10 September 2011

Swedish Expert Slams American Fire Service

Now, if you're following me over from hybridmedic.com, you know that at times I can be abrasive. So when I read a summary article on Dr. Stefan Svensson's speech at FRI in Atlanta, it got an equally abrasive response.

Not saying the guy is ALL wrong, but some of it stands to reason EXACTLY when he had the run in with Captain Obvious.
 "I can see it's a big problem but I find it hard to understand, as from my point of view it's obvious that firefighters need to be in good shape, but it does not seem to be like that over here," he said.
To quote a fellow firefighter: "well no screamin' eagle shit."

All one needed do is look at the USFA, NIST, IAFF, NVFC, and NFPA data on firefighter deaths and see that American firefighters are notoriously out of shape, leading to high incidence of cardiovascular disease. I mean seriously, all you need do is look at American waist lines at large to see that as a society we are getting fatter, and have developed a culture based around high fat and cholesterol diets and low activity.

The fire service feeds into this perfectly. Come in, eat a greasy breakfast, do some light housework and some paper training, then sleep all day occasionally making a call here and there. So what is Dr. Svensson's solution? Medical testing. You mean the NFPA physical we got when we were hired, and the annual we get at our family physician? Truthfully, not many will go to their family doctor for those vital check ups and top down physicals for many reasons: time, insurance, or a combination of the the two.

The next point he hits on is knowledge. Now he mainly talks about fire behavior, since that is his level of expertise, but really how much different is fighting fire in Sweden than it is in the United States? Well, considering things like building types, construction, regulatory differences, weather patterns, and the fact that the United States is much MUCH larger than Sweden, he have a diverse land area and a different construction type and material for each one.

What I am getting at is that we can't possibly design a standard teaching curriculum that reasonably covers ALL bases and levels of secondary education expected to properly understand the material, and the prospective firefighter have a chance of learning. We have tried in EMS education as well, but always run into the problem that the training time is too long or that the material is too difficult.

His final point comes with culture, but he gives no specific examples to what he thinks should be changed, just that we "do some things well." Do we reject that which does not work for us? Absolutely. Do we embrace something wholeheartedly without skepticism or reservation? Absolutely not. Is he suggesting that because we do not run to the next greatest trend that we have something wrong with us?

The injuries and deaths come as a breakdown in a system caused by many different factors. The key is strengthening that system to that failure becomes less likely. The best way is with prevention, both traditional fire prevention, but also prevention of poor health and poor decisions through teaching about nutrition and exercise, as well as a more stringent standard of education.

Read The Fire Critic's opinion here

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