Report: Fresno Fire Department Needs "Culture" Change When It Comes To Safety

Jan 19, 2016

The Fresno Fire Department has released its final report on last year’s accident where Captain Pete Dern fell through the roof of a burning garage, suffering critical burns on a large portion of his body. The incident was captured on video and made national headlines. 

Fire Chief Kerri Donis says the accident review focuses on policy changes small and large that are necessary to prioritize safety for firefighters on the ground.

Donis: “As I shared with the members, their safety is non-negotiable. The goal here is that everyone goes home at the end of their shift. And that they all have a quality of life in a healthy way when they are done with this career.”

"As I shared with the members, their safety is non-negotiable. The goal here is that everyone goes home at the end of their shift." - Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis

At nearly 300 pages long, the independent review says the department’s internal culture has for too long accepted unnecessary risks at the expense of safety. The findings include the need for better training on modern firefighting practices, the lack of organized command at many fires, and too many firefighters who don’t always wear the recommended safety gear. 

Donis: “These are some of the practices and things that have been occurring in this organization for years and years and years. This isn’t something that has just occurred in the last year or since Captain Dern’s incident. We essentially have kind of kicked the can down the road in this department and in other departments and have not really poured a lot of commitment to making cultural change and to change our firefighting practices.” 

Donis says some of the recommendations have already been adopted, and the city council recently approved a plan to hire more employees to provide better training for crews. But she says changing the culture of the department will take more time. 

Donis: “Quite frankly this will take years to implement all of these recommendations, but we absolutely have started on them already. Our people are absolutely doing a better job of wearing their personal protective equipment, we are wearing our seatbelts much more aggressively as we should, and folks are utilizing their radios more appropriately, those are great first steps.”

The burned remains of Pete Dern's protective suit.
Credit Fresno Fire Department

The report’s authors say the cultural issues involving risk management aren’t unique to the Fresno Fire Department. But the video captured by a bystander that showed Dern crashing through the roof into a massive fireball gathered the sort of national attention that Donis hopes will make these changes stick. 

Donis: “We have great firefighters in this city and they work hard every single day. And I’m confident they will be courageous with me, and review this report and as we all are human we all have opportunity to get improve, and we’re just going to get that much better.”

Dern continues to recover from his injuries. He was released from the hospital last September after a nearly six-month long stay.


Fresno Fire Captain Pete Dern
Credit Fresno Fire Department

From the report’s executive summary:

"Yes, fighting fires will always be a dangerous occupation . However, we must change the common practice of simply accepting the causes of the injuries we suffer as just being part of the job, or the cost of doing business . How many times do we have to read these reports and not change our behavior? When do we say enough is enough? We have the necessary information, and we have the power and ability to make the necessary changes that will prevent future injuries to the brave firefighters of “Our” American Fire Service . It is the hope and vision of this Team that this Fresno report become the benchmark, or wake-up call, we all need to finally effect positive cultural change to our proud profession!"