By Ray McCormack
The death of a firefighter is a tragic event, a loss to the brotherhood of firefighting, the community, and often our functionality. A department that has never suffered a firefighter fatality may be unfamiliar with the effects and ripples of such an event. Every active firefighter death needs to cause ripples in the fire service. Those ripples, while felt, however, cannot overtake an organization in the form of paralysis; instead they must be channeled to eliminate future similar events and improve fireground functionality.
There is a branch of the federal government that recounts the events leading up to firefighter deaths and then makes recommendations to prevent future ones. For most deaths, the last word is the NIOSH LODD report. These reports from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are the result of an investigation team that looks at evidence and interviews those involved to help the greater fire service to understand the death and develop methods of prevention. These reports are available via the Internet and may also be supplemented by the actual department report of the death. It is very important for firefighters to learn what went on at the fire and what caused the death of the firefighter or firefighters.
Maybe it's just criticism or just repletion, but many feel these reports are an inch deep and a mile wide, issuing boilerplate recommendations and often missing the true causation. While it can seem that way, they still must be examined. If you feel they missed the mark, that's all right--add your two cents to those you pass it on to. The point is to get everyone to read them and to want to read them.
Many reports carry similar suggestions and many cover similar causes. So the questions are: Do the reports bore us? Do we see wide spread adoption of the recommendations, or are we not noticing the causation similarities? The use of fire service social media is widespread, so the possibility of accumulated noise drowning out the heightened importance of NIOSH reports is real. This noise is not just created by solo distractors, but is also caused by organizations that, while championing safety, seem too busy promoting their own programs or funding to bother pushing the reports through their networks.
The consolidation of message is a powerful thing. If you want a message to reverberate through the fire service, allow it to have breathing room and support. NIOSH reports are what the balance of the fire service looks at to find answers to tragic events. They are not all perfect reports, but that fact should not cause us to overlook their overall importance as a learning tool and potential lifesaver for future firefighting events.
Let's stop our chatter both as individuals and organizations and support spreading the reports' message. By mindfully pushing all departments to read these reports, the nation's firefighters will be better informed. The death of a firefighter is not a silent event; it must leave an imprint on all of us, for the good of all of us.
Keep Fire in Your Life
RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine. For more on Urban Firefighter, visit http://www.fireengineering.com/urbanfirefighter.html.
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