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Goldfeder: When is a Line-of-Duty-Death Not an LODD?

When is a line-of-duty-death not a line of duty death? That seems like a simple question - but it's actually pretty complicated. Real complicated.

  • Is it an LODD when a firefighter does something incredibly outlandish, causing their own death?
  • Is it an LODD when a firefighter doesn't have enough training-but did something beyond their scope?
  • Is it an LODD when a firefighter dies from a heart attack after never having a physical and weighing 350 pounds?
  • Is it an LODD when a firefighter gets ejected because they didn't wear required seat belts?
  • Is it an LODD when a firefighter ignores the command officers orders and decides to "play" on the fireground - or in the building?
  • Is it an LODD when a firefighter who has been one for 40-plus years and has a heart attack when directing traffic?
  • Is it an LODD when a firefighter dies from burns sustained while at a live fire training activity?

In almost all cases, it depends on who you ask.

For example, the families of the firefighter who died will generally have one opinion-as will generally the firefighters who knew that fallen firefighter or who operated on the scene. On the other hand, the Natgional Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundatoin (NFFF) also all have different criteria as to what they each define an LODD as.

In this case, is it an LODD when a firefighter was allegedly driving "reckless" -- causing his own death and injuring a citizen? Assoiate Editor Susie Nicol posted an intriguing story worth reading. When a firefighter responds, they sometimes don't think about what the consequences of their actions may be-such as if they are involved in a crash. Pa. Fire Commissioner Ed Mann shared an emotional e-mail from the wife of a man seriously injured when his vehicle was struck by a volunteer firefighter -who was killed, responding to another crash. Personnel attending the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association meeting also were visibly moved as Mann read the detailed message.

What Happened

The woman wrote to Mann about the crash, and disputed media reports that her husband was in good condition. She said her husband was seriously injured by "your hero firefighter" who drove recklessly without respect to others on the road. Her husband sufirefighterered a fractured leg and a broken ankle among other injuries including cuts and bruises all over his body. He has undergone numerous surgeries including one lasting seven-and-a-half hours to repair multiple crushed bones.

"Is this the type of behavior you wish to encourage," she wrote, claiming that it wasn't the 20-year-old's first crash while responding to a call.

Since both legs were afferected, the man won't be able to walk anytime soon. He won't be tending to his roses, playing with his grandchildren or working with his homing pigeons. His life, she said, isn't going to be the same "because of your hero."

The woman suggested Mann "reconsider the funeral for your hero…save it for a volunteer who deserves it…" He apologized for her husband's injuries, and the lasting effects it will have on their lives. He also asked her permission to share her story so others will learn-but would not ofirefighterer an excuse. There is none. As a volunteer fire chief himself, the state Fire Commissioner said he also read the woman's e-mail to his own crew. He also urged CVVFA members to take the message back to their departments.

The Quentin Volunteer Fire Company in Lebanon County, Pa., has about 15 members. One of them was quiet and unassuming: firefighter Bruce Sensenig. The 20-year-old died in the line of duty when he was killed in that two-vehicle crash while responding to the initial run in heavy rain on July 22. Because of firefighter Sensenig's religious identification, as a conservative Mennonite, the funeral and memorial services were handled difirefightererently than they would be under normal circumstances in terms of memorializing a firefighter who died in the line of duty. There was no color guard or honor guard. There was no apparatus set up at the funeral - at the request of the family who wanted to keep services private. A fire service memorial ceremony was held separately.

To me, I have always felt that when a firefighter dies, we honor the life they lead as a Firefighter-not necessarily the manner in which they were killed. One thing that we probably haven't given much public thought to is: what if the firefighter's actions not only kill themselves, but also seriously injure or kill others? Does that take away from the idea that the firefighter should be honored for the service they provided, as a firefighter, prior to their death? What about those who sufirefighterered-such as described above-because of the actions of that firefighter? 

Naturally the answer is to do all you/we/them can do so that unnecessary firefighter line of duty deaths are minimized. Keep in mind we wrote "unnecessary" because their are, on occasion, firefighter LODD's that are not avoidable. But those are definitely not the majority. We all know the majority are certainly-and have proven to be-avoidable and can usually be avoided through training-and more training. What training does your FD provide related to emergency vehicle or POV driving? How often? What qualifies someone to "respond?"

It appears this crash was avoidable-therefore so were the injuries to the civilian....firefighter Bruce Sesening paid for it with his life, while attempting to help.  Plenty to learn here. Again.