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FIRST Awarded New FEMA Funding to 'FOCUS' on Combination, Volunteer Fire and Rescue Departments

Jennifer Taylor, PhD, MPH, CPPS, of the Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST) at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health is proud to announce receipt of an $800,000 award from FEMA's Assistance to Firefighters Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) Grants program. This new program, Combination and Volunteer Assessment of Safety (CANVAS), was awarded in response to FEMA's National Life Safety Initiative #1, "designed to measurably change firefighter behavior and decision-making."

CANVAS builds on previous FIRST Center safety culture work in its Fire service Organizational Culture of Safety (FOCUS) portfolio. FOCU was developed under FEMA grants to create the first fire service-specific safety culture assessment tool and an educational curriculum. Safety culture is a robust predictor of occupational injuries and organizational outcomes like burnout, job satisfaction, and engagement.

To date, over 700 fire departments and 90,000 firefighters have assessed with FOCUS through four waves of the survey. Now, funding for the CANVAS project will continue FOCUS 3.0 assessment, with emphasis on bringing the survey to more combination and volunteer departments.

Recent analysis of FOCUS beta-test data led by FIRST Center doctoral candidate Ashley Geczik, MPH, revealed significant differences in management commitment to safety by organizational type, with volunteer and combination departments showing higher scores than their career counterparts. However, as the survey left its beta-test stage and became open to any and all fire departments across the country, volunteer and combination departments did not participate as often as career.

The CANVAS project intends to increase participation of combination and volunteer departments so that their positive safety climate can be more deeply understood. Together, the FIRST Center team will help amplify their needs by providing them with important data that can help them advocate for staffing, apparatus, gear, and behavioral health resources.

Departments will then participate in Online FOCUS Culture Camps, developed in collaboration with Drexel's Instructional Design and Multimedia Services (IDMS) team. This curriculum will teach labor-management teams about safety culture, and their newfound competencies will be assessed through observed teach backs of their data in preparation for presentations to department membership and budget negotiations with local government stakeholders.

Survey administration will be led by Alexandra Fisher, MPH, CHES, FIRST's Project Manager of Education and Training, in collaboration with FIRT Center affiliate faculty in industrial and organizational psychology: Joseph Allen, PhD, Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah Health; Jin Lee, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences at Kansas State University; and Christian Resick, PhD, Associate Professor of Management and Organizational Behavior at the Drexel University LeBow College of Business.

FIRST is proud to continue its partnership with the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA), whose Executive Director and Board members are experienced FOCUS Culture Camp cofacilitators bringing real-world solutions to fire and rescue departments. They are also partnering with Leah Roman, MPH, MCHES, owner and principle consultant at Roman Public Health Consulting LLC, who will lead the evaluation of the Online Culture Camp, allowing FIRST to mature the curriculum and bring Culture Camps to the growing waitlist of departments yet to participate in the training.


The Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST) is a research, education, and practice enterprise at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, organized to support the United States fire and rescue service through objective data collection and analysis. FIRST is led by Dr. Jennifer Taylor, an expert in injury prevention, healthcare quality improvement, and occupational safety. FIRST projects including: organizational safety climate assessment, nonfatal injury data system development, stress and violence in fire-based EMS responders, mental health concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, policy research and practice, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the fire and rescue service. FIRST uses federal funding to make sure research findings are freely downloadable for the fire service and the public. Please follow FIRST on Facebook and Twitter.

Dr. Jennifer Taylor is the Arthur L. and Joanne B. Frank Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health. She received a PhD from the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a Master of Public Health in Health Services from the Boston University School of Public Health. She is a Certified Professional in Patient Safety (CPPS).

For more information, please contact Victoria Gallogly, FIRST Center Outreach and Communication Coordinator