“Saving Our Own”: learning from the past
Michael H. Clarke
City of Bath (ME) Fire Department
Lieutenant Eddie Buchanan hit the nail right on the head (Letters to the Editor, January 1998) in reference to the “Saving Our Own” program. I, too, learned about the course at the 1997 FDIC. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Rick Kolomay and Rick Lasky about the history of the program. The one item that really hit home with me was the comparison of the floor collapse in the movie Backdraft with the floor collapse in the 23rd Street Collapse in New York City in 1966 in which 12 firefighters died when they fell through the floor into the fire. One survivor, John Donovan of 18 Engine, became suspended on the hoseline he was directing into the store and was saved by clinging to the nozzle. My father was a firefighter on 7 Truck, which lost several firefighters that dreadful night. He was outside the structure when the floor collapsed.
I had the opportunity to attend the “Saving Our Own” train-the-trainer class in October 1997. Needless to say, my sentiments are identical to those of Buchanan. In addition, I found that the students from around the country who attended were there because of concern for their safety as well as that of their “brothers.”
It is obvious that the fire service in this country is changing again. All of the fancy reflective command vests and ICS tables, trucks, and mobile command centers are not going to save the “down” firefighter. The well-trained, educated, and experienced firefighter is going to save the downed brother or sister. The students in the class meshed quickly, sharing ideas and concerns and developing an environment of teamwork that only firefighters could understand.
Chief Ray Hoff (ret.), Captain Don Hayde, Lieutenant Sal Marchese, Chief Bob Hoff, and Captain Mike Spalding deserve credit. They all brought a little of their life experiences with them to Champaign and put them out before the students so the students could learn from the experiences and take them back to their respective departments and share them. How else are the members of the fire service going to learn? We all need to absorb the information that retired as well as seasoned experienced firefighters and officers have to offer. Many of these firefighters learned the hard way because nobody told or showed them a better way. What an opportunity to learn from past history!