I don't know if the phrase is still used, but I remember it: "Everyone and their brother" implies absolutely everyone is doing something. In this case, everyone is talking about firefighters who have been tragically killed in the line of duty.
Some died necessarily; in other words, some firefighters, doing what was expected, following training, policies, etc., based on size-up and risk, had to take a risk to save a life—and it didn't work out. They were heroes.
Not all LODDs are avoidable. But most are.
Like any firefighter, I also have opinions about line-of-duty deaths. Probably like you, I've had several conversations with fire service friends, such as firefighters, company officers, instructors and chiefs, following an incident.
Giving Honor and Caring for Survivors
The first priority is to give those firefighters and especially their families a respectful and peaceful memorial service and individual funerals. Thanks to the NFFF, the IAFC, the IAFF and other organizations, the families and those affected continue to be cared for.
Some believe that when a firefighter gets killed and it was "blatantly" avoidable (speeding, not belted in, freelancing on the fireground, things like that), they shouldn't be honored as an LODD.
Well, if you're looking for an opinion on that, try this one: we're honoring families and the fallens' service as firefighters—not the manner in which they lost their lives.
Learn What Happened and Share It
The next step is for the fire investigation and firefighter-fatality experts to determine what happened. Then the next step is for us to learn and share that information with every firefighter.
But it's not the last step.
Change Your Practices and Save the Next Life
The last step is for every fire department to actually take that information and, as applicable, apply changes in policy and training so we operate differently. The only real, long-term way to honor those who are killed is to not have the rest of us get killed in the same ways. And that can only be successful at a local level. By local, I mean fire chiefs, fire officers and firefighters—AKA us.
While we—all of us—are shocked when one firefighter is seriously injured or killed, when multiple firefighters are lost, we go beyond shocked. Understandable.
With all the activity going on in the last decade to reduce firefighter injury and death, the news slams us right in the heart. Very understandable!
But after that, we need to let the facts unfold and then apply the facts as a template to our own way of operating.
That's how firefighter LODDs are reduced. Locally, through training. International Fire/EMS Safety and Health Week 2014 is a perfect time to start that rhythm.
Safety and Health Week 2014: Train Like You Fight
Training. Everyday must be a training day or retire. Seriously, from chiefs to the newest probie, if you're turning out on fire calls, everyday must be a training day. Maybe spend a little less time talking about the rumors of that other fire or talking about that other fire department, be it down the street or in another state, and spend a little more time worrying about our own skills, our own department and our own company. It just might be the better way to go.
When we study an LODD or critical injury, a critical task is to compare our own fire departments, so we don't repeat what they did. Maybe a little less arguing for the sake of arguing about, oh, the latest fire-science studies by such organizations as UL and NIST. Simply put, they're saying to get water on the fire as fast as possible.
That's worthy of an argument?
Maybe not. Water on the fire. Wow, have we come a long way or what?
But in reality, how quickly can your fire department get water on the fire? How quickly can they flow a deck gun of an engine? How quickly can they deploy a handline to the third floor of a multifamily dwelling? How quickly can they get a charged line to the basement of a single-family dwelling? How long? Are you sure? You better check.
How many firefighters are on your first-alarm fire for a 2,500 square-foot, two-story, frame single family dwelling? What's your first-alarm assignment and why? What tasks do you want firefighters to perform? In what amount of time?
Does your fire department send the closest fire stations, even if it's not from your fire department? What's needed? How many firefighters do you need to stretch three 1¾ handlines, establish water, force entry, vent, search and rescue, RIT and command from a 360 standpoint? How many chiefs do you need on that first alarm so your company officers can be company officers, not substitute chiefs?
Now is a great time to look at that. And to train for that. Safety and Health Week is when to figure that out.
So many of us wear the brotherhood-and-sisterhood type of shirts, display the stickers and preach the word—and that's a good thing for both male and female members of the service.
Sometimes, though, the tough part is getting everybody and their brother to act like it.