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LODDs - We Will Forget You!

We pride ourselves on the slogan "We Will Never Forget" but our behavior speaks louder then our words.

Do you remember any of the brothers and sisters in the photo to the right?

They all died because we did not make them put their seat belt on. "History repeats it's self" according to Chief Billy Goldfeder of the The Secret List: "

Detroit Firefighters Ejected - Again...Close Call 
As you should remember, on 2-7-07, Detroit Fire Engineer Joseph Torkos of Engine Company 17 was tragically killed in the Line of Duty after he was ejected from the apparatus following it being struck by a speeding SUV.

And now this morning, 1 Detroit Firefighter needed stitches in his head and another has a broken arm after their rig flipped while on their way to a fire this morning. 2 other firefighters were not seriously hurt when the truck skidded and rolled onto its roof at 0715 hours this morning. Witnesses said they saw all 4 Firefighters thrown from the apparatus, although the rigs are equipped with seatbelts. One Firefighter was nearly crushed, a witness said."

Every safety rule and every piece of safety equipment was paid for in blood by firefighters who came before us. When we do not use the equipment and follow the rules we are disrespecting our dead and injured brothers and sisters.

But we can change at the individual, company, and department level. There are 58,700 fire service leaders who are making a big difference by taking the National Fire Service Seat Belt Pledge, buckling up, and not moving the apparatus until all on board "click it."

Lt. Lauren Brown of the Dallas Fire Department, is one of them. This is her story in her own words:

May 14, 2008

Dear Dr. Burton Clark:

Here is my "Seat Belt" story. In short, it is a brief account of how I came to realize that I was not doing my job as an officer or as a firefighter.

I'm not sure which of the following events actually happened first, but they both were within the first two days of my Interpersonal Dynamics class. One morning, you stopped by to introduce yourself and to raise awareness about the Brian Hunton National Fire Service Seat Belt Pledge. At about the same time, Fire Chief Tom Taylor from the Moses Lake Fire Department in Washington asked those of us in class to sign the Pledge.

There are a lot of "firsts" in this story...This was my first time to attend the NFA, the first time I had heard about Brian Hunton (even though he was a fellow Texas firefighter) and the first time I had heard about the Pledge. And finally, I signed the Pledge without giving it the first thought as to how it would impact my station life and my duties as a fire officer.

My first two weeks at the Academy were filled with sleepless nights as I lay awake wondering how I was going to make this change for myself, my crew, and my department. I took the opportunity to reflect on the many inconsistencies in my life that were related to what should have been such a simple, and automatic, action.

I had to admit that I had overlooked our department's policy, and state law, for my entire career as a firefighter and an officer. I wore my belt in my personal life, and not in my professional one. In fact, when I was growing up, my parents would fine me a dollar for every time I did not buckle up. At work, I wore it religiously when I was on the ambulance, but once I slid my gear across the apparatus room floor to ride the engine or the truck, I was never buckled.

After signing the Pledge, I called home one night and told my husband to "get ready" to wear his seat belt once I came home; this was his two-week notice. He quickly came up with a variety of excuses that all boiled down to either 1) its too hard to change old habits or 2) we don't buckle up en route to a structure fire because we are trying to get dressed and provide the fastest response. This is my husband, also a Dallas firefighter, who had just left the station about two years ago when the engine he was riding rolled onto its side. (I remember the undocumented reports from the scene talking about gear moving around the cab like a hamster in its exercise wheel.) The thought that I could not even convince my husband to buckle up was, at once, discouraging and a challenge that I could not let go.

Thank goodness firefighters are competitive people. I am not sure that Chief Taylor knew it, but I felt accountable to him; he was one of the few in my class that I told of my goal to make Dallas Fire-Rescue 100% compliant. And, now that my husband had told me "no," I was certain that I would make the Pledge a success.

I knew that once I returned to my station, my work was cut out for me. First, I had to make sure that I wore my seat belt, every time. Then, I talked with my station captain and we talked to our crew. We all signed the Pledge for our New Year's Resolution at the table after breakfast one morning and I passed out Everyone Goes Home helmet stickers. Next, I told my battalion chief of my plans to do the Pledge department-wide and he put me in contact with our Fire Chief.

I solicited support from members at all levels, including some operations chiefs and our Safety Advisory Committee. I coordinated two roadway safety training lessons for our members and administrators and Pledge copies were distributed according to assignment and shift. In less than three months, we have obtained 1748 signatures from our uniformed and civilian employees who are eligible to drive or ride in fire department vehicles. Last week, Fire Chief Eddie Burns certified that we are 100% compliant.

The change for us has been gradual, but make no mistake, it is deliberate and a priority. I still check myself and my crew on almost every emergency run and even on our return trip home. However, they usually beat me to it and are the first to scream "Seat Belts!" in their craziest voices as we run out to our rigs.

I truly believe that this change will save lives and I am ashamed that you had to bring it to my attention. The power of peer pressure, especially firefighter initiated peer pressure, is overwhelming. I hope that we can use a little friendly competition to our advantage and generate change among everyone, especially the large metro-sized fire departments, so please pass the word that Dallas did it!

Lauren A. Brown

I hope there is an officer like Lt. Brown in every fire department. Detroit owes it to Joe Torkos. The rest of us owe it to the 300-plus firefighters who have been killed in crashs over the past 30 years because no one made them put their seat belt on.

Chief: Does your fire department have a 100 percent seat belt pledge certificate signed by US Fire Administration, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, the National Fire Protection Association and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundations? If not, why not?

The worst day of your life will be when you go tell a mother, father, wife, husband or child that their firefighter will not be come home because you did not make them put their seat belt on. You may also want to tell them "We will forget them soon."

DR. BURTON CLARK EFO, CFO, a Contributing Editor, is the Management Science Program Chair at the National Fire Academy and serves as an operations chief during national disasters and emergencies for the DHS/FEMA. He was a firefighter in Washington, D.C. and Assistant Fire Chief in Laurel, MD. Burton is the host of Leadership on the Line on Firehouse Podcasts. To read Burton's complete biography and view their archived articles, click here