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Monday, December 29, 2014

Railroad 101: “A Train Wreck”

Communication with the railroad is critical to everyone's safety.
Occasionally first responders describe a recent call as “a train wreck.” Of course typically they were not referring to an actual problem with a railroad, but rather they are referring to a car crash, fire scene, hazmat scene, or tactical operation. The term has come to mean a complicated, serious, difficult, and dangerous call that taxed the responder’s abilities to safely handle it.

CP Rail held two of their “Railroad 101” classes at the SCALE Training Center near Jordan recently, and the attendees learned about handling real train wrecks, as well as other emergencies on the railroad right-of-way. Ed Dankbar, a HazMat Field Specialist for CP Rail, walked the class through how railroads work and what the responders needed to know to operate safely around trains and on railroad property. The content shared was a mixture of new information, as well as a reinforcement for existing protocols of situational awareness, communication, incident command, pre-planning, and importance of scene size-up.

A Union Pacific Crossing ID number.
Communication of Location
One of the key takeaways from the class was the importance of quickly letting the railroad know the location of the incident—in railroad terms. Telling them “County Road 10 at the tracks” is not very helpful, nor is the number on the locomotive. Instead, the class covered where to find the “DOT Crossing Location Numbers” and mile posts, and how to communicate that to the railroad so they can stop other rail traffic in the area and respond to the incident with their resources.

Mr. Dankbar explained the importance of first responders using their four gas meters to determine if there is anything in the air that is hazardous. The meter can provide the IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) numbers for four common gases.

There was information on how to find and read the “waybills” to learn what materials are in what cars on the train. The class covered locomotives, brake systems, couplings, and all types of rail cars, including pressure and non-pressure tank cars. It covered how the railroad handles hazardous materials and outlined the expected response from the railroads in a serious emergency.

The class asked questions, and all of them volunteered to stay after the class ended to learn more about the emergency response and equipment available from the railroad. It was an excellent course, and it gave the responders the knowledge on how to safely manage an emergency scene involving a railroad.

If you would like a similar course in your area, you can contact:

CP Rail Community Connect


                                    Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up Next…Envelope Stuffing: The LMCIT Dividends Have Been Mailed!

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Meet Our New Public Safety Specialists!

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) recently welcomed two new members to the Loss Control team. They both bring experience, training, and a knowledge of cities with them as they move into their new roles assisting our members in reducing losses. Tracy and Troy will apply their wealth of experience in the areas of public safety and public works to their duties as field representatives.

Tracy Stille
Tracy recently retired from the Maple Grove Police Department where he served in a variety of positions, including patrol officer, investigator, patrol sergeant, emergency response unit team leader, sergeant of investigations, services captain, and patrol captain. Previously he served with several rural police departments in McLeod and Sibley Counties and was also employed as a special deputy with the Sibley County Sheriff’s Office. 

Tracy has a Master of Science degree in criminal justice from St. Cloud State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in law enforcement from Mankato State University. His training also includes numerous executive level management and leadership development courses. Tracy is a certified emergency manager through the MN Department of Public Safety, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He grew up on a rural farm in McLeod County.

Tracy started with the League of Minnesota Cities on November 17 and will be working as a Loss Control Consultant covering the Northeast Region of Minnesota.

Troy Walsh
Troy is a state-certified Firefighter 1 & 2 with 16 years of service in the City of Victoria Fire Department and is the current Assistant Fire Chief and Fire Marshal. He is also state-certified as a Fire Instructor, Fire Officer, and a Public Fire Educator. Troy holds an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science Technology from Hennepin Technical College. He is also a Hazardous Materials Technician and a member of the Carver County Hazardous Materials Group. Troy is a National Registry Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

For the past 14 years, Troy worked in the Public Works Department in Victoria. He most recently oversaw the Streets and Storm Water Divisions. He was a member of the city safety committee and oversaw the safety training and safety policies for the City of Victoria. He holds a Class-D Water License from the Minnesota Department of Health and a Class-SC Wastewater License from Minnesota Pollution Control. He will receive his Road Scholar Certification from Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program or MnLTAP in May of 2015.

Troy was born, raised, and still resides in the southwest metro community of Victoria. He has a long history with the community and its city departments.

Troy started with the League of Minnesota Cities on November 17 and will be working as a Loss Control Consultant covering the Southwest Region of Minnesota.


                                                 Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…First Responders Take Railroad 101

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Empty Boots and Quiet Sirens: Some Hard Numbers

There are fewer volunteer and paid-on-call firefighters in Minnesota. A recent study by graduate students at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute put some hard numbers to what is happening. The study is entitled “Empty Boots and Quiet Sirens.” It reminded me of the phrase, “What if you had a fire and nobody came?” The retention and recruitment of firefighters in Minnesota is a developing issue.

The study looks at the number of firefighters in the state between 2008-2012 and reports that 56% of Minnesota’s counties had a reduction in the number of volunteer and paid-on-call firefighters. Ninety percent of those counties were outside of the metro area, and 77% of the fire relief associations that serve communities with populations of less than 4,000 reported a 10% reduction in their number of firefighters.

The report contains three major findings:
  1. Retention and recruitment of firefighters is a local problem requiring local solutions and resources.
  2. Rural areas are more likely to experience difficulty recruiting and retaining firefighters.
  3. Additional information is needed at the state level in order to provide the most impactful support to local communities.
Some of the factors coming together that are contributing to the problem are the volunteers’ desire for a greater work-life balance, the increased training requirements, department leadership challenges, and the state’s shifting demographics. One of the subheadings of the study sums it up nicely: “A valuable service in danger.”

The full study—including a comparison with neighboring states—can be found online here:

                                          Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Meet the New Loss Control Team Members

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Helpful Training Links

A New “Did You Know” Video—Domestic Violence
The California POST Board has released a new video as part of their “Did You Know” training series. The video, entitled “Domestic Violence,” looks at the contributing factors that are below the surface on many of these calls and that can make an officer’s investigation difficult. The training can either be viewed online or downloaded. Here is the link to “Domestic Violence” and to the rest of the Cal-POST online video resources:

“Modern Fire Dynamics”: The New ALIVE Fire Training
“They were doing what we had trained them to do.” Those are the words of a fire commander that narrates part of the new ALIVE online training for firefighters, entitled “Modern Fire Dynamics.” He was describing how using traditional tactical decisions while fighting a house fire almost killed seven of his firefighters. Actual case histories are backed up with the new, ongoing research from New York University as to how structures actually burn and how the petroleum-based contents of our structures further makes the traditional tactics dangerous. The online technology flows smoothly as the student answers questions and learns the science, including the science of their turnout gear and when it will fail. This training will save lives, and it is free. Here’s the link:

LMC Memo on Computer Networks and Loss Control
The League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) has a new memo that was just posted online. This all-encompassing memo covers the risks associated with storing and sharing city data on computers. It also addresses how cities can protect themselves from data breaches, virus contamination, hacker attacks, and computer misuse by employees. It covers the issues presented by social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. And there are links to a model employee computer policy. Here’s the memo:


                                           Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Empty Boots and Quiet Sirens. The University Of Minnesota Humphrey School Of Public Affairs puts statistics to the decreasing number of volunteer and paid on call firefighters in our state.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Drones—Coming to a Squad Car Near You

A DJI Phantom Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).
Last year during the LMCIT spring workshops, we offered a course entitled "Keeping the Horse in Front of the Cart: How to Stay Compliant in a World of Rapidly Changing Technology." At the end of the presentation, we showed a photograph of a small drone and joked that "at next year's 2015 workshops, we would probably include a model policy for law enforcement's use of drones." The officers chuckled, but it appears our attempt at humor may have foretold the very near future.

To get up to speed, you may want to view a
31-minute webcast from the University of North Dakota Department of Aerospace Center for Unmanned Aviation Systems (UAS). The webcast is entitled "Small UAS and Law Enforcement."

In the webcast, Assistant Professor Al Frazier predicts that police officers with UAS may soon be used similarly to canine officers. It is likely that when a police officer or fire commander needs an overhead view of a call, or needs to improve their situational awareness, they will call for a "drone car." The officer or the firefighter will respond and launch a small UAS with an on-board camera to get an eye in the sky and look for the lost child, find the suspect who fled on foot, or fly over the hazardous materials spill or large wild land fire.

There may be other municipal uses for UAS, including assisting in special event planning and damage assessments after a severe storm. The technology is here, and with UAS incidents regularly making headlines—and with the FAA and others sorting out how they are regulated—we may indeed have the horse in front of the cart for a while. There are also privacy concerns being raised as this new technology is being rolled out.

It appears that UAS may be a
public safety tool in the near future.
Currently a fire department, police department, or city needs to obtain a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA to operate a UAS. The certificate determines who can pilot the craft, the training requirements, the conditions for flight, the flight area, the hours of operation, and the reporting requirements.

It is critical that cities obtain the certificate before beginning UAS operations. It is expected that the FAA will release more rules and regulations by the end of the year. We will be following this as it develops.


Remember: Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next...More Online Resources and A New "Did You Know" Video.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful,


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Fall Fire Workshops

The Bemidji class was held at the Sanford Center.
The instructor’s voice got louder as he quickly said, “Conditions change suddenly, and you see thick, black, heavy, angry, fast-moving smoke pushing all the way down to the floor, you can’t see anything, and the heat feels like knives going into your body! What is going on?” A voice from the back of the class shouts out: “Pre-flashover!” Dr. Richard Gasaway’s voice is getting louder as he quickly comes back with, “Yes! What do you do?” The class answers: “Get out!” Dr. Gasaway shouts, “Get out! Get out! Get out!”

The “flashover” that was about to occur is when all of that thick, black smoke explodes into fire and becomes fatal to firefighters. That type of smoke is enriched with hydrocarbons and is as explosive as gasoline.

The firefighters attending the class watched a video of other firefighters making an entry into a house that is on fire. They watched as the smoke changed, and the fire commander missed the change because he was on the front porch helping to advance the hose to the crew inside. Thirty-four seconds after the smoke changes, the house explodes into flames. In this class, no one asked what happened to the firefighters inside. They knew.

Dr. Gasaway with firefighters in St. Cloud.
The above class was one of the just-concluded fire workshops entitled Fireground Safety—10 Frequent Mistakes and 10 Best Practices. The workshops were held in Slayton, Morris, St. Cloud, Crookston, Bemidji, and Sandstone. Dr. Gasaway has studied more than 500 fire ground fatalities, and this class comes from his research and from his 30 years of experience in fire departments.

The ten mistakes he reviewed included: performing high-risk activities without proper staffing, the person in charge performing hands-on activities, failing to know when to be defensive, failure to do a 360-degree walk around before committing crews to an interior attack, shortcuts in training, and missed communications or misunderstood communications. On that last subject, Dr. Gasaway used his training in cognitive neuroscience to explain why a fire chief or firefighter at a fire may not hear a radio transmission: their brains and hearing are overloaded with input, and some of the messages are “lost.”

The final hour of the class targeted ten best practices that matched up with the ten mistakes—and these best practices don’t cost anything. This was simply about doing things differently.

One last observation: the class lasted four hours, beginning at 5:30 p.m.—and no one left any of the classes early. No one.


                                                 Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Drones—Coming to a Squad Car Near You

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The “New” Fire Memo

The old memos were good, but they
were a handful to keep organized.

For many years, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) has distributed “the packet” of fire department memos to fire chiefs, firefighters, and city officials who had questions. The packet contained 22 individual documents on over 50 pages in a plastic folder. While the information was very helpful, it was not organized.

These packets no longer exist. All of that information is now online and is consolidated into a revised memo entitled “Fire Department Management and Liability Issues.” In addition to the updated information, the new memo has links to additional information and references.

You can find the memo on the LMC website in the Resource Library at:

A few examples from this newly consolidated memo:
  • Chapter 2 is entitled “Managing City Fire Department Employees.” It is full of good human resources information on the topics of hiring, discipline, alcohol response policies, and code of conduct.
  • Chapter 4’s focus is on managing fire department finances. It covers charging for fire calls, contracting for service, compensating firefighters, and even fundraisers and donations.
  • There is also a chapter on safety. It includes a revised version of the memo “Trends in Firefighter Injuries”. It looks at the number, type, and location of firefighter injuries—as well as “Loss Control Recommendations” for fitness, economics, and training. There are chapters on fire department consolidations, NFPA standards, and managing fire relief associations as well.
It is all online, available when you want it, and will be updated as needed. 


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…A report from the fire workshops.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Not All Runs Are Emergencies—A Graduated Response

The Coon Rapids Fire Department is now
using a graduated response to calls.
The newspaper article focused on Coon Rapids Fire Chief John Piper’s decision to no longer respond to all fire alarms by sending fire trucks to them with their red lights or sirens on (Code 3) unless the alarm is accompanied by a report of smoke, odor, and any other signs of trouble. Instead, a truck will respond routinely.

Chief Piper cited the risks for the public and firefighters every time a fire truck goes on emergency response and the large number of fire alarms that are false. In Coon Rapids’ case, it had been more than two years since a fire alarm was actually reporting a fire.

When I asked Chief Piper about his decision, he quickly noted that many of the Anoka County fire departments had already adopted this policy and that they were just the latest to make this change. He directed me to Nyle Zikmund, the fire chief for the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View (SBM) Fire Department.
Spring Lake-Blaine-Mounds View
Fire Chief Nyle Zikmund

Zikmund said SBM started making this change 15 years ago. At SBM, many of these alarm calls are handled by a duty chief who responds routine with a chiefs’ vehicle. Zikmund noted that the call can be upgraded to a full response at any point if additional information indicates an actual emergency.

He said his research indicated that less than 0.5% of the automated fire alarms are real fires—and added that it takes alarm companies more than two minutes to process the alarm information and notify the correct dispatch center. In other words, if it was a real fire, they would be getting 911 calls well before the automated alarm could be processed.

Zikmund said his decision was about safety and about managing resources. It is a “different mindset” and a “cultural change” that involves critical thinking as part of the response. He also noted that police departments have used a routine response to many automated alarms for years for exactly the same reason. At SBM, they have 15 years of experience and data and have not had a problem.

I noted that SBM Fire Department puts an explanation of their graduated response on their website: “While every call for emergency service is answered, the level of response is dictated by the nature and degree of the emergency. This results in a response that ranges from a phone call when time permits to all equipment and staff responding and if necessary, a mutual aid request.”


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…The old fire packets are gone—but the information has been updated, revised, and is now online.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fall Workshops

The registration is now open for the fall workshops, and classes are filling.

Back by popular demand is Fireground Safety—10 Frequent Mistakes, 10 Best Practices with Dr. Richard Gasaway. Dr. Gasaway will discuss common mistakes and best practices based on evaluations of near-miss reports and line-of-duty casualty investigations, and show how to improve fireground safety. The presentation will be offered in Slayton, Morris, St. Cloud, Crookston, Bemidji, and Sandstone. Class will start at 5 p.m., and the $15 charge includes a light dinner. For more information and registration, go to: 

Police Officers
We are bringing Randy Means back for the third year in a row and are still receiving positive comments from officers who attended his past workshops. Mr. Means will be presenting Police Leadership in the New Normal Part II. Join us at this intensive two-day workshop to learn how to create an organizational structure that includes consistent policies for the all the members of the leadership team. The $30 fee covers the working lunch for both days, and officers will receive POST credit. The course will be offered in Fergus Falls and in Maple Grove. For more information and registration, go to

Police Reports
Why Police Reports Are a Big Deal with Jason Hiveley is a one-day, hands-on workshop to improve police report writing. Mr. Hiveley presented a short version of this course at the spring workshops, and you asked for more. For police officers, a well-written report can be the key to a criminal conviction, a powerful defense in a civil case, and a very public example of an officer’s professionalism. Officers will learn practical tips and simple strategies for writing quality police reports. The course will be offered in Maplewood, Golden Valley, New Brighton, Lakeville, and Olivia. The $15 fee includes a working lunch, and officers will receive POST credit. For more information and registration, go to


                                        Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Fire departments using a graduated level of response—not all calls rate an emergency run.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

2014 LMC Law Summaries

A new law allows for first responders to administer
opiate antagonists to overdose patients.
The 2014 League of Minnesota Cities Law Summaries is out and available online. The annual publication highlights the new laws that were passed in the 2014 Minnesota Legislative Session. Here are a few that impact public safety:
  • A new statute authorizes public safety responders to administer “opiate antagonists” to overdose patients if authorized by the department’s medical director. It also provides some legal immunities for the patient or an individual who seeks medical help for the patient.

  • The time limit for officers to make a warrantless arrest for misdemeanor domestic assault was expanded from 24 hours to 72 hours.

  • Chapter 201 amends the forfeiture burden of proof by requiring a criminal conviction for judicial forfeiture of property associated with controlled substance offenses and vehicles used in drive-by shootings. 

  • Judges will now be ordering persons to turn
    in their firearms to local law enforcement.
  • There are new laws requiring the court to order persons subject to an order for protection to surrender their firearms to a
    federally licensed firearms dealer, a law enforcement agency, or a third party. The law also applies to persons convicted of domestic assault and stalking. In all of these cases, the judge may order the firearms to be turned over to the law enforcement agency for storage. The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association has a committee working on a model policy to assist their departments.

  • State statute 626A.42 now requires that a “tracking warrant” be obtained to acquire the location information of an electronic device. The statute defines the warrant requirements, exceptions, duration of the warrant, and the required reporting. 

  •  In an effort to respond to the retention and recruitment issues for many of the state’s volunteer emergency medical services and fire departments, there are now four regional pilot programs to fund $500 stipends to volunteers in those areas.

The last part of the document describes the bills that Did Not Become Law (DNBL). The DNBL section is popular, as these bills have a head start and almost certainly will be reintroduced in the next session. Bills that caught my eye in this section were the residential sprinkler requirements, traffic citation diversion programs, and classification of data from license plate readers.

You can find the 2014 LMC Law Summary online at:


                                          Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Fire and Police Fall Workshops

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Collaboration in the Cloquet Area

A collaboration between communities resulted in a fire district.
The roundtable discussion session at the League’s 2014 Annual Conference was titled “Public Safety Collaboration Models.” That afternoon it quickly became apparent that the attendees from around the state had done their homework as they discussed the complexities and the politics of merging, contracting, or collaborating with another municipality to provided EMS, fire, or police services.

They also knew that for many cities, the collaboration discussion was more about being able to provide quality and responsive emergency service than it was about saving money. The recruitment and retention issues for EMS and fire departments are real—as is maintaining safe staffing levels and dealing with officer turnover for the police departments.

One of the successful collaborations they discussed was the Cloquet Area Fire District. The fire district is the result of cities of Cloquet, Scanlon, and Peach Lake Township coming together to jointly provide fire and EMS service. The district has been operating since January 1, 2009 and received a 2013 Bush Foundation’s “Prize for Community Innovation.”

The fire district's headquarters are in Scanlon.
I spent a few hours this spring with Kevin Schroeder, the fire chief for the Cloquet Area Fire District. He walked me through their process for the collaboration and through the numerous issues they resolved. He said that the collaboration was not immediately more cost effective—as resources had to be realigned to serve the entire district—but they were able to provide an increased level of service both in response and prevention. The district has also been operating long enough that they are now realizing the cost savings.  

When our roundtable discussion concluded, I told the group that when I left Chief Schroeder’s office that day in April, I realized he had never used the pronoun “I.”

Here is link to a four-minute video on the District, as well as the District’s website:


                                       Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…The 2014 LMC Law Summaries—What Impacts Public Safety

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

100% - What’s On Your Sign?

The Mortenson sign.
What are YOUR 100% rules when it comes to safety?
I was intrigued by the sign at the Mortenson Construction site near our office. I was aware of the effectiveness of the Mortenson “Zero Injuries” Safety Program—and of their stretch and bend warm-ups that their workers must do twice a day. But I had not seen the 100% sign before.  

Seeing the sign got me asking: “What are the 100% safety rules for our EMS, fire, and police responders?” What has to be in place on every shift, on every run, or on every call? No exceptions—these are rules, and not guidelines. These rules are so firm that a coworker will call out another coworker if they are in violation.

Last Thursday night, I showed a photo of the sign to a group of firefighters gathered in Esko for training. They thought for a moment and came up with a few fire department-specific ideas. It also promoted discussion.

Your ideas?

What would this sign look like if it was hanging in your station? We would like to hear your 100% ideas. Please forward your thoughts, and we will compile a list of the responses. Send your 100% ideas to or (651) 281-1238.


                                             Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…The Collaboration in Cloquet.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Mat Room Improvements

The mat room at the Lino Lakes Police Department
features addtional safety measures like plywood
mounted behind the mats on the walls.
Training injuries—particularly during use of force or defensive tactics training—continues to be a leading area for police officer injuries both in Minnesota and nationally. Recently, two law enforcement training sites have updated and improved the safety of the mat rooms they use for this type of training. 

The Lino Lakes Police Department had been using a multi-purpose room for their training. It was time consuming to set up the room for training, as mats needed be brought in and positioned. Officer Steve Wagner said, “It’s tough to cover all the safety issues that multi-function rooms present, like covering up sharp edges and door handles.” The Lino Lakes Police Department’s new room is permanently set up, and their public works department added plywood to the walls and bracing in the corners to make the room safe and sturdy before the mats were hung up.

A video camera is mounted out of the way and monitors
the mat training room at the Lino Lakes PD.
The room also has a video camera mounted up and out of the way. Officer Wagner said, “The camera can be useful in reviewing the performance of the trainers and trainees if needed. We haven’t had any injuries, but if there is one—we can see what happened and hopefully prevent it from happening again. It also tends to keep the training atmosphere focused and professional knowing that it is being recorded. It keeps scenario training more ‘on script’ too.”  

The SCALE (Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency) Regional Public Safety Training Facility in Scott County also made an improvement to their mat room. Facility Director Mike Briese noted that “space was the biggest issue,” as the padded area of the mat room was too small for some of the use of force training and so created safety issues. The old mats were no longer adequate or sized properly for the room.

The remodeled mat room at the SCALE Training Facility.
The SCALE facility improved their mat room by making the room larger and by adding new and better padding to the floor and walls. This improved the safety of the training room and allows the instructors more options as to how they can use the room. “Our agencies are now able to create properly sized groups in a station training setting which is more conducive to learning,” said Briese.

Scenario-based training is here to stay because it works. The challenge for the instructors is to figure out how to make that training safe without watering down the content. Good-quality and properly sized mats, covering all of the hazards in the training room, and mounting a video camera are good risk management.


                                                    Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…The Mortenson 100% Project. What Would it Look Like for Public Safety?

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Culture: The Common Thread for These Resources

School Violence
The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training has released a new training video as part of their “Did You Know?” series. The new release, entitled “School Violence”, is a short video on the culture surrounding school violence. The professionally produced video is a great tool for School Resource Officers (SROs) working with schools, facilities, and parents—and is useful for shift briefings or roll-call trainings.

“School Violence” can be downloaded, and here’s the link:

The original Emmy-winning “Did You Know?” series is part of the Commission’s Safe Driving Campaign. They have added new videos and currently have five online with links to additional related trainings. Be sure to check out the latest, entitled “Conversations”—it’s all about the culture.

Here’s the link:

Fire Department Culture and Strategies
In a recent issue of the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Journal, columnist Ken Willette has an interesting article on fire department cultures and strategies. The article is titled “Pass the Syrup—A Fire Service Debate Illustrates the Idea of How Culture Can Eat Strategy for Breakfast.”

Here’s the link:

                                                Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Risk Management—Improving the Mat Room

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

IPAD Law Enforcement Data Workshop

During the just-completed spring Safety and Loss Control Workshops, there was discussion in the police track sessions about the value of the Law Enforcement Data Workshops sponsored by IPAD (the Information Policy and Analysis Division of the Minnesota Department of Administration).

It was just announced that the next course is on Wednesday, June 4 at their office in St. Paul. For more information—and to register—visit:

This course will fill up quickly.


                                                 Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…More “Did You Know?” as California shares their resources.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Role Players: Active Shooter Exercises and Mock Crashes

The 2014 Safety and Loss Control Workshops have concluded. We thank all of the approximately 1,200 attendees for their active participation and feedback.

Role players are a valuable training tool, but they must be
managed—especially when in a school setting.
One of the topics mentioned in the Training Safety Officer (TSO) course was the need to supervise and closely monitor role players in active shooter exercises—particularly when the exercise is held at a school. The topic became the subject of a couple of after-class discussions, as firefighters and police officers recounted incidents of role players going “off script.” The stories included incidents of this behavior happening at mock crash enactments as well, which are also sometimes conducted at schools.

There are multiple reasons why role players go off script—including boredom, inexperience, and (in some cases) a chance to perform in front of an audience. The reality is that off-script behavior does occur, and it needs to be managed. 

We encourage all departments involved in mock crashes or active shooter exercises this spring to be diligent about the use of safety officers. The lead instructor and the safety officer need to conduct a risk assessment of the exercise well ahead of the event, and they need cover the operational rules during their safety briefing.

Active shooter exercises and mock crashes will
require multiple safety officers.
Role players—particularly student role players—need to be carefully coached before the exercise and closely monitored during it. Consider assigning multiple safety officers to ensure that the role players do not start improvising.

You can control the human actions, and you can provide a safe environment for these events. Failure to control these exercises may have long-lasting repercussions for your city and/or your school district. If you want more information on the TSO program, contact me at


Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…IPAD's Law Enforcement Data Workshop

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Discussions at the Workshops: “Smartphones, Social Media, and Digital Cameras”

Both the fire and police tracks discuss smartphones,
social media, and digital camera issues.
The Safety & Loss Control Workshops are off and running. Consistent themes of discussion in both the fire and police track classes has been on the subject of smartphones, social media, and digital photos. The topic is formally on the agenda in both tracks, and the interest and discussion has been continuing well after class.

Litigation and Claims Special Counsel Jack Hennen addresses the subjects in his fire track presentation, “Avoiding the Big Hurt.” The subjects are also part of our human resources department’s presentation, “Avoiding the Burn—Hot HR Topics for Fire Departments.” In the police track, these subjects are part of “Keeping the Horse In Front of the Cart,” which deals with rapidly changing technology.

While each of these topics is different, there are four common themes among them:

#1. If the technology is used while working, it is most likely gathering government data. Body cameras, helmet cams, photos, text messages, and phone calls are all subject to the law. It does not matter who owns the device—it is all about the data. If it is work-related, it is government data.

#2. Government data must be maintained pursuant to the requirements of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. That includes storage, classification, and retention. Failure to follow the Act can result in adverse consequences for both the individuals involved and the city.

Jack Hennen instructs "Avoiding the Big Hurt" in Duluth.
#3. Before there is a release, dissemination, or posting of any government data or images, the department should consult with their “responsible authority” as defined in the Act.

#4. “Just because you can does not mean you should.” New information technology has made it very easy and fast to capture data, send data, and post data. The phrase “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” is an ethical reminder about gathering and handling data.

The League now has a model social media policy for fire departments. It is part of Jack’s presentation, and you can email me at if you would like a copy.

                                             Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…The Final Report for the 2014 Safety & Loss Control Workshops

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, April 7, 2014

The Conversation at Lunch: Body Armor on the Shooting Range

Shakopee officers put on body armor before heading
to the range at the SCALE Regional Training Center.
Does your police department require everyone on the shooting range to wear body armor? That was the conversation at lunch at one of the recent loss control workshops. The answer for a number of officers at the table was “no.”

“It’s crazy that we don’t,” was one of the remarks. Another officer added: “It’s the one day you know you are going to be around gunfire.” While range officers and safety officers do everything they can to prevent accidental discharges and they very rarely happen, they still do happen. We also have officers injured when a bullet strikes something in the backstop and pieces of it ricochet back at the officers. It happens.

The discussion began to focus on why? Some thought that because many of the officers are off duty and in civilian clothes, that somehow translates into the idea that they don’t need their vest. But body armor and shooting ranges go together, just like body armor and uniforms go together. 

Body armor needs to be mandatory for everyone at the range, and it needs to be a policy. If it is not department policy, make it your policy. On that we had complete agreement!


                                                    Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…More Conversation From the Workshops

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Annual Spring Loss Control Workshops

The LMCIT Spring Loss Control Workshops start March 25. This year, we are offering a full day of public safety training.

The morning Police Track will start with a workshop entitled “Keeping the Cart in Front of the Horse,” which will focus on managing changing technology. The session “Why Police Reports Are a Big Deal” will concentrate on police reports. This class has been requested by police administrators from around the state and will offer practical tips and simple strategies for writing quality police reports.

The Fire Track is back this year, offering firefighters an afternoon of sessions with very interesting titles: “Avoiding the Big Hurt,” “I Could See It Coming–The Training Safety Officer Program,” and “Avoid the Burn–Hot HR Topics for Fire Departments.”

The $20 registration fee includes course materials, snacks, and lunches. If you are attending one of the half-day sessions, you are welcome to attend any of the other courses being offered throughout the day.

Locations and Dates
March 25–Bemidji
March 26–Fergus Falls
April 2–Springfield
April 9–Duluth
April 16–Brooklyn Park
April 17–Rochester
April 22–St. Cloud
April 24–St. Paul

Register today at:


                                                      Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…A Report From the Workshops

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Perham Fire

Firefighters battled flames throughout the night.
It was interesting that almost all of the news reports covering the January 21 large potato warehouse fire in Perham mentioned the emphasis on firefighter safety. This quote from Fire Chief Mark Schmidt was typical of the on-scene coverage: "There's a lot of freezing water going on, so we want to make sure no one slips and falls and gets hurt.” And no one did get hurt.

The Numbers
The “numbers” make that accomplishment even more impressive. The firefighting efforts during this incident involved 17 fire departments, 130 firefighters, 17 water tankers, 3 ladder trucks, -20F temperature, and a gusty wind that drove the wind chills down to -30F. The responders also pumped 1.2 million gallons of water.

Communications and Coordination
Chief Schmidt added that communication went well and described how three radio channels were used to keep the operation coordinated. Due to the size and location of the warehouse, water had to be trucked in to crews working on one side of the building. The tanker operation needed to synchronize the truck’s movements with the fill and dump sites, while tankers were guided through heavy smoke and maneuvered into position. They were assigned their own radio talk group that functioned similarly to an airport flight control system. 

The chief cannot talk about the fire without crediting the good working relationship with the surrounding departments. He is also quick to thank and credit the county dispatchers, area law enforcement, the Perham hospital, the Salvation Army, and Bauck Busing for providing a bus for firefighter rehab.
Firefighters worked in brutal conditions with no injuries.

In an open letter of appreciation, the chief wrote: “Thanks to all the firefighters for staying disciplined and keeping safety in high regard. I’m very proud of the command staff that I had around me that night, and how well they did with giving me information so we could make decisions to best keep all fire operations running smoothly and safely.”

This fire serves as a good example as to how communication, cooperation, and coordination are linked to fire scene safety. Congratulations to the Perham-area public safety responders.


                                             Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…A Loss Control Workshops Preview

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Waves of Change and Preparing for the Future

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.John F. Kennedy

The traditional roles of police and fire are evolving.
Change is unsettling to many of us who work in public safety and risk management, and Minnesota’s public safety community is facing waves of change. The waves will be coming often, and the future may be a bit uncomfortable for a while.

The changes in the PERA police and fire retirement plan could cause as many as 15 percent of senior law enforcement personnel to retire between now and July 1. In addition to the loss of knowledge and experience, this will create a large workload for many background investigators and field training officers as new officers are hired and trained. Some departments may be operating shorthanded until the new recruits are on their own.

Retirement, demographics, and new tech are causing change.
The state’s firefighters are facing more change in the next five years than they have seen in the last 20. A number of issues, including the retention and recruitment of volunteer and paid on-call firefighters, is sparking new conversations about how to deliver fire services. Conversations about fire department mergers, consolidations, fire districts, and “auto aid” are increasing as they look at options for staffing their operations and even asking “does it matter what it says on the door of the truck?”

Population change and technology
Intermixed with all of this are the demographic changes occurring in the state. As Minnesota’s baby boomers retire, it is not only impacting the workforce but it is also affecting the call loads. For many cities the number of crimes and fire calls are down, but calls for service and medical emergencies are up.  As new cultures continue to gravitate to the state, reaching out to new populations requires different approaches to communication.

Technology and research continue to influence tactics and policies. The ongoing research into how structures burn is driving changes in firefighting tactics. I recently heard the phrase “hit it hard from the yard” as a new method of exterior attack was being discussed. New information technology and analytics for police will require increased diligence and time while these tools are assessed and new policies, procedures, and training are implemented.  

It is interesting that President Kennedy’s quote from June 1963 applies so well today. Change is the law of life. It may sound trite but departments that actively manage and prepare for these waves of change will best be able to benefit from the opportunities that are in the future.


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next ... A large fire, 17 fire departments, 130 firefighters and no injuries: Perham’s potato warehouse fire.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The IACP Reducing Officer Injuries Final Report

The International Association of Chiefs of Police, (IACP) has released the final report of their police officer line-of-duty injuries study. Eighteen agencies from around the country contributed their data to the study. The Chaska and Duluth police departments, as well as the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol, participated in the project.

The Monetary Impact
The one year of data reported 1,295 officer injuries that resulted in 5,938 work days missed. Those days totaled $1,211,352 in lost time plus another $1,817,028 in overtime for cover assignments. If you are doing the math, that is more than $3 million dollars—and it does not include the cost of medical treatments and rehab.

The Findings
First, the report shows the value of closely tracking and investigating officer injuries. Patterns and trends were spotted as the data was analyzed. Here are a few observations:

  • Findings showed that certain groups of officers were more likely to experience injuries, including officers in the first five years on the job and officers that were overweight.
  • Offenders with prior contact with law enforcement caused more severe injuries to officers than those with no prior contact.
  • Police encounters with suspects under the influence of drugs or alcohol resulted in more severe officer injuries.
  • Officer training efforts in the areas of arrest procedure, tactics, and use of force resulted in fewer officer injuries.
  • The findings showed the hard numbers for seat belt use, squad car speed, and officer fitness programs.

Page 10 of the report begins to address the issue of training injuries. The study showed that the use of a “safety lecture” before training decreased those injuries by 41%. That finding is consistent with the experience of the LMCIT Training Safety Officer (TSO) program, which uses a “safety briefing” prior to training.

The report also validates much of the anecdotal knowledge about line-of-duty injuries and is consistent with LMCIT data. The report illustrates how thorough accident investigation and tracking can aid risk management efforts and calls for “instilling a culture of safety” across police agencies. I encourage you to read the entire study. It can be found online at:


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Change, Change, Change: From Retirements to Tactics

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, January 6, 2014

A Good Idea From Kentucky

The wristband provides immediate visual communication.
Most patrol officers have at least one story about drawing their weapon on a suspect, only to find out the suspect was a police officer working in “plain clothes.” These types of incidents occur fast, and sometimes—when the plain clothes officer is holding their gun—the results have been deadly.

In 1993, a plain clothes police officer in Kentucky was mistakenly shot by a uniformed officer during a foot chase. That incident led to a complete review of all plain clothes officer responses, and to officers carrying a new piece of police equipment.
The wristband is worn on the officer's gun hand (shown here being
tested at the SCALE Regional Training Center in Scott County).

That new piece of police equipment is a bright green reflective wristband that officers “slap” on to their gun hand when they want to be identified as a police officer. The band is 3 inches wide and has the word POLICE lettered on it. You can’t miss it. It is stored as a coil that quickly curls around an officer’s wrist, shirt, or jacket and stays there. There are no snaps or Velcro, and the wristband can be put on in less than a second. Officers keep the band on the gear shift lever of their car when not in use.
The wristband forms a coil when not in use.

In addition to receiving the wristband, all Kentucky officers receive training on a common protocol to be followed when a plain clothes or off-duty officer is going to be making an arrest and may be interacting with uniform officers.

The Kentucky program of common training and the highly visible wrist band has been successful. I think it has merit for the Minnesota law enforcement community as well. Let me know your thoughts. I can be reached at (651) 281-1238 or

                 Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…More details on the IACP Reducing Officer Injuries Final Report

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.