UA receives grant for firefighter safety research - Tucson News Now

UA receives grant for firefighter safety research

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health recently received a $1.4 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program, for research to implement and evaluate risk-management processes, according to a recent U of A release.  

According to past research emergency vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death among U.S. firefighters, accounting for 390 deaths since 1994 and more than 1,000 reported injuries per year, with little improvement seen over the past decade. 

The U of A will be working with the following - Chicago Fire Department, Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue in Virginia as well as Stayton Fire District in Oregon, with training consultation provided by the Seattle Fire Department.  According to the release this three year research program will use 'a risk-management process of scoping hazards, assessing risks and implementing tailored controls to reduce vehicle incidents in the fire service.'  Some of these controls will consist of improved driver training and the use of vehicle data recorders or 'black boxes'.  In addition the program will include an economic analysis that will help departments choose sustainable interventions and program evaluation to guide successful adoption of interventions.

"One of the exciting things we'll be doing is using vehicle operation data, things like engine speed, acceleration and braking events to assess driver safety. Since vehicle data recorders are relatively new in the fire service, we'll be one of the first to study how we can effectively use them to improve driver training and reduce vehicle incidents," said Dr. Jeff Burgess, MD, MPH and associate dean for research at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health, in a recent release.  Dr. Burgess is also the principal investigator on the project.

"Our prior work with Tucson Fire Department revealed how important it was to understand how firefighters felt about the risk-management process and how the process affected their behaviors," said Dr. Burgess, in the recent release. "Being able to understand what works and what doesn't and responding appropriately will help ensure the interventions are acceptable and sustainable."  

Risk management is an internationally applied method to reduce critical hazards associated with fatalities and improve occupational operations to reduce injuries. The framework is widely adopted in Europe and Australia in both firefighting and mining industries, but is still rare in the United States. “In a prior study, we found that fire departments with the most advanced risk-management programs in the United Kingdom had injury rates four to 60 times lower than U.S., Australian and Canadian fire departments,” said Dr. Burgess. 

According to Dr. Burgess, the new grant builds on a long history of firefighter safety and health research at the UA. 

Members of the research team include - Keshia Pollack, PhD, Johns Hopkins University College of Public Health; Dustin French, PhD, Northwestern University; and co-investigators Stephanie Griffin, PhD, CIH, and Chengcheng Hu, PhD, from the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. 

All of the investigators have collaborated on other National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-funded risk-management studies with the Tucson Fire Department and will continue to work together on this project. 

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