If only there was some way to sell it
By Bill Carey
Originally published 18 December 2013.
Each and every single firefighter death is a loss not only to those directly connected with the victim but also in this vanilla brotherhood fire service across the nation. Each one should, as rightly expected, be properly mourned and remembered and when applicable have lessons from the tragedy distributed to the rest of us so that we may learn and the victim does not die in vain. There is a problem that arises with certain causes of death that have, not of their own doing, been given a degree of notoriety above others. This is due to the actual incident but in most of these cases as years, anniversaries and related tragedies pass, this is also due to efforts made in challenging the “culture”. This is usually done, as you may have seen, by references to data and the push of published articles and online exclusives of how you are doing it wrong and need to completely overhaul your department.
If you haven’t noticed by now your favorite fire service magazine, website, training group and trade show are all in the business to make money while delivering information to you. There is nothing wrong with that but when it comes to discussing, seriously, the deaths of firefighters and presenting ideas, education and merchandise to prevent future deaths, you must make sure – as a stakeholder – that what is being pushed is somewhat balanced with the actual data. You may have Ben Franklin’s DNA or the DNA of Thomas Jackson (“give them the bayonet!”) or George Patton (“the coward is the one who lets fear overcome his sense of duty”) but when the devil is in the details you have to ask “is the greatest detail being overlooked?”
Per USFA data to date are the numbers of career and volunteer firefighters killed in vehicle/apparatus crashes in 2013 so far. I complied this after seeing the huge online wringing of hands after the one (1) on-duty death of a firefighter in a vacant building this year. One death, so far, that we should be looking at as progress in reducing that number. Instead, all we see are the usual fear-based reactions pushing for change in tactics, strategy and culture.
But compare that number, the “1”, with some other not so popular or maybe “uninteresting” numbers like these below.
Three (3) on-duty deaths involving career firefighters during vehicle operations:
- 1: 47-year old assistant chief, department vehicle (presumed), crash during severe weather and poor road conditions (Missouri)
- 1: 19-year old wildland contract firefighter, tanker rollover during wildfire operation (Oregon)
- 1: 41-year old wildland fire captain, missing during investigation; death attributed to ATV accident (New Mexico)
Seven (7) on-duty deaths involving volunteer firefighters during vehicle operations. Six (6) involving privately-owned vehicles (POV)
- 1: 58-year old, POV response for an outdoor fire (South Carolina)
- 1: 37-year old, POV response to fire call, ejected (Illinois)
- 1: 20-year old, POV related crash while returning from mandated training (New York)
- 1: 47-yeard old, POV response to MVA, ejected (Mississippi)
- 1: 20-year old, POV response to MVA during poor weather conditions (Pennsylvania)
- 1: 25-yeard old, POV response to fire call (Virginia)
- 1: 28-yeard old, apparatus response to fire, driver only (Alabama)
Average age of the volunteer fatalities presented: 34. It isn’t just some young kid fresh out of Firefighter I.
The way in which our official on-duty deaths are counted, and life itself, will never allow us to have zero; it is illogical. Instead, we have to ask ourselves and our fire service organizations if we are really focused on doing what we can, giving equal attention, to reducing the larger number of on-duty deaths? They may not have glossy, cool-looking photos or videos to accompany their NIOSH reports but does that make them any less sellable?
10 deaths related to vehicle operations, six involving personally operated vehicles, compared to one death in a vacant building.
Maybe departments should worry more about driving and relying on a pledge and less on what poor bloodline your members have lurking inside themselves.
These 10 victims, their departments and families deserve that from us.