Toledo Fire Chief: Department continues to make changes to safety officer system

Toledo Fire Chief: Department continues to make changes to safety officer system

TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - Since the release of a federal report on the north Toledo fire that killed two firefighters in January of 2014, the department has been divided on the issue of full-time safety officers.

That report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said

contributed to the deaths of Stephen Machcinski and Jamie Dickman.

Chief Luis Santiago says when he took over the department, he changed the safety officer position.

There were previously three designated safety officers – one on each shift. The chief says he felt that system was flawed.

“It was hit and miss [whether] we would have all our incidents covered by a safety officer,” the chief said. “We had one safety officer for 84 square miles and there would be times we would get more than one incident at a time. That second incident would not get a safety officer.”

Santiago trained all lieutenants and captains to be safety officers. Generally, a safety officer goes through a 16-hour accredited training course. TFD's new program condensed the course down to four hours. The chief says those four hours concentrated on safety at the scene of a fire.

The firefighters' union fought the change, saying it was not safe, but Chief Santiago argues the new program enhanced safety because it guaranteed someone would be assigned as a safety officer at the scene of every fire.

A safety officer was assigned to the fire on Magnolia that resulted in two firefighter deaths, but he arrived only four minutes before the mayday call.

The chief says since then they have improved upon the safety officer position by combining the old system with the new. There are three dedicated full-time safety officers again, but all lieutenants and captains remain trained in case they are need. The chief says more changes are on the way.

“We're going to change the safety officer program shortly because we are always looking at best practices,” the chief said.

There is also a staff safety officer who concentrates on training and policies and procedures.

“If you look at the reality of things and look at how it operated, it was predictable. A safety officer at every scene – we didn't have that before, and I wasn't going to go back to what we had before because it was archaic,” Santiago said. “It was good at the time, but we were lacking safety at some scenes, so we fixed that.”

Chief Santiago says the recent changes to the system were not made because two firefighters lost their lives, but because the department is continually evolving and finding better ways to operate.

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