Safety Hero

Spearheading Safety and Training

Safety Hero: Ken Koger of South Adam County Fire Department

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South Adams County Fire Department started out as an all-volunteer department organized in 1942. The department has since grown substantially. While originally overseeing 26 square miles, the district now offers coverage and support to close to 76 square miles of territory, including a mixture of undeveloped, residential, commercial, and industrial spaces. South Adams County answers upwards of 9,000 calls for aid each year and is managed by a staff of around 70 firefighters and 20 administrative personnel.

South Adams County Fire Department is also home base of our latest Safety Hero, Administrative Support Chief Ken Koger.

Chief Koger has been part of the South Adams County Fire Department for 36 years, joining the department initially in 1985. Starting out as a firefighter, Chief Koger held the posts of Lieutenant, Captain, Assistant Chief, Fire Chief and District Board Member before accepting his current role of Administration Support Chief in 2019. In addition, Chief Koger contributed his time as a volunteer with South Adams County throughout his 36 years with the department, participating in the Covid-19 relief and spaghetti dinner programs, among others.

“(Chief Koger] has served our community with pride and excellence,” says Melissa Rossback, Human Resources at South Adams County.

South Adams County Safety Committee

South Adams County Fire Department addresses safety concerns with the help of a five-to-six person safety committee that meets monthly. Chief Koger has taken part in the safety committee at South Adams County for some time, accepting the role of committee chair in January 2021.

“Chief Koger spearheads the whole committee,” says Rossback, “Since Chief Koger has taken over as the Administrative Support Chief he has fostered the ability to execute a variety of supplies and programs to further the safety committees efforts to make our programs more robust.”

According to Chief Koger, when your job is inherently dangerous, safety should be a part of department culture, bolstered by daily reminders.

“How do you walk into a burning building and be safe about it? It’s a mindset for our guys,” says Chief Koger. “You can’t get complacent. You can’t become comfortable in your job.”

Lighter Gear

Chief Koger’s initiative in implementing safety improvements with the help of the safety committee has led to successful projects ranging from new rehabilitation equipment to the purchase and renovation of a new training center.

“He empowers the people on the committee to branch out and think creatively on ways that we can really protect our staff and think safe,” says Rossback.

A firefighter’s protective gear and equipment can weigh up to 45 pounds. Add to this excessive weight the actual heat of a fire, plus the high physical stress already experienced on the job, and the resulting effect can be heat exhaustion.

After hearing feedback on the effects of heavy equipment from line personnel, Chief Koger along with direction given by Chief Vincel, worked with the safety committee to source lighter weight gear. While procurement has been delayed due to the pandemic, South Adams County firefighters should be fully fitted with lighter gear by February 2022.

american flag firefighter in dress uniform

Administrative Support Chief Ken Koger

A New Training Center

South Adams County Fire Department also recently purchased a 40,000 square foot space and will be renovating this building—previously in use as a dog pound—to include a gym and indoor training facility, with a room for physical therapy and an in-house physical trainer. The building should be in use by October, and fully functional by end of March of 2022.

“The plan is to have our modified duty personnel in that building…instead of going to an outside [physical trainer] they’ll stay right inside that building,” says Chief Koger.

Having a full-time internal physical therapist monitoring and observing firefighters in training, will allow the physical trainer to develop a better understanding of the strain a firefighter’s body undergoes on the job. The physical therapist can then offer advice on better techniques to approach common movements, such as carrying unwieldy equipment, pulling hoses, and various ways to approach lifting weight for differing body types, which should then result in fewer injuries.

Because the majority of accidents occur in training and not in the field, having a physical therapist on hand to observe and offer advise during this period should help to reinforce that safety mindset, encouraging firefighters to stay focused and stay safe.

Short Safety Chats

Chief Koger has also encouraged supervising officers to start shift changes with regular safety talks. Talks are meant to be brief, focusing on any recent safety issues or concerns from the proceeding shift.

“A 10-minute conversation can keep an accident from happening,” says Chief Koger. “Keep reminding them, ‘Just talk safety.’”

Additional Safety Initiatives

Other safety initiatives at South Adams County include the production of a quarterly newsletter featuring current safety issues, a standing invitation for the CSD Pool’s Safety Consultant, Adam Johnsen, to attend safety committee meetings, new rehabilitation equipment, and the use of iDashboard to share safety stats.

Recently, South Adams County was able to purchase compression pants for all firehouses to assist in physical recovery. The use of compression pants helps to support the healing process by relieving pain and improving circulation.

“It’s little things like that, that’s out of the norm for fire districts or companies to do. We try to get that to the guys,” says Chief Koger.

In addition to keeping safety top of mind, being aware of current safety measures and results helps to keep everyone on the same page. In that respect, South Adams County shares safety statistics 24/7 with the use of an iDashboard, featured on large screens at each station.

“I’m kind of big on numbers and graphs. I want to get [safety stats] out to every firehouse, and post [them] on the bulletin boards,” admits Chief Koger.

A Consistent and Innovative Approach to Safety

South Adams County and Chief Koger consistently approach safety on a variety of fronts. This persistent and inventive approach has definitely made all the difference, when it comes to the department’s safety culture.

“South Adams County is a very innovative and progressive department, and I think that Chief Koger, his integrity, really allows full support for the vision of our district,” says Rossback.

We at the CSD Pool would are proud to recognize Chief Koger as this quarter’s Safety Hero. It’s been inspiring to see what South Adams County has done, with his guidance and support, and we look forward to seeing what future safety improvements the district has in store.

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