Editors note: We hope that your department never suffers a line of duty death, but we feel it is important for each chief officer to understand the responsibilites to the fallen firefighter and their family, should a tragedy occur. This multiple-part series offers to serve as a guidline to prepare for everything from the funeral to the investigations that will occur after the incident.
Thinking about psychological acuity when you hear those words "man down," how likely are you and your agency to remain neutral and calm, and able to make rational decisions when one of your own is in peril - especially during a dynamic emergency scene? We develop standard operating guidelines (SOGs) for many types of major incidents in order to guide our actions more safely and efficiently. Many may have already developed an SOG dealing with rescuing a missing, trapped or injured firefighter(s). However, does the SOG address the on-scene incident commander's responsibilities in dealing with issues more specific to the injured or deceased personnel and in keeping others safe?
Certain issues need to be addressed in the preplan. First, if the scene warrants, and the incident commander has not already done so, a scene safety officer, incident safety officer and a rapid intervention team must be activated to concentrate on rescue/recovery while the IC stays focused on the entire operation. The IC should give consideration, when possible, to his/her own psychological acuity and if in doubt, seek assistance in running IC. Additionally, depending on the department, the IC may be responsible for notifying survivors and may need to leave the scene.
Department members' safety must also be considered. What will their mental status be? Will they be thinking clearly and will they be taking unnecessary risks? Can/should they be removed from the scene as early as possible to prevent more accidents and allow them to undergo stress debriefing?
A public information officer needs to be assigned immediately. The PIO must not release the names of any injured or deceased personnel until officially notified by the chief or family liaison officer.
An investigation will be needed. Points to pre-plan are:
- Who will conduct it? Use the police whenever possible.
- Isolate/tag and secure and clothing or equipment used by injured or deceased.
- Vehicle accidents
- Have a neutral police agency investigate whenever possible
- If the emergency vehicle must be stored for investigation or is inoperable, where will it be stored? Consider any negative effects storing it at a fire station will have on personnel
- Immediately require written reports by all department members involved in the incident
Develop a notification plan. The notifications must be made immediately. The agencies notification plan should identify positions, not names, and be at least three levels deep. Some helpful preplanning information is:
- Next of Kin information - who will retrieve it, who will do notifications (at least two people in separate vehicles), who will talk, will an ambulance stand by?
- On-duty crew families. Word travels quickly that a tragedy has taken place. On-duty family members need notification that their loved one is safe or they may speed to the scene or agency in an effort to find out for themselves. Pre-plan a call to each only stating that there has been a tragedy and that their loved one is safe. No other information is given.
- Off duty crews and families need to be notified. Pre-plan a call to each only stating that there has been a tragedy. No other information is given.
- Department/community officials. Identify all those who must be notified and have their telephone numbers listed. Overlooking someone who should have been notified may prove disastrous.
- Other agencies may need notification. Identify and list names and telephone numbers. Some states require OSHA notification within eight hours. Other agencies may include the state fire marshal, insurance companies, workers compensation, and so forth. More will be covered under benefits later.