Stop the Excuses: Facing the Family After a Firefighter Death

By Billy Goldfeder

Over many years, I have worked with firefighters, officers, chiefs, and families related to firefighter line of duty deaths. Specifically, I have worked with many chiefs and officers who have had to face the worst…

While many might think the next words above might be attorneys, but that’s hardly the case. It’s the family. Facing the family.

In our business, we have three specific groups of CUSTOMERS, so to speak. The first is the group we all think of-the public, as Bruno says “Mrs Smith.” The second group are our firefighters, as an officer or chief we generally accept the fact that if we take care of our firefighters (training, good leaders, focus, direction, resources, etc.) they will generally take care of the public. And finally, the third group: the family of our firefighters. The people whose pictures are in their wallets, in their lockers, in their helmets and on the smart phones. The people who would like them to come home.

In most cases, firefighters do go home. Sometimes we don’t–and sometimes the reasons are valid and sometimes the reasons show the cause as being something completely avoidable. Either way, after a firefighter line-of-duty death occurs, everyone’s world changes. Especially those closest to the firefighter, those who were in charge at the fire, those on the firefighters company, and especially the firefighter’s friends and family.

Sometimes right after and sometimes after the investigation facts come out, it’s not rare for the family to have their attorneys speak for them–and it involves lawsuits. As one chief said to me, “LODDs never go away.” Some poignant words. 

No doubt they never go away–and shouldn’t–but there are things we can do following the “worst day ever.” Among that includes learning from the facts, making sure it never happens again, sharing the lessons learned etc. 

Sometimes we have other opportunities.

Dallas (TX) fallen Firefighter Stanley Wilson’s widow, Jenny Wilson, has one simple wish after her husband’s line-of-duty death: establishment of a fireground radio transmission recording system. But City Manager A.C. Gonzalez said this week that he can’t guarantee that Jenny Wilson will get what she is requesting because the price tag could end up being too high.

“If it’s something that is very reasonable…why not?” Gonzalez said. “If it’s something that’s very expensive, I’ll have to look at what we are trading off for that–is that the best use of our money?

“In the absence of knowing what that’s going to involve cost-wise, I don’t know if that is something I can say we’re going to do.”

How’s that for a not-so-thought-out answer to the widow of a man that lost his life working for the city? The woman is asking for something that is recommended in standards and is very doable. How about a response such as “I am establishing a task force to review this and other recommendations, and if interested, I would like Mrs. Wilson to participate in an advisory role” 

Sorry, I am daydreaming. Back to reality.

Recording on-scene radio transmissions was among the many recommendations by investigators following Firefighter Stanley Wilson’s death on May 20, 2013, while operating at that building fire.

THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME as a system of recording fireground transmissions was also recommended–to no avail–after the 2011 line-of-duty death of Dallas Fire-Rescue Lt. Todd Krodle.

Stop the excuses–a system that records repeated or simplex radio transmissions won’t break the city–or most any other jurisdiction. It can be done through a central location or battalion chief buggies can be equipped with them…simple fireground recorders. And you don’t even need to form a committee.

As an example, I searched and found and for much less than $200.00 each, you can have a dash (or rear of command buggy) recorder with audio and video for every buggy-it can record over 10 hours and it automatically turns on.

So let’s just say the “big D” has nine battalions and a few other senior chiefs/safety officers, etc. per shift. So, for about $2,000.00 total (TOTAL!) EVERY on-duty DFR buggy has a working, state of the art recorder. That’s less than it will cost to buy lunch at the next city council meeting. 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

That was easy.

Either way, it’s 2015 and it’s ridiculous to not be able to go back and listen to fireground channels after fires that went well or ones such as this one where Firefighter Wilson was tragically killed. Mrs. Wilson is asking for very little that will make a very large difference. 

Look, if we can go on the Internet and watch Freddie firefighter with his helmet cam stretch a booster line to a raging mulch bed on fire, fireground channels can be recorded right at the buggy. It may cost some a little money, but that’s the price of putting a sign in front of a building and calling it the “FIRE DEPT.”

Here is more:

BILLY GOLDFEDER, EFO, Billy Goldfederis deputy chief of the Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter since 1973, a company officer since 1979, and a chief officer since 1982. He serves on the International Association of Fire Chiefs board of directors, the September 11th Families Association, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He has taught at FDIC for 30-plus years and is a member of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board and the FDIC executive advisory board.


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