The Copper Mountain Fire Department is the nation’s first firefighting agency to put all of its members through the Incident Safety Officer and Fire Suppression certification process, the department announced this week.
The program, which is facilitated by the Fire Department Safety Officers Association in Farmington Hills, Michigan, teaches safety skills to firefighting personnel, ensures safety of emergency vehicles, certifies compliance with applicable national safety regulations and ranks a department’s compliance with the latest firefighting innovations and technology.
Copper Mountain Chief Gary Curmode said certifying his entire department in the latest firefighting safety standards was a goal when he was hired in April. Curmode moved to Summit County from the Sedgwick County Fire District in Park City, Kansas, a suburb of Wichita, where 59 of his 143 firefighters were certified Incident Safety Officers.
“I didn’t keep real strong statistics, but the proof was in the pudding,” Curmode said. “Over time we saw costs decrease due to fewer injuries, sick leave and workers’ compensation claims.
“It was important to me to send a message to the department and to the citizens we serve that safety is paramount, and we were able to achieve this goal in less than four months.”
Curmode acknowledged he was in an easier position than other chiefs around the country to put his firefighters through the certification process given the size of his department. Copper Mountain Fire is staffed by 14 firefighters, including Curmode and fire marshal Dan Moroz.
However, being a small agency shouldn’t detract from the achievement of being the first agency in the nation with a full staff of certified Incident Safety Officers, Curmode said. According to the National Fire Protection Association’s 2010 census, there are at least 325 fire departments in Colorado and more than 48,000 nationwide. There are more than 1.1 million career, volunteer and pay-per-call firefighters in the U.S., according to census data.
“We’re not the New York City Fire Department with its 15,000 firefighters, but they send 25 people each month through the ISO certification process, so they recognize the importance of this training,” Curmode said. “It’s not easy to certify 100 percent of any department. A lot of departments only certify one or two firefighters, but I wanted everyone to know safety is paramount from me down to our rookie firefighters, and everyone else in-between.”
Copper Mountain’s firefighters spent months preparing for the four-hour, 100-question test, Curmode said. Although the department received the results this week, Curmode said he could see a greater dedication to safety and heightened situational awareness even while his firefighters were studying for the exam.
“When at an emergency scene, safety is everyone’s top priority,” Curmode said. “When you spend a lot of time studying these principles your safety awareness naturally increases, and I could see that happening right as we began going through this process.”
Moroz, who as fire marshal doesn’t have the same level of response training as a firefighter, said he learned a lot about firefighting concepts by going through the certification process. In addition to improving safety for firefighters and residents, Moroz thinks on-scene hazards also will be reduced for every first responder — such as police officers and EMTs — now that the department has navigated the certification process.
“The certification process forced us to look at the many attributes of an incident and it will ensure all eyes are making sure people aren’t walking into a hazardous situation,” Moroz said. “Take a burning building that may not be structurally sound. Something as simple as taping off the scene may seem obvious, but now that everyone has that heightened sense of awareness, it ensures other responding officers aren’t running into a dangerous situation.”