While the 2005 numbers related to firefighters who died in the line of duty quickly catches up to the 2004 numbers, there are several fires that jolt our memories in recent times that occurred in what is supposed to be a otherwise joyous season.
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We sadly remember Worcester (Mass.) firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey, Timothy P. Jackson, Joseph T. McGuirk and fire lieutenants Thomas E. Spencer and James F. Lyons III.
The six men who lost their lives on Dec. 3, 1999, when that massive fire consumed the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co.
We also remember the brave actions taken by the WFD firefighters in an attempt to save their Brothers ... as well as the brave and very difficult life saving action taken by District Chief Mike McNamee when he finally decided that no other firefighters were going in.
And then, weeks later, on December 22, 1999, 48-year-old Keokuk, Iowa Assistant Fire Chief David McNally, a 25 year veteran of the department, 39-year-old firefighter Nate Tuck, and 29-year-old firefighter Jason Bitting who responded to a duplex fire. They found Melissa Cooper trapped on the upper level porch. Three of her children were trapped inside.
McNally, Tuck and Bitting entered the building to rescue the children, but were killed when a flashover occurred. The three children also died in the fire. Cooper and her four-year-old son survived.
These heroic firefighters all died while attempting to search for trapped victims-often a very clear risk of the job.
While we enjoy friends and family during this Christmas and holiday season, we also must remember these firefighters-and the many other firefighters as well-that have been killed and how they lost their lives-risking theirs for others.
On the other hand, so many of "our own" have been killed or seriously injured this year in ways that can clearly be avoided. In the last several weeks we have read about fires, apparatus crashes and other events that have taken more firefighters lives-or left some seriously injured.
It seems to me that if we could just "wave a magic wand" and get apparatus drivers to stop at red lights and stop signs, get those same apparatus operators to slow the **** down to a speed that allows the rig to stop -- without rolling over, to get firefighters to sit down and wear their **** seatbelts no matter what ... block the highway with BIG apparatus when operating on the roads to some dopey clown can't run us over even if it causes traffic problems and finally, get all of us to wear our PPE (head to toe gear, no exposed skin and SCBA) ... we will "magically" reduce some significant numbers.
Or, maybe the "magic wands" are those who got promoted to get the privilege to ride the front seat of the rig-and lead the firefighters. Maybe the "magic" solution is for some fire officers to do their job and make sure their firefighters are safe ... and that means-sometimes doing it in spite of some firefighters own personal actions -- and knowing they won't like you anymore.
Aww. That's ok. Don't worry, I like you.
The unnecessary death of firefighters problem can be fixed two ways:
- The firefighters themselves through some self discipline.
- The officers doing their job by enforcing the polices without fear of not being on one of the gang anymore. That was a given when you accepted the new badge and helmet.
We are definitely in a time that is affecting change in how and what we do to prevent the deaths that are avoidable ... albeit slow.
Between the outstanding efforts of projects lead by the IAFC and the IAFF (www.FirefighterNearMiss.com) as well as the NFFF's Everyone Goes Home program (www.EveryoneGoesHome.com), the NVFC Heart & Fitness Programs (www.NVFC.org), the IAFF's Fit To Survive program (www.IAFF.org) and many others as well ... there has never been a time where there is more underway to work on the problem.
But if the fire officer riding the front seat doesn't make an intentional commitment to do what the IAFF, NVFC, IAFC and NFFF are pushing, to be a boss and to make sure all their firefighters return without getting hurt or killed ... and if firefighters don't stop some of the predictably dumb things we do that have nothing to do with saving lives or being brave (driving like lunatics, not wearing PPE/SCBA, standing up in the rig/not wearing seatbelts, backing up and running each other over, etc)
We'll continue to force the Chiefs, Chaplains and Local/Company Presidents go pick up numb and shocked children, spouses and family members in the red car.
The Worcester and Keokuk firefighters died while searching for victims. They were heroes in the truest sense that should never be forgotten and is hard to-especially this time of year. On the other end of the "scale" though, have been some very tragic deaths of some great firefighters that simply did not have to happen.
Fire Officers and magic wands have been around for years ... but magic wands won't work in fixing our problem.