Drexel Researchers Are 'Taking Science to the Streets' to Improve Firefighter Safety with $1.5 Million FEMA Grant


Researchers at Drexel University will assess and train firefighters nationwide to improve on-the-job safety and prevent injuries. The project, called FOCUS 2.0, is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

FOCUS 2.0 builds on an existing FEMA-funded project at Drexel: The Firefighter Organizational Culture of Safety (FOCUS) survey, developed by researchers at the university’s Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST).

The original FOCUS survey assessed over 10,000 firefighters to measure the “safety climate” within fire departments, which has been shown to be a strong predictor of injuries. Safety climate is a measurable aspect of an organization’s attitudes toward safety and behavior, and it has been used to gauge and improve safety performance in industries such as health care, construction and manufacturing. Until Drexel researchers developed the FOCUS survey in 2012, the fire service lacked a reliable and valid instrument to measure this climate. Since the survey’s validation, over 30,000 firefighters have been assessed.

Now, with new funding from FEMA in partnership with the Fire Department Safety Officers Association, the FIRST Center will survey firefighters at 1,000 additional departments, while also hosting two-day intensive safety trainings for 200 fire service members in 10 locations around the country.

“In public health, our responsibility is to build upon the science and to take the research to the streets,” said Jennifer Taylor, PhD, an associate professor in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health and director of the FIRST Center. “We created an important tool, and now we’ll be able to expand that. It is really exciting to be able to reach more fire departments and to give the fire service the data that it never had before.”

In addition to educating firefighters about safety, the FIRST Center’s upcoming training sessions — “FOCUS Culture Camp” — will use a FIRST-created curriculum to inform fire service members about safety climate theory and data use, according to Taylor.

“This is about keeping them whole and healthy,” she said, “so they can respond to us when we’re not.”

Taylor added that evaluating and improving the fire service’s safety culture is beneficial to the entire public.

“The fire service is a safety industry, and it’s critical that we help them, because they come to us,” she said. “Can you imagine if they’re so physically tired or so mentally exhausted that they can’t help you during a fire or a medical emergency? What if they just don’t have the resources, or their members aren’t in the best physical shape, and they can’t carry you out of your home? Our safety is about their safety.”