By Melissa Vince, BWC Public Relations Manager
In light of recent media attention to cancer risks and other on-the-job dangers faced by firefighters, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) is partnering with the State Fire Marshal’s office to educate Ohio firefighters about safety resources available through their agencies.
“Firefighters face unique and life-threatening hazards as they protect the lives and property of their fellow Ohioans, and they deserve our best efforts to keep them safe on the job,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “We have committed a number of resources to reduce these dangers and improve the safety and health of Ohio firefighters.”
Added State Fire Marshal Jeff Hussey: “Firefighters put their lives on the line on a daily basis. We want to ensure they’re equipped with the best resources to do their jobs safely.”
BWC resources include:
Fire department grants
BWC’s new Firefighter Exposure to Environmental Elements Grant Program awards dollars to Ohio fire departments, both career and volunteer, to purchase safety gear and equipment that protect against carcinogens and other harmful elements encountered during a fire fight. BWC has awarded more than $1.2 million to 120 Ohio fire departments to date.
Items eligible for purchase include diesel exhaust systems, extractors/washing machines for turn-out gear, hoods with barrier protection and washable gloves. The exhaust systems and extractors are also available for purchase through BWC’s Safety Intervention Grant Program. Many smaller fire departments are eligible to purchase equipment without any matching funds.
The Safety Intervention Grant Program assists Ohio employers purchasing equipment that will reduce employee illnesses and injury. Over the last three years, Ohio fire departments have received more than $9.7 million in funding for safety equipment, including hydraulic cots used for heavy patients and automated chest compression devices.
Public Employment Risk Reduction Program
BWC’s Public Employment Risk Reduction Program has been promoting safe and healthy working conditions for Ohio’s public employees for 25 years. The program had no jurisdiction over firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and corrections officers until the legislature expanded the program in BWC’s most recent budget. Effective Sept. 29, BWC has greater authority to help these employers identify unsafe and hazardous working conditions, as well as conduct workplace inspections to prevent accidents and injuries.
Safety, ergonomics and industrial hygiene consulting services
BWC’s safety, industrial hygiene and ergonomics specialists visit workplaces to assist in the development of effective injury and illness prevention strategies.
The BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene library provides free research services on occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation and rehabilitation. Librarians have access to one the largest repositories of occupational safety and health information in the nation and provide accurate answers to questions about firefighter occupational safety and health.
Firefighter safety training
To ease costs to local governments, the State Fire Marshal’s office and Ohio Emergency Medical Services provide $500,000 to fund Firefighter I Training, a 120-hour certification class. BWC committed another $1 million for the training to help prevent accidents and improve preparedness and response times during emergencies.
Additionally, BWC funds research into firefighter injury and illness prevention through its Occupational Safety and Health Research Program. Six Ohio universities have received $3 million for 13 projects through the program, which includes more than $718,000 for research into firefighter safety.
Marshal Hussey said a number of training opportunities, grants and loans are available through his office in the Ohio Department of Commerce. While some grants directly fund safety equipment and training, others can free up dollars needed to invest in safety.
Fire Department Equipment Grant
This grant funds protective clothing, self-contained breathing apparatuses, communications equipment and other miscellaneous equipment. Eligible fire departments must serve a population of less than 25,000. The application period typically runs from December to the end of January.
Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulation (BUSTR) Revolving Loan
These zero-interest loans are available to any political subdivision, including Community Improvement Corporations, to begin, continue or complete the removal, assessment, or corrective action related to underground storage tanks.
Firefighter I Training Grant and Volunteer Firefighter I Training Grant
These grants fund the costs of Firefighter I or Firefighter I Transition certification courses. The application period begins July 1.
Fire Department Training Reimbursement Grant
Fire departments that provide primary fire protection to an area with a permanent population of 25,000 or less qualify for the grant. Reimbursement is available for specific fire training classes, including the cost of training manuals and student workbooks. The application period runs from mid-December to mid-January.
The MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communication System) Grant is available to fire departments that serve a population of 25,000 or less. The money can be used to purchase systems, equipment, and/or services that are part of, integrated into, or otherwise interoperable with the MARCS operated by the State of Ohio. Up to $50,000 per department is available. The application period runs from October to mid-November.
The Small Government Fire Department Services Revolving Loan Program assists local governments in funding certain fire department expenses. A revolving loan can be used to expedite the purchase of major firefighting, rescue or EMS equipment. It can also be used for the construction or renovation of fire department buildings.
Rural Community Financial Assistance (RCFA)
This is a matching grant program to cover the cost of tuition and lodging at the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Ohio Fire Academy. Only firefighters from communities serving a population of less than 10,000 qualify. Multi-community projects may exceed 10,000, provided none of the communities in the project serve more than 10,000 people. The application period begins July 1.
Visit the State Fire Marshal’s grants page for more information.
The Columbus Dispatch published a five-day series in October about the cancer epidemic among firefighters. The news organization conducted two statewide surveys of firefighters and fire chiefs from across Ohio. Among the findings: One in six of the nearly 1,300 firefighters who responded said they had been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their careers. About 50 percent said they believed cancer was their biggest threat on the job.
Nearly 95 percent of the 360 fire chiefs surveyed said that cancer is the greatest occupational threat to their firefighters, but only about half provided cancer-prevention training or had rules in place to reduce the cancer threat.
The Dispatch series can be found online at Dispatch.com/unmasked.