Fire Service Culture Defined

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

That headline, my friends and colleagues, is what is known in media circles as a “teaser”–it’s meant to grab your organizational-culture textattention and make you look.  And it worked, right?

My fire service colleague and fellow author, Linda Willing, has once again “hit the nail on the head” with her question, Is the Fire Service Culture Good? (I’m not going to spoil it for you, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself).

Last week, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) released—what I believe will be a “groundbreaking” document in understanding what the fire service culture is across the USA– National Safety Culture Change Initiative: Study of Behavioral Motivation on Reduction of Risk-Taking Behaviors in the Fire and Emergency Service. A real “mouthful” to speak, for sure, but a much needed document.

Despite improvements in personal protective equipment (PPE), apparatus safety devices, more availability of training, greater emphasis on firefighter health and wellness, and decreases in the number of fires and dollar loss due to fires, the rate of on-duty firefighter death and injury has remained relatively unchanged in the past four decades.—From the Executive Summary

Organizational-Culture ElementsUSFA and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) have collaborated on the National Safety Culture Change Initiative (NSCCI) project in an effort to identify the cultural elements— both positive and negative elements—in the American fire and emergency service community.

The NSCCI, through this study and its website, and other project efforts, seeks to “make the connection” between cultural elements and how those elements influence firefighter behaviors, particularly those behaviors that lead to on-the-job deaths and injuries. The report, Study of Behavioral Motivation on Reduction of Risk-Taking Behaviors in the Fire and Emergency Service, is a huge step forward in this pursuit and includes recommended changes to both culture and climate for improvements in occupational safety and health within the fire and emergency services.

In comments related to a piece I recently wrote for the new digital format Fire Chief Magazine, A Better Safety Culture, a fire service Colleague, Michael Teague wrote:

“It is my theory that much like the aviation industry [which significantly reduced airline crashes through better technology including flight simulators] we [the fire service] have reached pretty far with technology [improvements]. If we are going to reduce injuries and deaths further it will be through the use of psychology. We need to work on things like Crew Resource Management, decision-making, and perception.”

I’m still working my way through the entire 38-page document which I am finding to be very well written,

The three levels of organizational culture.

The three levels of organizational culture.

well documented, and full of useful information that’s helping me to better understand, as firefighters and officers, “who we are and why we do things the way we do.” If you’re serious about understanding our fire service culture and how changes in our culture are the best way to get firefighter deaths to ZERO each year, then I suggest you download the report and start studying for yourself—and the future of the business we all love.




About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].