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: