On October 18, 2015, the Austin Fire Department (AFD) responded to a three-alarm fire at a condo complex with a possibly trapped resident inside. During the response, a wall collapsed, then a floor, taking with it a lieutenant and two firefighters.
This is when emergency response suddenly shifts from business to personal.
Because of preparedness, training, equipment and effective communications, these men were rescued and returned to their families. The entire team on scene was looking out for them—no matter what it took.
In April, AFD awarded its Medal of Merit to Fire Specialist Bradley Mendenhall and Medal of Valor to Lieutenant Tyler Eads and Firefighter Oscar Granados for their heroic actions during that October incident.
As I complete my year serving as IAFC president, I can’t help but reflect on that day in particular. Each of us have similar stories of brotherhood and sisterhood within our departments.
While most fire chiefs are doing a good job to equip and train their departments and promote firefighter safety and health—with few resources—many of us fall short when it comes to promoting diversity, inclusion and basic human dignity inside the firehouse. There are far too many incidents involving bullying, discrimination, harassment and abuse in the fire service.
Today’s modern fire chief must address the culture in his or her department and lead change by example. How we treat each other matters all of the time, not just some of the time. When we look the other way at words and deeds that are inappropriate (or even worse) under our watch, we’re doing our entire industry a disservice.
When the wall collapses, we’ll be there for our brothers and sisters. We should be there for them, too, even before the wall comes down.
Thank you for placing your trust in me. It’s been the greatest honor of my career serving as your president and I’m deeply grateful.
Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr
President and Chair of the Board