Dealing with Tragedy Is Part of the Job

As of April 9, there were 34 line-of-duty deaths reported in the U.S. fire service during 2014. Compared to the same period in 2013, there were 19 line-of-duty deaths. On the cover and on page 48 we take a look at the fire and funerals of two of Boston’s Bravest, Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, who died in the line of duty on March 26, 2014. Their fire station is on Boyleston Street, near the Prudential Building and only a few blocks from where the explosions occurred during last year’s Boston Marathon.

Investigations have shown that many firefighter line-of-duty deaths are preventable – and maybe many are not. Not all situations are the same. Many trends are familiar to the fire service. As we have said many times, we need to follow the lessons learned from official firefighter-fatality reports after they are released. Many have asked, what happened in Boston? Those answers hopefully will follow.


The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) has been working tirelessly as well as many other fire departments around the country to get the message out: “Everyone Goes Home.”

Recently, I was in Tampa with more than 350 fire service personnel, family members and firefighters who suffered line-of-duty deaths in their families or fire departments. The reason this group met was to attend Tampa2, taking a fresh look at the 16 life-safety initiatives that were developed in Tampa 10 years ago and what can be done to improve them. The recent group included dozens of people who were not in Tampa in 2004. For an in-depth report on Tampa2, please read Dennis Compton’s Fire Politics column on page 24.

Firefighters around the country are occasionally nicknamed “black cloud” or “white cloud,” meaning that when they work, they catch all the fires and unusual emergencies or they don’t go to anything special. The fire service certainly has been that way recently. Major fires in many sections of the country are getting local and national coverage day after day in the news media and on social media. Some incidents are on every online device almost instantaneously or repeated again on the national news all day long.

One of those fires occurred in Houston, where an apartment complex under construction was destroyed by a quick-spreading fire. Many of you watched as a construction worker performed acrobatics and thankfully reached the end of an aerial ladder that was sent his way. Tom McDonald, a retired Houston Fire Department senior captain, was on the scene and contributed photos and an “On The Job” story on the fast-moving blaze; see page 50. Tom reminds us that he has been taking fire photos for 40 years. We selected some photos from his collection in a “Portfolio” on page 58. It is interesting to note that how the gear and the faces have changed, but the fires, rescues incidents and variety of incidents never change, just the locations. Congratulations, Tom!


HARVEY EISNER is editor-in-chief of Firehouse® and a retired assistant chief of the Tenafly, NJ, Fire Department, which he joined in 1975 and served as chief of department for 12 years. He also was a firefighter in the Stillwater, OK, Fire Department for three years while attending Oklahoma State University. Eisner is an honorary assistant chief of the FDNY and program director for the Firehouse Expo and Firehouse World conferences. He has covered many major fires and disasters and interviewed numerous fire service leaders for Firehouse®. He edited the books WTC – In Their Own Words and Hot Shots, published by Cygnus.