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Jennifer Taylor, Arthur L. and Joanne B. Frank Professor in Environmental and Occupational Health

Endowed Professorship Advances Research on First Responder Safety

“As citizens, we look to emergency responders to help us, but they don’t have the resources they need to do the work they are called to do,” says Jennifer Taylor, Arthur L. and Joanne B. Frank Professor in Environmental and Occupational Health at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health.

Drexel President John Fry, Jennifer Taylor, and Joanne and Arthur Frank at Taylor
Drexel President John Fry, Jennifer Taylor, and Joanne and Arthur Frank at Taylor’s installation as the Arthur L. and Joanne B. Frank Professor in Environmental and Occupational Health at the Dornsife School of Public Health.

Trained in the field of injury prevention and control, Taylor is leading the way in firefighter injury research. In her time at Drexel, she’s built partnerships with fire departments and their labor unions around the county and has an especially deep relationship with the Philadelphia Fire Department. She founded Dornsife’s Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST), of which she is Director.

Taylor now has additional resources to advance her lifesaving research thanks to the Arthur L. and Joanne B. Frank Endowed Professorship, of which she became the inaugural recipient in January 2020. The professorship is named for Dr. Arthur Frank, former chair of the Department in Environmental and Occupational Health, and his wife. Frank’s contributions as a researcher, educator and advocate have made him a global leader in improving the health of workers and working conditions, particularly in the area of asbestos-related illness and death.

More than 30 lawyers and law firms who worked with Frank to win legal and policy battles on behalf of workers donated funds to establish the Frank professorship. Awarded for a three-to-five-year period, the Frank Professorship will provide a salary supplement and annual research allocation to faculty, like Taylor, who show “outstanding promise in the field of environmental and occupational health.”

At FIRST, Taylor’s research addresses the escalating levels of stress and risk of injury that fire-based Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responders have faced in recent decades. Says Taylor, “EMS responders are continually asked to do more with less. Since 1980, the number of fires has decreased, but calls on fire departments to deliver EMS have increased by 320%. Hiring and resourcing EMS have not increased at the same rate. Some communities even run out of ambulances.”

The effects of higher call volumes and exposure to patients are profound. Says Taylor, “EMS responders operate under high stress every day, dealing with unpredictable and potentially violent situations. Human beings aren’t designed to experience intense stress all the time. Chronic stress leads to physical and mental health issues and can lead to mistakes in the field.”

She also cites organizational culture as a contributing factor to workplace injury, when policies lead to fatigue, low morale and high turnover. And for Taylor, organizational culture is the number-one area fire departments can work on to prevent and control injury.

Of combatting the problem, Taylor says, “At FIRST, we’re working to prevent exposure to violence through policy and training and to create organizational cultures that prioritize the safety of workers. To make positive change like this, you need to collect data.” FIRST has developed tools, like FOCUS and SAVER, that do just that.

At FIRST, we’re working to prevent exposure to violence through policy and training and to create organizational cultures that prioritize the safety of workers.

The Firefighter Organizational Culture of Safety (FOCUS) survey is the first reliable tool that measures organizational culture of fire departments and identifies areas of improvement. The Stress and Violence against fire-based EMS Responders (SAVER) System-level Checklist assesses types of assault and lays the groundwork for developing interventions that reduce violence to EMS responders. Both have become critical tools of the industry. Says Taylor, “Our research has been adopted by over 800 fire departments and their unions. We’re reaching more than 70,000 firefighters across the country, and that number is growing.”

The Frank Professorship will provide funding that will help Taylor amplify the impact of her work. Says Taylor, “FIRST will be able to deliver our research-to-practice tools to more people. I’ll also have the flexibility to bring more students into the FIRE Fellows program, so more students have opportunities to work with real-world data and learn from fire-service field experiences.”

On a personal level, Taylor is thrilled to hold the Frank Professorship. Says Taylor, “It feels amazing. Dr. Frank was my original mentor at Drexel, and his support of my work set me up for success. The professorship is a way to honor him each and every day.”

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