Identifying and Prioritizing Fire Service Research Needs

Ask a group of 100 firefighters, manufacturers, researchers and fire service supporters or partners to identify potential research projects that could produce significant results for reducing or eliminating firefighter line-of-duty deaths and injuries and the range of ideas could number near 100. Each person, based on his or her experience, could offer a viable suggestion. But how does anyone determine which subject areas and which particular projects should be addressed with the limited resources that are available?

2015 Research Agenda Q&A

Recently, more than 100 representatives of the broad fire service and research communities gathered for the 2015 National Fire Service Research Agency Symposium to review, discuss and prioritize the critical issues within the fire service that deserve new and continued research. The 2015 symposium followed the models of those held in 2005 and 2011. The resulting agenda will provide a guide for organizations and individuals who conduct, support and encourage research projects that can reduce or eliminate preventable firefighter line-of-duty-injuries and fatalities.

According to Jeff Burgess, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and Professor at the University of Arizona, the agendas help prioritize areas of need and interest. “Things change over time, so we need to address what the fire service wants to address. This is critically important for people who haven’t done work for the fire service in the past.”

The participants selected one of the following discussion groups that aligned with their expertise and experience.

  • Community Risk Reduction
  • Data Management
  • Emergency Operations
  • Health and Wellness
  • Occupational Diseases of Firefighting
  • Tools and Equipment
  • Wildland Firefighting
  • Firefighter Health and Wellness
  • Emergency Service Delivery

The groups were tasked with reviewing the agenda from 2011 to assess what progress had been made and identify emerging topics that anyone interested in firefighter health and safety can use for proposing a study.

Denise Smith, PhD, a Professor at Skidmore College who specializes in cardiovascular health among firefighters, reminded attendees that their input can shape significant progress. “It’s your voice that will be most meaningful in effecting change in your departments and you’ll find the researchers will do all they can to support you,” she said.

Research Agenda Q&AFollowing the day and a half of discussions, each group produced and presented a set of recommendations to a jury of 11, as well as the full assembly, for questions and further discussion. Questions from the jury included suggestions for measuring short-term success or long-term effectiveness, clarification on risk-management versus risk assessment, and whether some of the recommendations could be narrowed to several smaller projects.

In particular, questions about finding participants for specific studies and justifying potential expenses for research on small groups, such as minorities, was directed to several presenters.

Nick Baskerville, a firefighter from Virginia, member of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF) and a participant in the Occupational Diseases group, believes this concern is applicable to most – if not all – the categories, and the participants in the symposium play a critical role. He believes the networking and collaboration that occurred during the two days is something everyone can do to make sure the solid questions are asked and study participants are found.

“Yes, there is bang for the buck,” he said. “This is where fire service groups are pivotal. I can talk to other firefighters, to leaders in the IABPFF and to researchers here today and down the road. We can all share this information.”

Jennifer Taylor, PhD, Associate Professor at Drexel University School of Public Health, agreed that engaging firefighters at different experience levels, industry and researchers of a variety of disciplines will ensure future success.

“Develop a culture of curiosity,” she said to the audience. “You are an industry unlike any other. You’ve created an agenda and great partnerships. Start teaching the students at the academy about the research agenda. Keep up the great work of these partnerships.”

Following the group presentations, the jury met to analyze and prioritize all the recommendations. The full report is expected in early 2016 and will be available at

As in previous years, the symposium was funded by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) as part of the Everyone Goes Home® program.