Planning for the Worst

No one wants to face the prospect of having to organize a line-of-duty death (LODD) memorial. The Bothell Fire Department was recently faced with such a challenge when we lost a 42 year old lieutenant to cancer on October 4, 2019. We had known for two years that Kirk was battling malignant melanoma and that his prognosis was not good. Still, we were hesitant to do any pre-planning because we did not want to “give up” on Kirk.

When Kirk went on hospice care, we decided to meet with Chaplin Pat Ellis, a local fire chaplain, who co-authored the Washington State Fire Service Line-of-Duty Death Guidelines and Procedures manual. Ironically, Kirk passed within hours of our first meeting. While we knew Kirk’s time was short, the actual event of his death was devastating for his crew and the rest of the department.

Having a well-thought plan for organizing and planning an LODD memorial and having resources to help guide us through the process was invaluable. I had read through the Washington State LODD plan when it first came out in 2017 and noted that it gave step-by-step instructions on who to notify and what honors to afford members depending on the type of death.

While I felt somewhat reassured that there was a detailed plan of what to do, actually doing it was a completely different matter.

There are hundreds of people involved in an event like this, and coordination of staffing and logistics requires many volunteers. You may already have a few contacts in your phone, but can you immediately coordinate: honor guards, pipes and drums, police escorts, church groups, event staffing, flowers, programs, hotels, transportation, and more? What about protocols identified for a line-of-duty death versus a non-line-of-duty death? You may likely have to rely on help from surrounding fire departments to assist with the planning. All of this needs to be coordinated in a short time and at a time when the family and the department is struggling with the loss of a loved one.

There are so many different aspects of an LODD to prepare for, it’s quite overwhelming. It would be best if you really had many committee coordinators involved to spread out the workload.

We were fortunate, in some respects, because we had some advanced knowledge of Kirk’s death.

Imagine if you had a member of your department die unexpectedly. What would you do? If you do not have detailed guidelines to help you through the process of planning for an LODD, you absolutely need to do so today. It’s also tremendously helpful to have a local, or state, contact you can personally call on, if needed, to help you navigate the process.

Understandably, planning for an LODD is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Don’t let that keep you from taking the time, right now, to develop or secure detailed guidelines for an LODD memorial. You also will greatly benefit by having the name of a person you can call for assistance if you ever find yourself in this position.

 

Bruce Kroon has 29 years of experience as a firefighter and chief officer. He currently serves as the fire chief for the City of Bothell Fire Department, a three-station department on the north end of Lake Washington (Seattle, Washington). Kroon serves as the Western Division Director of the IAFC’s EFO Section and is a member of the Bothell/Kenmore Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, he currently serves as the President of the Northshore Rotary Club.

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