Ignoring Potential Personnel "Flashover" Situations

By now, you have probably read the media reports in which some undisclosed sources contend that autopsy results showed that of the two Boston firefighters who died in the line of duty while operating at a restaurant fire in August, one had traces of...


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By now, you have probably read the media reports in which some undisclosed sources contend that autopsy results showed that of the two Boston firefighters who died in the line of duty while operating at a restaurant fire in August, one had traces of cocaine in his system and the other had a high blood-alcohol content.

Firefighters Warren Payne, 53, of Newton, MA, and Paul Cahill, 55, of Scituate, MA, were both tragically killed at that fire. News outlets reported (from leaked documents) that one firefighter was legally drunk and the other had illegal drugs in his system. Meanwhile, the victims' families are grieving over the loss of their loved ones — with a new twist to further add to their lifelong grief. Five children lost their fathers. "I hope this isn't true. My husband really died a hero," Cahill's wife, Anne, was quoted in a Boston newspaper.

The two men clearly lived heroic lives and were heroic firefighters. One of the most well-known and written-about chiefs of the FDNY was Chief Edward F. Croker, who served in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He left us with many great quotes, but one I have always liked says, "When a man becomes a fireman, his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work."

The point is that Firefighters Payne and Cahill were brave and absolutely led heroic lives as firefighters. Their history and years of heroic, brave and dedicated service prove it and speak for themselves. But, if what the news reports said about alcohol and drugs proves to be true, they have caused irreparable and lifelong pain and suffering to those they love the most — their family members. How? There are significant possibilities that local, state and federal death benefits to the families may be challenged (see related article on page 28). Therefore, it is possible that not only have the families of these fallen firefighters suffered horrific losses, but they may also end up without the fiscal death benefits they would otherwise be entitled to because of the actions of their lost loved ones. What a nightmare.

You also may have read about the City Council in New Ulm, MN, which chose to maintain the tradition of allowing beer in the firehouse. New Ulm City Council President Daniel Beranek was quoted as saying firefighters who put themselves at risk are responsible enough to know when they've had too much to drink. The City Council chose to ignore Assistant City Attorney Roger Hippert, who said letting firefighters drink on the job raises concerns about liability: "I think there are some legitimate causes for concern like (operating firefighting equipment) while impaired and who is going to determine when a firefighter is impaired." Ya think?

In most cases of drinking-involved situations with tragic outcomes, the offenders did not know when they had too much to drink. Attempting to use logic and self-discipline when drinking doesn't always work. For more on that, speak to any member of MADD — Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In a subsequent article, Beranek, after reading articles and letters criticizing the council's decision, was quoted as saying, "There has been no reaction worthwhile. I mean, people from Massachusetts and Wisconsin, I'm not going to listen to them tell me what we're supposed to do here in New Ulm."

We have to think that New Ulm firefighters aren't much different from any of us in doing the job and we hope they will do what their City Council president suggests — self police so that a problem doesn't come up. But it would probably be much easier if the stuff wasn't in the firehouse to start with. And if something does go wrong, look how they have positioned themselves out as targets and potentially hurt their families, not to mention each other and the public. It isn't worth it.

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