to attend the Safety Forum. The main purpose for my participation at the conference was to complete the Pro Board Incident Safety Officer train-the-trainer class. By completing this certification, I will be able to give back to my fire department by helping train future Health Safety Officers (HSO). In addition to the HSO train-the-trainer class, I was able to attend break out sessions dealing with the latest fire service hot button topics such as Cancer and Firefighters, PPE and Particulate Hazards, Investigating Safety Related Incidents and a lecture on The Safety Climate.

Other perks of attending the conference were the opportunity to listen to updates about the current safety research being conducted by Dan Madrzykowski, and a great motivational speech by Bobby Halton. On two of the mornings before the sessions began, members of the local Phoenix Fire Department hosted a fitness workout session. They wanted members of other fire departments to try a specific workout they had just instituted in their fire department to get an opinion as to whether we thought it was relevant to the job.

Besides the educational opportunities and updates on the latest fire service safety hot topics, having the ability to network with other FDSOA members from across the U.S. and Canada is always one of my highlights. Not to mention the great accommodations and amenities of the conference venue in Scottsdale.

Although fire departments across the U.S. and Canada do things quite differently when it comes to incident response, have different staffing models and have their own individual budget challenges we all face the same health and safety related issues and we all have different ways of addressing them. This conference offers an opportunity to see how others deal with the same issues we deal with on our own departments, allows us to share policies with others so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and it gives us the opportunity to build friendships, some that will last for years to come.

At this year’s conference I learned about new cancer reducing initiatives some departments are putting in place such as having drivers wear SCBA’s while at the scene of a working fire. This decision is based on studies made where air samples have been shown to contain large number of cancer causing particulates on the exterior of a working fire structure. In some cases these readings contained higher cancer causing particulates than that of some of the interior locations inside the fire building.

Another take home lesson for me was not to unclip my SCBA as soon as I walk out of the fire building.  During the PPE and Particulate Hazards hot session, I learned that a good practice is to stay on air until members of the crew are able to gross decon each other using whatever method have been made available for that purpose. One additional good practice is to avoid asking the driver or anyone not in PPE to do the gross decon so as to not expose them to those same cancer causing particulates. This is just one example of a good practice I brought back to my department and that I have now put into practice with my own crew and will continue to share with others.

Other opportunities made available as part of the conference were the chance to learn about the Drexel University Safety Climate survey and how the information is used by the departments which participate, the chance to look at the different products made available by the different vendors and also the chance to learn about new techniques using thermal imagers. The conference was well organized, there was a table with all sorts of books for sale related to health and safety, a table with FDSOA swags for sale and on top of that the conference staff was friendly and helpful. Breakfast and gourmet style lunches were provided each day.

I highly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend an FDSOA conference to do so, whether at the Scottsdale or Orlando location. The monetary investment is well worth it. The knowledge that is acquired at this conference is invaluable and the networking fosters relationships that will help in the development of one’s career for years to come. On top of that, all of the material presented at the conference is shared on the association’s website via Dropbox– free of charge.

I’m looking forward to what the next conference, Orlando, January 21-24, 2019, will have to offer and look forward to making more memories with my friends from the safety community in U.S. and Canada.


Sam Reyes is an 18-year member of the Alexandria, Virginia, Fire Department. He is currently an Engine 203 A shift company officer and holds the rank of Captain. Sam serves as back-up Shift Safety Officer, Station Manager, Coordinator of the departments health and wellness workgroup, and is the program manager for the department’s Inland Water Rescue group.