Firefighter Safety: Rampant Unsafe Practices as Documented in Mainstream Media

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More than 30,000 firefighters are injured on the fireground each year. Literature suggests that injury often occurs when protective gear is not used properly. According to firefighters, failure to correctly wear protective equipment occurs for several reasons: 1) gear not used because of haste, 2) cumbersome gear can sometimes interfere with performance, and 3) cultural factors. The purpose of this study is to quantify improper gear and tactic use in a publicly available, online video repository in order to better understand unsafe firefighting. This was an Institutional Review Board–exempt study of public video records. A search for “fire fighting videos” was conducted at YouTube ( The first 50 videos that contained volunteer or career firefighters at work fighting fires were selected evaluated for appropriate use of personal protective equipment and for safe behavior. The videos were evaluated by two highly experienced professional firefighters. Of the 50 videos reviewed, 25 (50%) demonstrated violations of firefighting safety principles. Of the unsafe videos, 21 (42%) displayed firefighters improperly using gear, while the other 4 (8%) were related to unsound tactics. The most common problem was failure to wear or properly secure a self-contained breathing apparatus when appropriate (14 videos or 28%). The second most common failure was lack of helmet, hood, or approved gloves (11 videos or 22%). In conclusion, firefighting as documented on YouTube is often unsafe because of failure to properly use personal protective equipment. Half of the videos reviewed contained unsafe practices. With such a shockingly high rate of unsafe firefighting, the profession is in need of additional education and reform. In response to this epidemic, a multidisciplinary educational program has been developed to improve firefighter awareness of gear limitations and burn injury risk. Effectiveness of educational programs should be documented in additional prospective studies.

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