“If we bury our mistakes, we will bury more firefighters,” asserted Steve Chikerotis, at his “From the Jump Seat to the Right Seat” workshop Tuesday afternoon. It is essential that when mistakes occur on the fireground, especially those causing injury or death, that the incident be studied and lessons learned extracted and passed on so such errors can be avoided in the future.
With his promotion to company officer, Chikerotis recalled, came responsibility. “Now I had to corral a whole company of firefighters and bring them home safe in the morning.”
The three leading killer of firefighters are cardiac arrest, motor vehicle accidents while responding, and the fireground incidents. Firefighters need not die from causes if they take the proper precautions. “You don’t want to give your life away,” Chikerotis said.
Cardiac events can be prevented through proper hydration on the fireground, more exercise, and proper diet. “The kitchen table kills more firefighters than falling walls,” Chikerotis remarked.
He related to the students one of several apparatus accidents to emphasize the importance of safe response and wearing seat belts. A fire apparatus struck a pickup truck, and the officer, a friend of Chikerotis, was ejected and died. He had not worn a seat belt.
He offered the following considerations for safer vehicle response: Most firefighter fatalities from vehicle accidents occur at intersections; stopping at an intersection adds only two to three seconds to response time; and a change in speed from from 35 miles an hour to 45 increases the vehicle stopping distance by 60 percent.
On the fireground, a careful risk versus reward assessment is essential, Chikerotis said. At one fire, a firefighter died and one suffered serious burns entering a burning structure to rescue a bedridden elderly man said to be inside. However, based on fire conditions on arrival, that person was likely already dead. An investigation cited deficiencies in command, communications, and tactics in the incident.
On the corridor to his office is a display of 569 badges of Chicago firefighters who died in the line of duty, representing 569 times a chief or chaplain had to visit a family to tell them that Daddy isn’t coming home. It’s a powerful reminder of an officer’s responsibility, Chikerotis said.