Germantown — Promoting awareness of all things safety is more than a job to Germantown Fire Chief Gary Weiss. It's a passion.
"As a department, we really want to do everything we can to engage the community in fire prevention because everything we can do to prevent these things from happening saves damage to properties, but, more importantly, saves lives," said Weiss, who took over as chief last month.
In support of the International Fire/Emergency Medical Services Safety and Health Week June 15-21, Weiss has put together special training opportunities for the department. The focus of the initiative, which is coordinated by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, is to improve firefighter safety and health to increase survival rates both in emergency situations and in the long term.
"A lot of firefighters have the mindset that being a firefighter is an inherently dangerous profession, and it's true," said John Delain, who is the public education coordinator for the department, "but there are things we can do to take an inherently dangerous profession and make it just a little bit safer."
"Think Like You Fight" is the theme for the week, which on June 17 included a special rapid intervention training (RIT) program to train firefighters to save their own in the case a fellow firefighter is injured while fighting a blaze. Safety practices while training, driving, and operating with an ambulance are among other priorities for the department throughout the month of June.
"Something as simple as wearing a safety vest at an accident scene can save a life," Delain said.
In addition, every member of the GFD has signed the International Seat Belt Pledge, which is part of the "Everybody Goes Home" program. The pledge itself sounds simple, but Delain said it's more common than people realize for firefighters not to wear seat belts because of the hassle it takes to put on while wearing protective gear.
"It's a big deal for everyone to pledge to do this," he said, "but by everyone participating we are all taking one more step to keeping people safe."
Keeping in mind the dangers associated with the job, Weiss added safety starts inside the station before any calls are even made.
"Too many firefighters who die in the line of duty of causes that are preventable," Weiss said. "Our job is to smartly risk our lives to save yours. What we're trying to do is reinforce these safety techniques into our members so they have better situational awareness of what's going on around them regardless of the setting."
And none of these efforts are short-term, Weiss said.
"This is not something we do one week a year," he said. "This is something we do 365 days a year. The community depends on us; we have to depend on each other."
Beyond the scope of firefighter training, Weiss said he is making it a priority to get the word out about health and safety issues using social media.
"From status updates to tweets, no amount of information is too small when it comes to preventing a dangerous situation," he said.
Find the Germantown Fire Department on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GFDWI1700 or follow them on Twitter @GFDWI
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