Commentary

The Impossible Is Possible: Firefighter LODD Reduction in 2019

Ron Kanterman

Chief Kanterman’s Journal Entry 56

What does the number 57 mean to you? A perfectly restored ’57 Chevy? (I wish.) Heinz57 tomato ketchup for your burger and fries? (Love it.) The nation’s fire service collectively achieved a goal this year that is noteworthy. We recorded 57 line-of-duty-deaths (LODDs). In 2004, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) held a meeting to discuss LODD and injury prevention. It kick-started a national movement with every fire service organization joining in and agreeing that perhaps it is possible to reduce line-of-duty-deaths and injuries in this country. We broke the 60 mark this year. It’s the lowest number of LODDs recorded since the fire service started taking notice and counting. While losing 57 brothers and sisters is still too many, the trend is moving in a positive direction.

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So how did all of this happen? The 16 Life Safety Initiatives that came out of the 2004 meeting in Tampa FL, sponsored by the NFFF. The National Seat Belt Pledge born out of the National Fire Academy. The IAFC’s Rules of Engagement. The IAFF’s Fire Ground Survival programs. Various initiatives from the NVFC. The Responder Safety Institute. The list goes on. The main point is that we came together to tackle one of the  toughest issues in our history and we’ve had success. We also knew right up front that changing the way 1 million+ firefighters think is difficult at best knowing that is would take evolution vs. revolution. What I’ve written in the past is that “it’s like turning around an aircraft carrier.” Slow, long duration, deliberate and concentrated.

So, despite the nay-sayers saying nay over the past 15 years and that “what we do is dangerous and stop trying to fix it” and “let’s stop worrying about us and get back to customer service,” we’ve actually started to fix it without necessarily throwing ourselves on the sword or the grenade. I believe it’s a combination of a few things;

1-We have smarter people coming in to the firehouse today than ever before, electronic distractions aside. In fact, those distractions have apps for fitness, wellness, diet, nutrition and all the things we’ve been talking about. The new folks may be on to something.  

2-Leadership has dug in and created and enforced policies to assist with the mitigation of injuries and LODD’s. They have also insisted it should start early and that we give the folks the “safety religion” right up front when they enter the fire academy for the very first time. Early intervention and re-arranging the culture.

3-The people who occupy the right front seat of every apparatus in the country is where this grand effort took root and where it counts the most. The officer working as the advocate for safety on and off the fire ground. The constant reminder to buckle up, be aware, wear your mask, slow down, batten down, be aware, etc. The officer(s) working with leadership to meld safety and health in to the department’s training program.

Yes, it does take a village. Our village consists of career, volunteer, wild land, DOD, tribal, federal and all other firefighters in the country. We are the village and collectively we worked hard to get to 57. Many of us have had conversations over the years regarding efforts to shrink the memorial in Emmitsburg. It seems the impossible is possible.

The bad news. Keeping with the trend and moving forward. We’re in this together. Let’s concentrate on staying with it and trying even harder as we enter the next decade.

Remember; be safe, slow down, buckle up, eat right, eat light, use your head, stop for red, get some rest, get medical check-ups, wear your gear, wear your mask, exercise, heighten your situational awareness, keep an eye on those around you, stave off fire ground contamination, keep a clean work environment and do whatever it takes to get in between injury and death on the job for you and those around you.

Have a happy, healthy and safe New Year.

Be well, stay well, be safe.

Ronnie K             


This commentary reflects the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Fire Engineering. It has not undergone Fire Engineering‘s peer-review process.