The numbers don’t matter
By Dave LeBlanc
Originally published 31 December 2014.
As we continue to discuss the future of the fire service and it’s mission as it relates to fire attack, protecting civilians and our safety, something has become clear.
The numbers don’t matter. It was less safe to return from an incident this year than it was to operate on the fireground. 9 out of 87 deaths occurred on the fireground, while actively engaged in firefighting activities (advancing hoselines, search and rescue, ventilation) . And of the 87, 44.7% were not incident related.
Yet from the daily dialogue one would would think differently. Considering the thousands of fire fought in this country, and the danger involved in firefighting, do those numbers warrant the the constant barrage of putting ourselves before victims, changing our tactics and the “over safetyification” of our jobs?
This isn’t to say there isn’t room for improvement. We can always learn more, train harder and do better; but with every LODD there is a chorus of “see, we told you this job was dangerous and we were right,” versus an honest assessment of what actually happened.
I have been accused of being angry, ranting, having a bad understanding of risk assessment and management and of improperly advocating for the victims to advance my agenda.
I do believe the victims come first, and will not apologize for that. I believe that in all aspects of what we do, but especially when it comes to fire suppression. If we change our mindset, and slow ourselves to reduce the importance of life safety, we fall into the same trap we do when when consider an AFA as just “another false alarm”. We become complacent and are not prepared to do what needs to be done when we have to act.
There is a lesson to be learned from every line of duty death. We owe it to those that have fallen to learn from their incident. But we need to stop using LODDs as an excuse to not prepare, to not be ready and to not complete our mission.
1. Actually there are 10, but when using USFA data as defined by Activity Type we are currently limited to nine: Toledo 2 (Search and Rescue); Boston 2 (Advancing Hoselines and Search and Rescue); New York 1 (Search and Rescue); New Jersey 1 (Ventilation, but fell due to medical emergency); Texas 1 (Advancing Hoselines); Indiana 1 (Collapse while setting up unmanned master stream inside commercial building); Philadelphia 1 (Listed currently as Unknown, but news reports indicate Advancing Hoselines); and New York 1 (Search and Rescue)
“Maryland Department, NFFF Team Up to Reduce Firefighter Deaths” (includes Tampa2 report) NFFF, FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation, December 2014
“On Duty & Line of Duty: What Is the Difference?” Carey, FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation, March 2013
Image courtesy of United States Fire Administration, 2014 Firefighter Fatality Data, from 8 January 2014 to 25 December 2014
Main image courtesy of Unsplash.