The Raleigh Fire Department has a new division, and its job is to ensure the wellbeing and safety of department staff. One important part of the Health and Safety Compliance Division’s work is conducted by Incident Safety Officers (ISOs), who respond to a variety of emergency incidents.
“Investing in employee health, wellness and safety benefits everyone and it’s simply the right thing to do,” says Keith Wilder, battalion chief and commander of the new division. “Good health and safe practices contribute to maintaining affordable healthcare plans by reducing the frequency and cost for injuries. Safe practices also contribute to the reduction of vehicle accidents.”
Incident Safety Officers
This summer, three RFD members earned the basic job requirement, Incident Safety Officer certification, from the National Fire Academy. RFD placed its “Safety Officer 14” team in service in July.
This marks the first time in the department’s history that there is a full-time safety officer available for automatic dispatch to structure fires, and HAZMAT and technical rescue calls, Wilder says. A chief officer may also request the team to respond to other incident types. In addition, Safety Officer 14 complies with recommendations made by a consultant the City retained to complete an in-depth staffing study.
An incident commander has a significant number of responsibilities, and scene and personnel safety is one of the most important ones. The addition of the new team will automatically delegate the safety responsibilities to a fire captain who has been trained to identify hazards and act preemptively to avoid injuries to residents and firefighters.
In their red vests the team is highly visible and mobile, especially on fire scenes. The ISOs position themselves wherever the greatest safety risk to firefighters exists. They communicate their observations of hazards to the incident commander on site and make recommendations.
ISOs also have the authority to immediately stop any hazardous activity without approval from the incident commander.
One of the ISOs’ specialized tools is the Fire Fighter’s Friend® exit locator device. It’s equipped with a strobe beacon and a siren. The device’s purpose is to help lost firefighters, equipped with a limited air supply, orient themselves toward an exit as quickly as possible. The device is placed just inside the threshold of a structure with the beacon flashing. If there is an order to evacuate, the siren will immediately be activated.
Captain Brian Taylor is excited to be a part of the launch of a new program. “I believe this program will have long-lasting benefits to the health and safety of our own members," he says.
Division’s Goal: Send Each Firefighter Back Home
The addition of the Health and Safety Compliance Division and the three ISOs demonstrate a commitment to ensure workplace safety. “This is just the beginning of an enhanced commitment that will guide RFD toward a greater health and safety consciousness,” says Wilder. “It’s up to each one of us to do whatever it takes to send each firefighter home to their family, in the same condition as when they reported for work.”
In the past, many health and safety efforts were implemented on an as-needed basis. The creation of the new division represents a significant financial investment by the Raleigh Fire Department and the City of Raleigh management team.
“We are not just a growing city – Raleigh is a city that’s striving to be the best at offering sustainable quality of life,” says Fire Chief Herbert Griffin. “That means updating the investment in our employees. Our commitment to employees’ health and safety cannot be over-emphasized.”
Incident Safety Only One Part
The division will have oversight on more than just incident safety, according to Wilder. “There are matters of physical and mental wellness we must also address. We’re still learning and building the ship, but it’s definitely sailing in the right direction.”