Yesterday, the IAFC was notified that the federal Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) program funding that supported the internationally acclaimed National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System was not renewed. The system, which has become a staple in local fire department's daily safety resources, national data collection and college-level fire sciences class curriculum, will be cut off as soon as this Friday, September 28. The IAFC is working with program partners and others to save the cache of invaluable data compiled by responders throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"When the IAFC started this program, we were creating something completely unique that took on firefighter line-of-duty deaths head-on and at their root," said Chief Hank Clemmensen, IAFC president and chairman of the board. "At the time, we didn't know if it would work, but we took the risk because we believed that chiefs and front-line responders, working collectively, could make a difference. It's unfathomable that now that we have proven results, the peer reviewers didn't believe in it."
The IAFC had been awaiting the results of the most recent peer-review process, and official word finally arrived that future grant funding would not be forthcoming.
"The IAFC is a staunch supporter of AFG. We fought for its creation and continue to lead efforts to make sure those funds exist to support local programs and ensure the peer-review process stays in place," continued Clemmensen. "But, it's a bitter pill to know that members of the fire and emergency service placed such a low value in a program that empowers all local responders, benefits all departments and directly contributes to the reduction of all line-of-duty deaths."
The National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System, which has earned the support of 13 partner organizations and countless testimonials from all walks of the fire service, was created as a free, voluntary, confidential, nonpunitive and secure reporting system to improve firefighter safety by providing lessons learned to local departments.
"Losing the ability to collect safety data on this scale is hard to believe, but what's particularly devastating is the loss of the ability for fire departments to pull the analyzed data back out and put it to use in their communities," said Matt Tobia, chair of the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section and a member of the Near-Miss Advisory Committee. "The word 'system' is the most critical part of the program's name. Our concern is not about the IAFC losing a grant; it's about the fact that the fire and emergency service has lost a system of things it can't afford to: confidential, nonpunitive reporting; collection of national data; access to that data; packaged reports on trends and lessons learned; training curriculum—all gone."
Based on a similar program in the aviation industry, the Near-Miss program quickly outpaced the air-industry counterpart in both the amount of data being collected and the number of tools to provide both raw and aggregated data back to the community. It became a national model in its own right, sharing its successful models with other industries. In 2009, it was recognized nationally with the Paul S. Sarbanes Fire Service Safety Leadership Award, presented by the Congressional Fire Service Institute.
Just this summer, the Near-Miss program celebrated the posting of the 5,000th report and a nationwide survey in which 73% of respondents said that reviewing near-miss reports influenced how they approached their jobs and 35% changed their written operating guidelines based on near-miss reports.
While Near-Miss is one of many programs that contribute to national reduction of line-of-duty deaths, it's approach that empowers responders with a voice and officers with data and resources was widely credited with leading a grassroots, cultural change.
"This program has allowed the fire and emergency service to come so far in reducing line-of-duty deaths and we're going to take aggressive action to be sure fire departments don't lose that ground," said Mark Light, IAFC CEO and executive director. "We'll be working to understand what areas the reviewers perceived as deficient and what we can do to come back with a strong proposal for future funding."
Watch for continued updates on www.iafc.org.