We plan for everything! We pre-plan for fires, hazardous materials incidents, mass-casualty incidents and even for the safety of our people. We, as an industry, have embraced the customer service concept, and we do all we can do to provide quality service to our customers, both internal and...
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We plan for everything! We pre-plan for fires, hazardous materials incidents, mass-casualty incidents and even for the safety of our people. We, as an industry, have embraced the customer service concept, and we do all we can do to provide quality service to our customers, both internal and external.
Yet, when our members and their families need us the most, some of us leave it to chance. While we continually strive to prevent firefighter line-of-duty deaths, we should prepare to handle the tragic loss of one of our own in the line of duty.
I recently attended the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation class, “Taking Care of Our Own.” It was an eye-opening, emotional experience. The people at the foundation have been listening to the survivors of our lost brothers and sisters about what the fire service could do to at the most unbearable of times, when a firefighter loses his or her life in the line of duty. What the foundation was hearing was that, although we plan for everything else, very little planning goes into what to do when such a tragedy occurs. Survivors feel that everything that happens following the firefighter’s death affects how quickly they and the fire department that their loved one served will heal from their loss.
The class was conducted at the National Fire Academy through a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. During the development of the class, focus groups were conducted with chiefs who had lost firefighters in the line of duty. Much insight was gained and all the chiefs said they wanted to help the families of their fallen firefighters, but many said they did not know what to say or what to do to provide support for the families. The foundation also met with families of fallen firefighters. Through these meetings, the foundation identified what departments did do and could do to help the families.
Three distinguished instructors conducted the class: Chief Warren McDaniels of the New Orleans Fire Department, who has experienced the loss of firefighters in his department; Reverend Bevon Smith of Hattiesburg, MS, who is the proud father of a fallen firefighter; and Vickie Taylor, LCSW, a social worker from Prince William County, VA, who specializes in providing training, counseling and support services to public safety personnel, their families and organizations across the country.
The class is broken into five modules. Module 1 sets the stage for the day’s training. Self-assessment activities identify the need for pre-planning such a loss and provide insight to a department’s readiness to handle this event. The participants hear the chief’s story and a family member’s story.
McDaniels shares the story of loss of life in his department from two perspectives. He was exposed to the loss of a firefighter early in his career as a firefighter, and again as chief. McDaniels shares his feelings of not knowing what to do or say because information on one firefighter’s “Emergency Contacts” form had not been updated. He relays his story in such a way that one cannot keep from getting a lump in the throat.
Reverend Smith presents his perspective from the unenviable position of a father who lost a son in a fire. He has been a driving force for establishing a support system for the families of fallen firefighters, and his efforts have led to the establishment of support programs as part of the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service weekend. He serves on the foundation’s Family Advisory Group and is a charter member of the Survivor Support Network.
Reverend Smith offers a touching story of the tremendous love of a father and his family for one of our brothers. His son, Paul, was a Greenville, MS, firefighter who was injured in early December 1989 and lost his battle three weeks later, on Christmas day. The story is full of lessons for fire departments on how a family dealt with this terrible event, from the notification of the accident through three weeks of hoping and praying for a critically injured loved one to the loss of a beloved son.