The Bryan County Emergency Services took part in the International Fire and EMS Safety and Health Week, which ended Saturday.
The event, sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Volunteer Fire Council, encourages fire departments to suspend all non-emergency activity during the week to focus on safety and health training and education. An entire week is provided to ensure each shift and duty crew can spend at least one day focusing on these critical issues.
“Each year the in the United States, the fire and EMS service experiences an average of 100 line-of-duty deaths each year. We have to change this and through training, health and safety we can,” Bryan County Emergency Services Chief Freddy Howell said.
All emergency response functions will continue as usual during this week. It is only non-emergency activity, such as routine facility maintenance, that is suspended. All training hours are specifically focused on health and safety issues.
The number of line-of-duty deaths in the United States has declined in recent years, in part because of awareness and training programs like this one. However, according to data collected by the National Fire Protection Association, stress, exertion and other medical-related issues, which usually result in heart attacks or other sudden cardiac events, continue to account for the largest number of fatalities.
This year’s international effort is designed to capture the importance of responders taking responsibility for looking out for their own and each other’s mental and physical well-being. Participating departments are encouraged to develop a week-long training program that focuses on a variety of issues that address their specific needs and environment.
BCES Deputy Operation Chief/Training Officer Joe Howard said one of the issues the department has been focusing on during this week is the five-step plan to get healthy, which includes: Understand the Risks, Get Support, Make a Plan, Take Action and Live Life.
A major focus of the campaign will be behavioral-health issues, a topic that many still see as taboo in the hard-charging world of emergency response, but one many departments are struggling with.
“Our responders are under unprecedented pressure,” IAFC President Hank Clemmensen said. “It’s time we have some unprecedented conversations about how that impacts our health.”
“The mental and emotional well-being of our first responders is as important as their physical health,” NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg said. “It is time we recognize that these issues have a critical impact on health and safety, and ignoring this puts our personnel at risk. The fire-service community needs to understand these issues and remove the barriers to meeting the behavioral health needs of personnel.”