Estimated 11 min reading time.
Welcome to The USFA Podcast, the official podcast of the United States Fire Administration. I’m your host Teresa Neal. At USFA our mission is to support and strengthen fire and emergency medical services and stakeholders to prepare for, prevent, mitigate and respond to all hazards. This month we’re discussing how this is done through research. The goal of our research is to save lives, prevent injuries and preserve property by improving firefighter and first responder health and safety.
How does research help? The findings contribute toward the development of national consensus standards and support a firefighter and emergency responder health and safety and fire mitigation. It can influence and support fire safety activities and efforts and be used to develop information and resources to support community risk reduction. We also share research findings with the fire and emergency medical services to enhance occupational health and safety, as well as operational effectiveness. On this episode we’ll be joined by Bill Troup, chief of the Emergency Response Support Branch where he oversees research as well as fire and EMS response support.
Please join us as we discuss how vital research is to the improved and ongoing safety of people in United States.
Hi Bill. So, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Bill Troup. I’m currently the branch chief of the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Programs, Emergency Response Support Branch. I’ve been in that role for approximately 6 to 7 months. I was previously the branch chief for about 4 years of the USFA National Fire Data Center. I was transferred over to the Emergency Response Support Branch to enhance its focus on research.
And you’re also a veteran, so thank you very much for your service.
And Teresa, thank you as a fellow veteran.
So how long have you been with USFA all total?
Oh, probably close to 32 years.
Yeah, I was going to say 30 years earlier, but I decided I wasn’t going to rat you out.
We should round up.
So, you’ve been here 35 years.
So, what first inspired you to focus on research?
Well, I happen to be an active firefighter and EMS responder, and the incidence of firefighter injury and death. I want to develop programs and initiatives of the U.S. Fire Administration to stop that.
I mean, I look at every firefighter death, and the question I ask myself is: Is there something that USFA could have done to prevent that, that we don’t already have? And if we don’t, I work very hard to create a research program or initiative or partnership to address that.
… I look at every firefighter death, and the question I ask myself is: Is there something that USFA could have done to prevent that, that we don’t already have?
And if we don’t, I work very hard to create a research program or initiative or partnership to address that.
Well, with regards to firefighter health and safety, obviously the loss of a firefighter or EMS responder is just absolutely tragic. The incident of firefighter and EMS occupational disease is getting to be more and more of an emergent issue. And of course, we have a tremendous amount of civilian deaths throughout the United States. Our fellow citizens die from the tragic incidents of fire.
In 2019, 62 firefighters died while on duty, and 37 firefighters died from activities related to an emergency incident. So, I know that responder safety is very important. Can you talk about the impact of vehicle crashes and struck-by incidents on both fire and EMS?
Absolutely. It is one of the most tragic and, unfortunately, common types of death. Firefighters dying in vehicle crashes. And Teresa, the leading vehicle that kills firefighters is their own personally operated vehicles. So, we not only have to deal with the emergency vehicle hazard, we also have to deal with the firefighters using their own vehicles. Again, we have so many programs in the U.S. Fire Administration to enhance emergency vehicle safety that are available on our website. And I always tell people this type of information belongs in your firehouse, not our warehouse.
And with regards to the roadway safety, we’ve got a great partnership with the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association’s Emergency Responders Safety Institute through the respondersafety.com website that has a whole litany of roadway safety initiatives.
We also have done research on everything from emergency vehicle lighting to emergency vehicle visibility and conspicuity, and that also involves some field testing we’ve done.
Can you tell us about USFA’s efforts and partnerships to enhance the roadway safety for fire and EMS?
We have had partnerships with numerous national fire organizations. Between the International Association of Fire Chiefs, which we’re currently right now doing a very comprehensive emergency vehicle and roadway safety research effort, that we should have the report, which will update the 2014 USFA’s Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative. That will not only cover emergency vehicle and roadway safety topics for the fire and EMS service, it will also cover law enforcement and DOT responders. So, it’s a very comprehensive all-emergency-responder document. We have done work with the International Association of Fire Fighters on a targeted web-based training program for the career fire service. And we’ve also done the same with the National Volunteer Fire Council targeted at the volunteer fire service.
Again, example, the personal-operated vehicles is an issue in the volunteer fire service. Because many volunteers respond from home. And then we also, again, work with the IAFC on a previous effort on emergency vehicles and roadway safety targeted specifically at fire service leadership.
When we’re talking about this roadway safety — this research is being done for not only fire trucks responding. And I know one of the issues is speed — then responding in their personal vehicle, which is also a speed sometimes issue [or] maybe not being so focused on getting to where you need to go to help somebody that you forget. But what about on the roadway type of thing?
We’ve done work with the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association with regards to a PSA — a public service announcement — and a lot of education for the public. We did a very innovative study on driver behavior. We went to one of the largest malls in the eastern United States, and we picked people at random and then we put them behind driver simulators. And a lot of simulated emergency responders were killed by people driving; the last thing they had on their mind was their driving. They were so distracted.
We went to one of the largest malls in the eastern United States, and we picked people at random and then we put them behind driver simulators. And a lot of simulated emergency responders were killed by people driving; the last thing they had on their mind was their driving. They were so distracted.
Again, we have the drugged, the drunk, the drowsy and distracted drivers that are hitting our emergency responders, both police, EMS, fire, DOT responders, tow truck operators and the roadway workers you see on the highway. And we’ve also done some very scientific-based work on emergency lighting with the Society of Automotive Engineers putting some science behind that type of study. And we also did great work with the international fire service training associations on emergency vehicle conspicuity and visibility. And all these reports are available from the USFA website.
That has to do with how the markings on the back of the trucks, right? Does it have something to do with that? I’m just trying to break it down.
I’m sure it’s much, much more, but I know years ago when I was working with you, that that was a big change. They were changing the way that they were marked on the back of the trucks, or even on the top. I know that some things that we have reviewed I’ve brought back to you and said, oh well, that’s changed now. You know we need to change those lights around because it’s different. So, it’s about all of those lights and images that are on their trucks.
It’s an entire package. It includes the whole striping, visibility, retro-reflectivity, and there’s also an important component that we also have done some work on — is the visibility of the emergency responder. When we did this lighting study with the Society of Automotive Engineers, one of the things we found was one of the least visible things on the fireground was the emergency responder. And you’ll see often some EMS and law enforcement individuals wearing dark-colored clothing on the other side of the roadway, and you have a very lit-up vehicle with a lot of striping on it. Well then you have an emergency responder standing alongside the roadway in a complete dark outfit. And that’s why the roadway safety vests are so critical for your safety while you’re standing on the roadway, because you need to be seen as the emergency vehicle needs to be seen.
Again, there’s a whole science with regards to lighting, you know? Again, what’s the optimum balance? Is less more? So, we just released a study in December in partnership with the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association also on some of the latest findings in emergency vehicle lighting.
So, let’s talk about the role of partnerships in research. We don’t do a lot of our own from this beginning-to-end research, we partner. So, can you describe how USFA partners to complete the research that we do?
I’ll say there’s 2 parts to the research picture. We partner with our fellow federal agencies, and I want to really give a shoutout to our friends in the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice programs. They have provided us a lot of funding and support for our emergency vehicle and roadway safety efforts to save the lives of both firefighters as well as law enforcement officers. And then we also do a lot of partnership and great work with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. Again, on the safety of roadway workers, which include first responders. So, they’re part of our federal partners that we couldn’t have done it without them. Because again, we worked together rather than having 2 federal agencies doing similar projects. Why not combine together? Combine our resources?
It’s a benefit for the emergency responder as well as the taxpayer, because you have much more program and cost effectiveness. And then also, the second part of that is the partnerships we have with just about the majority of the, of the fire associations we work with, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Firefighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, International Fire Service Training Association, and other partners to get what we’ve done. We don’t have lighting engineers on staff. I don’t have the ability to do a field testing on a roadway. As you mentioned, we actually partner with these organizations that can accomplish these tasks, and we develop the idea.
For example, we will look at a fatality or a series of fatalities. I’ll give you a prime example. Several years ago, we had a litany of firefighter deaths from fire tankers and tenders, the large vehicles that carry water. And I found that really there was nothing specifically targeted at these vehicles. So USFA did a partnership on these vehicles, and we’ve released a specific document and guidance on fire safety of tankers and tenders.
We are very dependent on working with our great fire service partners as well as our stellar federal partners to make these great accomplishments happen.
You’ve also pursued partnerships to enhance emergency vehicle safety, and I know you spoke about it a little bit earlier. So, it’s the vehicle for the lighting, you said it’s the whole work. What other things about the vehicle safety would you say?
I’ll give you another example. When we started our Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative some time ago, we looked at the issue of seatbelts and the identification of, you know, finding a seat belt in a dark environment at night with all the self-contained breathing apparatus straps. So, we looked to actually push to have a standard to have the seat belt color changed. So, in other words, you can find the orange seat belt in the middle of the night.
And how do these efforts impact other emergency responders, like the police? All of this work we’re doing, I would say I guess in my view, it would be primarily focused towards fire and EMS. But even with those changes, how is that beneficial to others? Police or even construction workers — anybody who’s on the roadway?
Well, it’s interesting that the same things that are killing firefighters and injuring firefighters are killing police officers and roadway workers. They’re getting struck-by-vehicle crashes. So especially on the roadway safety, I mean we have a larger amount of police officers generally being hit on the roadway than firefighters, so we work together to address both. Rather than 2 federal agencies doing the same type of work for, you know, their particular constituents, why don’t we work together ’cause it’s the same hazard? It’s the same type of technology, the same kind of operational procedures that’ll save the lives of both firefighters and police officers.
So, what is your vision for the future of USFA’s research programs?
Oh, we’re going to be doing a lot of great things in the future. We did a great project on the culture change initiative, changing the fire service culture to comport with Life Safety Initiative Number 1 of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. We’re looking to possibly expand that in the future. Obviously, we’ve had a long, long-term partnership with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, on the study of firefighter occupational cancer. We’ve been working with them in partnership for quite a while. We’re going to work with them to focus on the national firefighter registry to record the cancer incidents. We’re also going to do some other work in other areas that support fire service operations. So, we did a great partnership with Women in Fire on the unique aspects of the occupational health and safety issues in the female firefighter.
We’ve recently released the whole ergonomics guide to prevent back injury sprains and strains, which is a major cause of firefighter injury, and we’ve got more planned. This whole program is moving along to handle emerging initiatives. In other words, something comes up that’s not been addressed. We try to, if someone else is not doing it, because often other people [or] other organizations are doing research that we’ll partner with. For example, we work with DHS Science and Technology, provide them information on what technology is needed for the fire service. We work with other partners. We did a lot of great work with NIST, National Institute of Standards Technology, on firefighter protective clothing, including a great work on enhancing the thermal performance of self-contained breathing apparatus face pieces that were catastrophically failing because of heat, causing the deaths of several firefighters.
And again, we’re going to keep doing this, and what an exciting thing is, the USFA is actually going to develop a branch that’s going to be more focused on research. Research used to be basically a person or 2. Now we’re going to develop a branch within USFA’s National Fire Programs that’s going to enhance the research partnerships and initiatives and programs that we’re doing. So, there will be a formal group in USFA doing research.
That’s awesome, and you’re also doing research with WUI right? You’re partnering with organizations to determine the next steps in WUI and keeping our residential firefighters, you know, ones that we primarily think of as doing homes and houses, but that are now working in this wildland urban interface.
Yes. We’re working on the release of an augmented reality app for the WUI and the prevention activities to actually help the prevention community to mitigate the instance of wildland urban interface fires. We also happen to have staff members who serve with the NWCG group on their risk management committee as well as their mental health subcommittee to provide input of the USFA’s great work to help the wildland firefighter in their occupational health and safety issues. So again, we are actively involved in helping with the wildland firefighter health and safety issues as well as the prevention and mitigation of wildland fires for the civilian, you know, the American public.
And so, how do you think we can achieve USFA’s vision of having these robust research programs?
Well, we’re doing it. We’re actually developing a focused branch in the USFA to have an enhanced vision program and direction for what research is happening. That’s ongoing. Obviously, the great work of working with our partners. And again, one thing that’s critical for us is data through the National Fire Incident Reporting System. Getting that informational data, we look at the firefighter fatality reporting system.
I look at every single firefighter death in the United States and see what could be done to prevent that. We look at other types of reports, so data is so critical to this picture. So again, I can’t emphasize enough the quality and quantity of data needed.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve been here 32 years doing firefighter health and safety and prevention research. And it’s just been an honor to work in the U.S. Fire Administration. I mean, I’ve got to work with great people like you, Teresa, and it is a team. I mean, everybody in USFA works together. National Fire Programs is truly focused on preventing the hazard, the incidence and the impact of fire. As well as enhancing firefighter and EMS responder and other responders of occupational health and safety.
Thank you for listening to The USFA Podcast, and thank you to our guest, Bill Troup, for joining us today.
Want to learn more about research initiatives at the USFA? Visit the data section of our website. You will find statistics, topical reports and learn more about our research-based initiatives. We also share insights from our research on the USFA blog at usfa.fema.gov/blog.
We hope that you enjoyed learning about our research program and how critical it is to USFA’s mission.