Most fire and EMS agencies never prepare for a line-of-duty death (LODD) as if not thinking about it will in some way prevent it from occurring; however, the sad reality is that each year more than one hundred public safety agencies experience a LODD tragedy and there are numerous incidents where public safety personnel are severely injured.
LODD survivors have iterated that when agencies responded to their needs it anhas helped the healing process. Conversely, when agencies did not know how to react, it in many cases caused more pain. Born from this premise is the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation's "Taking Care of Our Own" program. This day-long program teaches fire officers and agencies how to prepare and deal with a LODD tragedy.
This is the first in a series of articles that are designed to bring forward information that will be useful to agencies in their planning process. Major areas that will be covered include pre incident planning, incident management, benefits, post-support for survivors and investigations. More specific and in-depth information is also available on the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation's website www.firehero.org.
Pre Incident Planning
Preplanning is a necessary tool for modern agencies. Agencies need to develop LODD standard operating guidelines that:
- are easy to follow during an emergency
- clearly iterates immediate roles and responsibilities
- identifies important procedures and resources that may be overlooked during such a stressful time
- overs deaths attributable to emergency, vehicular and station incidents, both traumatic and physiological (heart attack, stroke, personal illness)
Specific areas needing guidelines include developing a policy on level-of-honors, developing an Employee Emergency Contact Information Form, identifying available community resources, an IC reorganization plan and a notification plan.
Adopting a "Level of Honor" Policy
Agencies need to consider clearly identifying appropriate honors covering different types of deaths. While this may seem trivial, it isn't. First, meaningful honors must be reserved for LODD and not just given to those that they, or their family, request because they were in the fire service. Second, consistency is extremely important. There are cases where similar types of deaths within a department were not given the same types of honors, which left survivors upset with the department. A department policy that clearly identifies the department's procedures will be consistent and prove invaluable when emotionally distraught survivors call requesting inappropriate honors.
Employee Emergency Contact Information
When tragedy strikes, the department's immediate priority is to personally notify survivors before the press or others do, which is becoming increasingly more difficult due to sophisticated communication systems. How quickly can your agency make notification? Who are your department members' survivors? With multiple marriages and high divorce rates the answers are not always clear. How about grown children, extended family such as parents and in-laws, brothers and sisters? They also may need to be notified.
Develop an Employee Emergency Contact Information form that employees can fill out that provides your agency with important information that can be easily retrieved in the event of an emergency. A sample form can be downloaded from the NFFF web site. Information gained using this form include home and work names, addresses and telephone numbers of those the employee wants you to contact in an emergency. Additional information includes:
- Listing personal and department insurance policies and making sure correct beneficiaries are noted. (Old beneficiary information is common.)
- Listing a family friend the department my seek for assistance
- Listing any department member the employee may want to help assist in notifying the family, or to serve as a liaison between the family and the department
- Funeral preferences. There may be religious or other issues causing the employee not to want a funeral with honors. (Survivors have the final say on this.)
- Special circumstances. These include anyone living at home that needs special care such as elderly parents, spouses or siblings with health conditions or special needs. An interpreter?
- Special requests such as an organ donor or other actions the employee feels important in the event of death
Completed forms must be placed in a secure but retrievable area limited only to those that have normal access to personnel records. However, the form should be placed in a sealed envelop with which the employee signs their name and date across its seal. This provides added security for the employee knowing that this personal information will be looked at only in an emergency.
Communities typically come together and support departments following a LODD. It is not uncommon to have hundreds of emergency personnel and civilians attend the funeral services. This in it self, creates logistical needs.
Departments that have experienced a LODD will readily admit that people immediately began calling, asking what they could do to help. For a large funeral many donations will likely be needed, therefore, it is helpful to assign one or more personnel the task of recording who is calling and what donations are being offered.
Moreover, there are other community resources that should be preplanned before a LODD. These are:
Free or reduced funerals
Check with local funeral homes and cemeteries to see if they offer free or reduced price funerals. Many now belong to corporations that have this type of policy, such as any funeral home that is a member of Dignity Memorial. This corporation has a program that offers a completely free funeral, including burial, to any police or fire officer killed in the line of duty. You may access their web site at www.dignitymemorial.com, type in your zip code and its local affiliates will be displayed. Survivors must be given this information and option before they select a funeral home.
Work with a local bank and set up a blank memorial fund that meets IRS regulations. In the event of a LODD(s), the department only need fill in the name(s). The media is able to immediately give this information to the general public, and public response will be at its highest level.
- Hotel accommodations - do any have bereavement rates?
- Transportation- buses may be needed.
- Day care for children and older adults- look for licensed facilities in case they are needed.
- Animal care-who can care for pets.
- Security - LODD funerals are well publicized and bad people know when the survivors' and their houses are vulnerable.
- Survivor's business needs- does the deceased operate a business that needs immediate attention. Consider dairy farmers or other livestock needs. Who can help take care of the business?
Chief Dan Hermes joined the Pleasantview Fire Protection District in 1977. D rose through the ranks and became the District's Deputy Chief in 1990 and Chief in 1995. Dan has a MS degree in criminal social justice and is currently finishing a Public Administration Master's Degree at the University of Illinois. Besides serving on several state and local committees, Dan has been a member and Chairman of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Funeral Committee for 17 years, and develops programs and teaches nationally for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. In 2001, Dan was selected as the Illinois Fire Chiefs first "Fire Chief of the Year." You can contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.