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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 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 Chaplain 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, his death was devastating for his crew and the rest of the department.  

Having a well-thought out plan for organizing and planning a 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 help with the planning. All of this needs to be coordinated in a very 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 a LODD to prepare for, and it’s quite overwhelming. You really must have 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 plan for a 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 a 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 a LODD memorial. You will significantly benefit by having the name of a person you can call for assistance if you ever find yourself in this position. 

Bruce Kroon, EFO, is the fire chief of the Bothell Fire Department (Washington). he has 29 years of experience as a firefighter and chief officer. He currently services as the fire chief for the City of Bothell Fire Department, a three-station department on the north end of Lake Washington, just northeast of Seattle. He considers himself a “lifelong learner” and is pleased to be able to serve as the Western Division Director of the IAFC’s EFO Section. 

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