Improving the Health & Safety of all Emergency Responders

We Need an Incident Safety Officer More Today Than Ever Before

03/07/2019

By Rich Marinucci

The role of safety officer has grown in importance in recent years as our information base relative to the health and safety risks today’s firefighters face has increased. The sources of these increased hazards include, among various others, changes in construction materials and those used in home furnishings, new technology, and the role of carcinogens encountered in firefighting and related tasks in the development of cancer.

It follows, then, that there is a growing need on the fireground/emergency site for an officer dedicated solely to identifying hazards and evaluating risks and shielding their crews from them. That person is the Incident Safety Officer (ISO). Actually, the role of the ISO has evolved to the point where progressive departments consider it an essential position and important that the individual be properly credentialed and trained.

The most important responsibilities of an ISO are to eliminate and minimize the unnecessary risks of the job so that everyone goes home at the end of the shift or callback and does not suffer any undo hardships that would affect quality of life when they leave the fire service. The latter especially involves minimizing exposure to toxins and substances proven to be carcinogens and to ensure the implementation of best practices that can help prevent overexertion and cardiovascular events. Not all hazards can be eliminated, but exposures can be reduced.

The escalating potential dangers for today’s firefighters mandate that every firefighter, regardless of rank, be prepared to address the risks of the job, and especially to recognize and avoid those that are unnecessary. ISOs are on the lookout for these preventable hazards and provide valuable intelligence to the incident commander (IC). They need to view fires from a different perspective. They no longer are part of the overall tactics used to suppress the fire; they function as the risk manager for the IC.

The FDSOA ISO Academy, recognizing the need to enhance the skills, knowledge, and abilities of an ISO, has added to its Academy curriculum the topics of reading smoke, buildings, firefighters, risk, and hazardous energy (based on the third edition of Dave Dodson’s Incident Safety Officer. Students will become familiar with these concepts through case studies. This course has been delivered in large and small departments around the world, and it has been well received.

The ISO’s responsibilities and job requirements are outlined in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1521, Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer Professional Qualifications, 2015 ed. (the standard will be revised in 2020). ISOs who wish to stay on top of their profession must constantly upgrade their knowledge and the required credentials. Among the criteria prospective ISOs must meet are (1) certification as a Fire Officer I, (2) a minimum of five years on the job, (3) and the abilities to meet the job performance requirements cited in the standard. Aspirants are encouraged to begin preparing for the position as soon as they qualify and to build a knowledge base related to risk/benefits analyses. Candidates must pass the ProBoard examination (written test and practical skills) for ISO. The FDSOA two-day ISO Academy at FDIC International prepares candidates for the exam.

If you are attending FDIC International 2019, you will find all the information you need about the position of ISO. Chief (Ret.) Richard Marinucci, education director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association; Battalion Chief Eric Valliere, Scottsdale (AZ) Fire Department, vice-chair of the FDSOA Board; and Chief Shadd Whitehead, Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue, will conduct the FDSOA Incident Safety Officer Academy on Monday and Tuesday, April 8-9, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Lucas Oil Meeting Rooms 10-12.

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