Safest Place for Buffs Is on the Sidelines
Every buff organization, and the fire departments with which it works, must be concerned about injury or accident involving buffs on the fireground or en route to any emergency. All of us were reminded of this by a tragedy in Phoenix, Ariz., in August 1974.
One or more members of the Phoenix 2-11 Club, an active buff group of long standing, were close to the involved building as fire fighters advanced hose lines at a major warehouse fire. Without warning, reports Editor Bob Hatter of the area’s 6-6 Club newsletter Fire Recall, “the east wall blew out, burying five fire fighters and a 2-11 buff. All were seriously hurt.”
One fire fighter died later in the hospital—first line-of-duty death in Phoenix history. Sad as that is, it’s part of a fire fighter’s job. Death and injury strike when least expected, despite all safety precautions.
Embarrassment to City
But what about the buff? No one not at the scene can pass judgment; maybe he was asked to help out in that location. The result, however, can be a rough situation for all concerned—including a city government which may be faced with claims, reports, investigations, and embarrassing publicity.
Hatter editorialized in his newsletter, “It is my opinion that 6-6 member buffs MUST be extremely careful while on the fireground, and that they should NEVER get in the way of fire fighting operations, nor place themselves in any position where there is any possibility of their being injured.”
Oftentimes, buffs—perhaps trained for it, as with the Atlantic City Fire Reserves—do help advance lines, man nozzles, or raise ladders. Such activity, however, should follow requests by fire officials for aid. And any chief should think twice before making such a request.
Helping lay hose from a distant pumper, make a hydrant connection, or assisting with crowd control, seldom causes trouble. Few will complain about such assistance from buffs. But there can be no substitute for care and common sense. Consider the buff who, unused to such work, pulls a muscle, or breaks a bone. Who is responsible? Will the municipality face medical claims against which it is unprotected?
What about injuries or property damage from collision or other accident involving a canteen vehicle responding to a fire? Though many have red lights, bells, etc., they aren’t normally considered emergency vehicles. The answer to this is proper public liability insurance. Policies are available to cover the vehicle and its occupants at low cost, “portal to portal.” Even if no canteen is operated by the club, buffs who routinely respond to fires in their private cars can be covered by blanket policies in addition to their own auto insurance— annual cost may be only $100 to $115 for the whole group. Those assisting with the organization of any new club should be sure the group is properly insured.
Finally, the club leadership—and fire officials dealing with it—should regularly remind all members of the importance of personal safety. Only in a rare extreme disaster should buffs be taking risks. To act otherwise may not only hurt their image with the fire service but it can even endanger the lives of fire fighters who unwittingly can become dependent on a buff in a dangerous situation. Unless specially trained and ordered into action, the buff should remain an observer, and at a safe distance.