The Daily Independent, Ashland
The Kentucky Fire Commission is seeking more money from the 2006 General Assembly for more training, and it has a rather alarming statistic to support the need for more training of both volunteer and paid firefighters: In 2005, Kentucky ranked fifth in the nation with six firefighter deaths.
The fire commission is asking the General Assembly for a total of $3 million for health, driver training and safety programs that could prevent deaths, said Ronnie Day, executive director of the Kentucky Fire Commission.
The funds would go toward helping train firefighters in the states 768 volunteer departments, often the primary source of fire protection in rural areas.
In case one thinks 2005 was an aberration, it actually was an improvement over 2004, when Kentucky ranked second in the nation with seven volunteer firefighters and one paid firefighter dying in the line of duty. Since 1994, 24 volunteer and 7 paid firefighters have died in Kentucky.
The recent fatalities have primarily involved volunteer firefighters, which make up two-thirds of Kentuckys fire departments. The deaths fall into three categories: Traffic accidents on the way to emergency scenes, on-duty heart attacks and strokes and injuries sustained while fighting fires or using equipment.
Heart attacks were listed as the cause of five of the eight on-duty firefighter deaths in Kentucky in 2004 and three of the 2005 deaths. The deaths occurred soon after the men responded to emergency or fire calls. They were attributed to stress and overexertion, according to U.S. Fire Administration documents.
Day said the problem is occurring nationwide because a lot of volunteer fire departments are staffed by people older than 35 who might not be in the best shape and most departments do not have physical fitness requirements.
NIOSH, the federal investigating agency, has suggested providing screenings and annual medical evaluations to all firefighters along with other medical tests. The state fire commission agrees with the federal recommendations.
The commission is asking for $1 million to pay for physicals for each firefighter. Many volunteer departments dont realize that the National Fire Protection Association requires annual physicals for all firefighters, and requires all new firefighters to pass a physical before joining, Day said.
Mike Kurtsinger, a division director at the Kentucky Fire Commission, said the commission will ask the legislature to spend $1 million on simulators to help teach driving safety for firefighters.
Its a move aimed at curbing the number of traffic fatalities among volunteers, Kurtsinger said. At least seven Kentucky volunteer firefighters have died since 1994 in on-duty traffic accidents in which they were not wearing seat belts, according to reports from NIOSH.
Volunteer firefighters already undergo training in Kentucky that is comparable to what full-time, paid firefighters receive. For the most part, the volunteer firefighters know what they are doing, but if they are not in good physical condition or drive recklessly when responding to a blaze, all that training is for naught.
With all the other pressing financial needs facing the General Assembly, finding $3 million for the fire commission may not be easy, but the evidence shows the additional money is needed.