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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It Was Not About The Money

This story is a bit like a snowball that was set in motion by a series of events and the right people coming together at the right time.

Event #1. Neighboring fire departments were trying to develop a common RIT (Rapid Intervention Team) bag that could be used by any department at a fire requiring mutual aid. (For those unfamiliar with RIT, it is the team of firefighters who are assigned to stand by to rescue a firefighter in distress or respond to a mayday call at a fire.)

Eden Prairie Fire Department air pack being scanned into the tracking system.
Event #2. Those discussions progressed to thoughts that a common brand of air pack would seem to make sense, as these departments use “mutual aid’ with each other frequently. Each department had a different brand of air pack and some were very loyal to their brand. 
Event #3. In the words of Eden Prairie’s Assistant Fire Chief Steve Koering: “We needed to get out of the air pack business.” The demands for certification and training of department technicians—coupled with the ongoing demand for tracking and accountability—sent a clear message that they needed to focus on their core competencies. This responsibility, along with the shared risk, could be transferred to a manufacturer who understood the issues and would create a best practices solution.

Event #4. “We saw this as an opportunity to capitalize on the reduced risk while promoting shared services,” Minnetonka’s Fire Chief Joe Wallin added.  Several departments—including Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park and Hopkins—worked with the Minnetonka and Eden Prairie City Attorneys to create a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) for the purpose of buying a common air pack and wrapping the air pack maintenance into the agreement with the manufacturer. The JPA group worked hard in uncharted waters over a 4-year period to achieve the results realized today. The firefighters quickly overcame their apprehension of switching brands of air packs and saw the benefits of collaborative technology. Now bar coding and scanning—tied to a web-based application that tracks the history of every unit in service from the time the pack is delivered until it ultimately is replaced or upgraded—is the method for managing this important information. 

Minnetonka firefighters with turnout gear and air packs purchased through the JPA.

Event #5. The group has continued to expand in scope and membership. It now has 20 members, with six more in the process of joining. One of the new members is in far western Minnesota. The power of the JPA can now be used for any public safety equipment. Current agreements exist for SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), turnout gear, hose testing, and station uniforms. Thoughts of adding ladder testing and annual physicals are on the horizon. Members can access the services they need within the JPA contracts and can actively participate as members of its Operating Committee. 

The SW Metro JPA is about: responsible government, employee safety, accountability, and interoperability. It is not about the money.

So what about the money then? Ultimately, working together like this saves money in both the long and the short run as well—and there is no cost to join.

For more information, contact Steve Koering at (952) 949-8338 or


Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next time…"HOT HOT HOT—Summer’s Here!"
In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.

Monday, June 4, 2012

They Could See It Coming—A New Way of Doing Business, Reducing Training Injuries

A TSO observing Cannon Falls active shooter response training.

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) is asking our public safety departments to begin using safety officers while they are engaged in active training. Training accidents account for 17% of our work comp injuries on the fire side and 20% on the police side.

The Loss Control team believes that a safety officer can maximize the control that exists in the training environment—and this concept can reduce training injuries. Key to the safety officer concept is the teamwork between the safety officer and the trainer.

The Basics
1.     Every active training session should have a specifically designated training safety officer (TSO).
2.     The safety officer should be designated well in advance of the training (i.e. avoid making the last person who shows up the safety officer).
3.     Prior to the training, the TSO should meet with the trainer and they should “game plan” the safety issues that may arise. Often trainers will remember from the last few years exactly when/where someone got hurt.
4.     This meeting could be supplement by the use of LMCIT’s “checklist”
5.     At the training, the TSO should provide a safety briefing to participants. The safety briefing should cover vital safety information such as the EMS plan, the required PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and safety issues specific to that training session.
A TSO watches New Prague police on the range.
6.     The TSO should be highly visible (as pictured, we used reflective vests).
7.     TSOs should avoid being involved in the training or helping out as a trainer. Their focus is preventing injuries. They need to see the big picture while the trainer concentrates on the details.
8.     Safety officers should have the authority to stop training, and should frequently confer with the main trainer and pass on their observations of the training session.

The police departments from Cannon Falls, Lino Lakes, and Woodbury volunteered to test the concept. Their officers took this framework, tailored it to their training, and found that it works. The TSO program is not about watering down training; it is about getting ahead of problems. 

After Action Review
1.     The safety officers had the “big picture” and monitored the whole session.
2.     The Safety Briefing set the tone for the day.
3.     The officers understood the role of the safety officers and were aware of their presence (the brightly colored vest didn’t hurt).
4.     The safety officers never stopped the training sessions—because they didn’t need to stop the training. As one safety officer said, “I could see it coming.”
5.     There were no injuries, no near misses, and no close calls.

The safety officers saw problems developing while they were in the initial stages (and prior to any injuries). Since they knew the lesson plan, they could spot “off-script behavior” early—and every time they informed the trainer, who got things back on track.

The Training Safety Officer (TSO) program was rolled out for police at the Loss Control Workshops around the state. If you were not able to attend, please call and I will get you the materials.

We have one fire department that has volunteered to be a test site for the fire side of this program. We are looking for a couple more volunteers. This really is just an expansion of what many of you are already doing—so please call or e-mail me if you are interested.

It is a new way of doing business, and it works!


Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next time…"It was not about the money" (wrapping the maintenance of equipment—like air packs, turn out gear, and ladders—back to the manufacturer).

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.