Safety and karma: a correlation?

CarolinaFireJournal - Dave Murphy
Dave Murphy
10/14/2010 -

I can somewhat relate to Earl Hickey, the fictional character portrayed on the now syndicated series “My Name is Earl.” Earl has a shady past to say the least. His one stroke of luck (winning the lottery) was immediately preceded by getting hit by a car. While recuperating in the hospital, he realizes that he has not changed and his bad actions are the actual cause of all the bad things that continually happen to him. With time on his hands, he compiles a lengthy list of wrongs he has committed. By making good on his misdeeds, crossing the bad things he has done off his list, he is convinced his “karma” will improve. It seems to be working.

image defines Karma as “the good or bad emanations felt to be generated by someone or something.” In common fire service verbiage this is often translated as “what goes around comes around.” I would like to right some of the wrongs that I have done, to myself and others. As with Earl, my list is quite lengthy; with safety specifically in mind, here are just a few items that I can easily begin to cross off my list.

1. Did not wear my seatbelt.

I have been guilty of this one many times. The excuses are numerous. “I was putting on my SCBA, it will slow me down exiting the cab, we have an excellent driver, it won’t happen to us.”

Action: Tops on my list, an easy fix, I will now always be belted before the apparatus moves.

2. Failed to contribute to creating/maintaining a safe environment.

“Safety, we don’t need no stinking safety. How can we do our job if we are always safe?” Say that out loud slowly. How stupid does it sound to you? We do take risks, however, they should be educated risks driven by risk vs. gain. Experience, education and common sense driven by a team effort should always guide the way for safety and efficiency at an incident.

Action: I can and will make a difference by contributing to the overall safety attitude/culture of the fire service.

3. Not staying in the best physical shape.

“Give me that big bowl of ice cream. It’s too hot to run today. Guess I will just go up a waist size when ordering uniforms this year.” I’ve used all of these, how about you? It comes down to four words; eat less, exercise more.

Action: I will make a conscious effort to lose weight and maintain better flexibility.

4. Did not fully “buy-in” and participate in training.

“How long are we going to be here today? We’ve done this before; it’s the same old thing year after year.” History tells us that it is the same old thing that continues to kill firefighters year after year.

Action: I will make a serious effort to listen and comprehend what the instructor is saying.

After all, they are doing it for my benefit.

5. Did not stop an unsafe act that I witnessed.

Have you ever had to look away at a training incident? Did you silently say a prayer that the idiot will survive the event you are about to witness? Don’t be an enabler of stupidity in your department. Stop the event instead of visiting the hospital, or even worse, the funeral home.

Action: I will speak up/intervene whenever an unsafe act is encountered.

6. Failed to encourage others to work safely.

I’ve taken a many shortcuts in my career. The best thing you can do is lead by example. I will review departmental SOPs and strive to abide by them.

Action: I will, through my actions and words, strive to encourage and promote a safe work environment.

7. Did not see the need for an annual physical.

Check last year’s firefighter fatality statistics, and the preceding years before. Still need convincing? Do not wait until you experience chest pain.

Action: I will not wait until I experience a cardiac event; I will schedule a full annual physical.

8. Did not report unsafe workplace conditions.

How many times have you slipped on the bay floor or tripped on that step into the bay? Did you do anything about it? Speak up! You are the workplace expert in your environment. Make suggestions to improve safety in all areas. You may actually be successful.

Action: I will not only report unsafe conditions; I will make suggestions to mitigate them.

9. Slowing down but not coming to a complete stop.

Surely they can see this big red truck with flashing lights, blasting sirens and air horns. How about the elderly person that proceeds through the intersection that never even saw you, or the kid with booming music that did not hear you?

Action: In the future I will do as I was taught to do, I will come to a complete stop at all intersections and proceed with due regard.

10. Failed to wear my turnout gear.

“It’s to hot. I responded in my in POV and don’t have my full set of turnouts. It’s just a minor MVA.” There are many reasons that I have used for not wearing my full personal protective equipment; none of them are valid.

Action: In the future, I will wear all PPE as directed by departmental SOP’s or more importantly, common sense.

The safety arena is just one segment of my life where I have taken numerous short cuts. Hopefully, this personal list of my shortcomings will serve as a roadmap and allow for immediate improvement in the area of my “safety karma”. My name is Dave, I’m just trying to be a better (and safer) person.

Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (KY) Fire Department. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Fire & Safety Engineering Technology program located at The University of North Carolina. An NFPA Certified Fire Protection Specialist, he also serves as a technical committee member on NFPA 610 which deals with safety at motorsports venues. He is a past Eastern Director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association.

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