Safety culture in the US fire service: an empirical definition

William L. Pessemier (Summit County Communications Center, Frisco, Colorado, USA)
Robert E. England (Department of Political Science, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Publication date: 13 July 2012



The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive model of safety culture for the US fire service.


Based upon a modified version of Cooper’s Reciprocal Determinism Model, the research uses two sets of exogenous variables, labeled Safety Management System and Safety Related Behaviors, to explain a dependent variable called Organizational Safety Climate. The model has been used successfully to improve safety performance in other high risk, high performance organizations. Using survey data collected from over 1,000 firefighters in three medium‐sized US municipalities, the theoretical model is tested.


Results from multiple regression analyses provide strong support for the hypothesis that individual perceptions of safety management and safety behavior predict individual perceptions of safety climate, both at the “fire service” organizational level and at the individual department level.

Research limitations/implications

Limitations of the study include a cross‐sectional design, the use of self‐reported perceptions for the variables, and the fact that the three mid‐sized US fire departments from which data were gathered self‐selected to participate in the study.

Practical implications

A practical feature of the theoretical model tested is the ability to create “safety report cards” for each of the 12 dimensions that define the three variables used in the study.

Social implications

This model holds the promise of reducing firefighter injuries and deaths by identifying managerial and behavioral safety improvement areas within US fire departments.


To the authors’ knowledge, this research represents the first attempt to both identify and test empirically a safety culture model for the US fire service.



Pessemier, W.L. and England, R.E. (2012), "Safety culture in the US fire service: an empirical definition", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 10-28.

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