Charleston Message Clear During Safety Stand Down Week

As the deaths of nine firefighters killed battling a South Carolina blaze continue to reverberate through the fire community, so does the need to ask why? How?

As the deaths of nine firefighters killed battling a South Carolina blaze continue to reverberate through the fire community, so does the need to ask why? How?

It so happens that this week's tragic fire came as firefighters across the nation marked this year's Fire and EMS Safety Stand Down. The yearly occurrence is a time when firefighters nationwide stop and reevaluate operating procedures, trying to make this already dangerous profession as safe as it can possibly be.

"It seems to have been a sad coincidence," said Dr. Harry Carter, Firehouse.Com Contributing Editor.

Carter said the business of battling blazes is dangerous - and this sad time helps make that clear.

"I believe that we should rivet this into the minds of the American fire service as we enter Stand Down so that we do not forget the sacrifices which drive us in our mission to make the American fire service safer," he said.

Pat Morrison, Health and Safety Director for the International Association of Fire Fighters, is currently in Charleston, helping firefighters cope with the sudden loss of their brothers.

"It's a tragedy that this happened, and national Stand Down will make this even bigger in people's minds," he said.

Morrison stressed the firefighters needed to take time to grieve and say goodbye to their fallen comrades. But, after a time of grieving, there will be time to examine what went wrong.

"There are lessons to be learned, and we really need to take a look at this, at the proper time," he said.

"Right now there is a lot of activity," Morrison said. "People are busy working around the clock, there is grieving going on and there is going to be grieving for a long time."

"Firefighters right now are numb," International Association of Fire Chiefs President Jim Harmes said.

But Harmes said after time has passed, this will help firefighters realize the importance of Stand Down.

"This could happen in any small town, medium town, huge town. This could happen to any one of us," Harmes said. "We look at the safety of our departments so this never happens again."

In Nebraska, firefighters are honoring the fallen Charleston firefighters as they remember Stand Down Week.

"Even though I never met those guys, even though they're paid and we're volunteer, we're still all one big group," Ralston, Neb. Chief Kyle Ienn told local television station KETV.

"As chief of this department, the best thing I can do is do what I can to save my guys and make sure my department is as safe as it can be."

And in Montgomery County, Md., firefighters plan to continue emphasizing safety, adding the Charleston fire to the teaching tools they already use.

"What this does is bring a focus on what we need to do on a routine basis," said Richie Bowers, Division Chief with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

"It's unfortunate that we had this large loss of life during Safety Stand Down with respect to a structure fire because that is the most dangerous part of our job."

Bowers said the loss of a life is more than just that - it's the loss of a brother, a daughter, a grandparent, a member of the fire service community. And because that life is so precious, fire departments like his do everything they can so that every firefighter who goes out on a call can return home safely.

"Whenever we have a near miss, we pick the incident apart and we find out where we may have to do something differently to prevent it and then we change what needs to be changed to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.

And that's what they plan to do once a thorough investigation into the Charleston, S.C. fire is complete.

"I'm certain that once the internal process is concluded, and whatever lessons that come from that, our department will learn from that and do what we need to do to change."