AFTER A LINE-OF-DUTY DEATH

BY MAURO V. “BUZZ” BALDANZA

“Man down! We have a man down.” On January 16, 2002, and again on December 6, 2003, the Long Branch (NJ) Fire Department heard those words blaring from the radio. The results were the line-of-duty deaths of Lieutenant Robert Feeney and Captain Ronald Fitzpatrick. Both, members of the Phil Daly Hose Company, were stricken with fatal heart attacks on the fireground.

Feeney, 41, had served in various capacities with the department and headed the Explorer program. Fitzpatrick, 68, had retired from the Newark (NJ) Fire Department after a 30-year career. He had served with our volunteer department since 1973 and was the training and safety officer. He also had served as the lead instructor at the Monmouth County Fire Academy and trained thousands of rookie and veteran firefighters, career and volunteer.

The deaths of Feeney and Fitzpatrick were sudden, unexpected, and an emotional shock to the department. You can’t just walk away from suppression operations during these tragic events; but you now have another matter you must deal with quickly and professionally.

PROCEDURE DOCUMENTS

The department had a procedure in place for dealing with such a contingency. It was established in 1995 by Chief Tom Siciliano and consisted of the United States Fire Administration’s Firefighter Autopsy Protocol, issued in 1994, and the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety’s Firefighter Serious Injury and Death Guidelines, first issued in 1994 and revised in 2003. Both documents are available on-line or may be requested from the respective agencies.

They assist fire departments and the medical examiner or other examining authority in following the appropriate procedures for performing an autopsy. This protocol is established for three purposes:

1. To advance the analysis of the causes of firefighter deaths to aid in the development of improved firefighter health and safety equipment, procedures, and standards.

2. To help determine eligibility for death benefits under the federal government’s Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB) Program, as well as under state and local programs.

3. To address an increasing interest in the study of firefighter deaths that could be related to occupational illness.

New Jersey’s Guideline

The New Jersey Division of Fire Safety document ensures that the agency will complete specific tasks. It includes a list of agencies, with addresses and phone numbers, that must be contacted; explains the PSOB and specific medical tests that should be obtained; and insurance coverage—local fire department or fire company, municipal government, state firemen’s association, and workers’ compensation. It also offers information on the department funeral protocol and the Division of Fire Safety’s responsibility for conducting an investigation in conjunction with the participation of the New Jersey departments of Labor and Health.

The most important aspect of the guideline is the Firefighter Serious Casualty Checklist, a step-by-step list of tasks you can check off as you complete them. It details actions that must be taken. As an example, the first step involves the incident scene and includes the following duties: maintain a secure site for the investigation, photograph documentation, impound equipment, and document incident information.

Step two involves notifying local and county officials and the family, who is contacted by an official representative. Arrangements must be made for transportation, childcare, and official escorts. It is recommended that the public information officer (PIO) handle all media matters and requests.

Step three addresses hospital-related matters: obtaining the attending physician’s report; impounding the firefighter’s personal protective equipment, including SCBA, if it had not already been done during rescue or resuscitation efforts at the scene; and obtaining from the dispatch center any relevant information the hospital or media may need. If not at the hospital, the PIO must be kept abreast of events that occurred there. If the cause of death is a possible cardiac incident, the emergency room physician must be made aware that reports showing the percentage of carbon monoxide and alcohol in the blood are needed. For the victim’s family to be eligible for PSOB, an autopsy must be ordered. Permission to perform the autopsy and release the report must be secured from the family.

  • Post-incident contacts. The checklist includes contacts that must be made in the case of serious injury or death, such as the Division of Fire Safety, the Department of Labor, workers’ compensation, the insurance carrier, and the critical incident stress debriefing team.

The guideline is carried in all Long Branch chiefs’ vehicles, for immediate referral at the scene and for representatives’ use at the hospital.

  • Implementation. In implementing the guideline, we have found the following to be of great help.
  • Immediately notify your local fire official and county fire marshal. They will respond and fulfill the guideline requirements, relieving the incident commander of these responsibilities and enabling him to direct his attention to the ongoing suppression or rescue operations.
  • Notify your local police agency and the county prosecutor’s office, whose staff can assist in the investigation and documentation of the scene. Feeney died while operating a pumper at the scene. The area around the pumper was secured. All hoselines connected to it remained in place, but hoselines a length away were disconnected and removed. The soft suction hose remained in place. The scene was photographed and documented.

Mutual-aid departments were brought to the scene to relieve department members and enable them to start the critical incident stress debriefing process. During the fire in December 2003, units from other departments provided resources for mutual aid, rapid intervention teams, rehab, and covered assignments.

We are preparing a new emergency contact form for each firefighter, which will be carried by chiefs and the fire official. The form will be updated each year during our mandatory training classes in January so that the most recent information is available at all times.


(1) Captain Ronald Fitzpatrick was stricken at this December 2003 fire in a vacant building. A defensive operation was instituted on arrival. (Photos by Walter O’Neill, Jr.)

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(2) Department members with the Fort Monmouth Color Guard arrive at St. Michael’s Church. Firefighters from visiting departments lined Ocean Avenue. Bagpipes lead the Phil Daly Hose Company unit bearing Captain Fitzpatrick.

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SUGGESTIONS ON SERVICES

In the 137 years we had been providing volunteer firefighting service to our community, three members died in the line of duty. Long Branch has not had a line-of-duty death (LODD) in 41 years, until 2002. We could find no records or procedures pertaining to earlier LODDs, so our department had no basis for preparing for a firefighter’s funeral. The only resource we had was Final Farewell to a Fallen Firefighter, written by Apparatus Battalion Chief (Ret.) William C. Peters from the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department, which outlines the basic fire department funeral protocol. (The publication is available from Fire Engineering for a nominal fee.)

Using Final Farewell as a guide, Chiefs Sam Tomaine (in 2002) and John Jones, Assistant Chief John Zambrano, and I, in 2003, established a committee to handle the funeral arrangements for Feeney and Fitzpatrick. Fire Official Kevin Hayes, Office of Emergency Management Director Stanley Dzubia, and Director of Public Works Fred Migliaccio, all department members, spearheaded the committee. They worked with Monmouth County Fire Marshal Tim Smith and Deputy Fire Marshal Phil Payne for both funerals.

Representatives of the Long Branch Depart-ment of Public Safety, police department, Office of Emergency Management, and board of education; the fire official and borough administrator of Red Bank, New Jersey, who represented the family; the funeral home; and the Phil Daly Hose Company served on the committee for Fitzpatrick’s services and funeral. Preparing for this type of event is time consuming and may be quite complex.

Following are some of the variables involved.

* Family’s desires. Make sure the family’s desires are communicated as early as possible. If you cannot fulfill a desire, make sure the family is made aware of this and understands the reason. The family liaison or funeral director should handle these matters.

* The planning process. One individual cannot handle all the functions. We assigned areas of responsibility. Activities for each day of the wake and funeral were explained in detail on paper and then handed out. The sheets were updated as needed and redistributed each day. The information included a list of all people who had a role or function in the arrangements, with their phone numbers.

* Public information. Information pertaining to the visitation and funeral service (day, date, and times) was provided, with travel directions, to all agencies through the Monmouth County Fire Marshal’s Office. Departments that would be represented at the funeral notified the Long Branch Fire Bureau, which kept a record of the departments and the number of attendees.

* Police liaison. The police department was immediately involved in the planning process and attended all meetings. It coordinated all traffic matters in town and arranged for assistance, since the burial for both men was in other jurisdictions. The cooperation of the public in areas affected by the funeral was requested through posted signs and letters.

* Officer in charge of honor guard. For Fitzpatrick’s funeral, we arranged for the family’s wishes to have certain individuals serve as pallbearers. A member from Long Branch and members from other agencies who requested to do so served as honor guard members. We found that a 10-minute rotation period was much easier for the men standing guard at the casket, especially since the viewing was for one eight-hour day.

  • A table positioned near the casket displayed the firefighter’s helmet, which was carried by a member of the honor guard during the procession.
  • Lifting the casket onto a hosebed should be practiced before a funeral takes place. The funeral home supplied a casket for a practice exercise for the pallbearers and honor guard members traveling with the apparatus.
  • Members of the Long Branch Police Dep-artment Color Guard prepared fire department members for rendering honors during the services.

FUNERAL PLANNING

All apparatus that was to be part of the procession were identified early in the planning stages, removed from service, and prepared.

  • Since there was limited parking near the funeral home, a staging area for visiting departments (more than 79 departments) and overflow parking for mourners was established in a large parking area away from the immediate area of the funeral home. The board of education supplied school buses for transport to and from the funeral home. This greatly helped in managing the flow of visiting firefighters and mourners, allowing sufficient time for each to express their condolences. Honor guard members parked at Long Branch Fire Headquarters and were transported to and from the funeral home.
  • In the staging area was a refreshment trailer that supplied coffee or hot chocolate, trash containers, light towers, and port-a-johns (some items for Fitzpatrick’s funeral were donated and volunteers served). The Monmouth County Fire Marshal and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department coordinated communications among the funeral home, the staging area, the traffic posts, and the school buses.

For the funeral mass, we acquired and set up a public address system for inside and outside the church. The system was needed to communicate with the large number of visiting departments and to enable them to hear the service outside.

In our situation, the Red Cross and the Oceanport PBA set up refreshment stations. The Long Branch Department of Public Works and a private contractor positioned trash containers and port-a-johns throughout the church parking area. In the winter, snow removal may have to be considered.

The Long Branch Fire Department was removed from service during the 19 hours of the wake and funeral period. The Monmouth County Fire Marshal’s Office handled coverage arrangements. The covering departments were given Long Branch unit designations for ease of communications with the 911 Monmouth County Dispatch Center. City maps, key box keys, garage door openers, incident report forms, and lunch and dinner arrangements were issued to Monmouth County deputy fire marshals, who responded on all calls. Five engines, three ladders, one rescue, and one RIT engine were assigned to the city; the Fort Monmouth Fire Department responded on all second-alarm and special calls.

On the day of the funeral, visiting departments were directed to the church and designated parking location. Electric signboards assisted in directing units. Members of the honor guard and color guard, pallbearers, and members who would be present at the funeral home before the church service parked their vehicles at the location of the repast and were bused to the funeral home. At the conclusion of services at the home, they were bused to a staging area near the church to prepare for the marching procession. The New Jersey United Pipe Band and fire department color guard from Fort Monmouth were already staged, reducing the number of vehicles needed for transport. Long Branch Fire Department vehicles moved directly to the church and lined the roadway along the procession. Crossed ladders were positioned over the procession route.

MARCHING TO THE CHURCH

For the procession lineup, the pipe band was positioned in front of the apparatus carrying the casket, preceded by the honor guard member carrying the helmet.

AT THE CHURCH

The positioning of members and ceremonial details at the church depend on the individual location. It’s important to establish early in the planning process actually who and what will be positioned where at the church.

Signs placed at the ends of the church pews helped to identify seating locations for family, friends, government officials, department members, and visiting firefighters. A uniformed firefighter escorted family members to their seats.

Since both funerals had burials outside the immediate area, during the service the apparatus carrying the casket was exchanged for a hearse. Department and city vehicles not attending the burial were removed from the procession. A motor coach was moved into position for department members traveling to the burial location.

All department members not traveling to the burial were held in formation until the procession left the church and passed the visiting departments attending.

We hope sharing this information with other departments will help prepare them for this unfortunate event. Because of our experience, the Monmouth County Fire Marshal’s Office is preparing a protocol for Monmouth County departments to use in handling a LODD. Experienced members will assist other departments in providing the best possible resources for managing the “final farewell.”

Resources

Federal Emergency Management Agency, United States Fire Administration, Firefighter Autopsy Protocol, FA-156/May 1995.

State of New Jersey, Department of Community Affairs, Division of Fire Safety, Firefighter Serious Injury and Death Guidelines, revised 2003.

Peters, William C., A Final Farewell to a Fallen Firefighter: Basic Fire Department Funeral Protocol, Fire Engineering, 1993.

MAURO V. “BUZZ” BALDANZA is chief of the Long Branch (NJ) Fire Department, where has served in various capacities for 32 years. He is a New Jersey Certified Level II Instructor and teaches at the Monmouth County Fire Academy.

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