Commentary: It Happened Again

This is a difficult time to write a commentary. As I sit before the screen today the events of one day ago are weighing way too heavy upon me.

The Town of Lancaster, Massachusetts has lost a firefighter at a structure fire yesterday. 3 other firefighters injured, one of them seriously. The seriously injured is a friend and a colleague.

The original fire building is destroyed, a family and a community or two has been devastated.

It was a basement fire.

Just as I started to write the article, I received word of two firefighters from Maryland being injured in a basement fire.

So what ... There are probably 50-100 basement fires everyday across America. Firefighters go to basement fires.

What happened yesterday in Lancaster could happen anywhere in the US tomorrow. It is a small town America, protected by a small group of dedicated firefighters.

I raise that point because frustration has gotten me to that point. I guess it really doesn't matter that we kill 100 members a year in this country. I am sitting personally and emotionally drowning in the blood of my brothers because we believe that buildings are more important than us.

I take my job as an instructor very seriously and professionally and those that know me, know that all too well.

Isn't there something that we as fire instructors can do to make a change in this deluge of death? Are we doing enough to change the way a firefighter, or fire officer thinks?

I was not at the scene of the emergency on Saturday Morning, but I think by it's outcome we see that something went terribly wrong.

The formal investigation will take some time and find some facts, and there will be many stories of the heroism of other members who acted under difficult conditions. But to what end?

Hundreds will descend upon the town of Lancaster on Tuesday to pay tribute to a young man. Hundreds will send emails and condolences to a young widow who is 9 months pregnant.

What good will any of that do?

To make some good come out of any tragedy there must be tough and difficult decisions that must be made.

As fire officers and fire instructors be prepared and ready to make those decisions.

Make your training VALID, and RELEVANT. Stop teaching popular techniques that are "fun to teach" and good "hands on stuff" when you know that some of these techniques have only a marginal chance of success, and may create a false sense of confidence. Some of the CRAP we are teaching will not help anyone who has already crossed a very thin threshold of safety by some building failure, or other catastrophic event.

It takes "balls" to be a good instructor. Safety is not very popular. You will not be popular if you preach safety and instill it into every one of your evolution. If you are not ready to commit to that level of intestinal fortitude and you want to be popular with the guys, then keep headed the way you currently are.

I suggest that you look at each and every training evolution you have and make sure the end objective is firefighter safety. If you cannot figure out why you are teaching a particular evolution or if there is no perceived safety benefit then change your thinking.

We as a fire service in this nation have spent tens of thousands of training hours across the national lecture circuits teaching "last resort" and rapid intervention techniques. It is time to stop. Let's take our training back to preventing these "last resort" maneuvers. Focus on size up and air management training.

If the investigation yields and lessons to be learned, then please incorporate those into your department's train in and sops.

If the investigation does not yield any information, then make sure your members are fully aware of the dangers and risks of basement fires and all structural fires.

As I typed those words, I shrugged my shoulders and re-read what I wrote....

How stupid am I? We have all read the NIOSH reports of many previous line of duty deaths and injuries already. In 10 years we have killed 1000 men and women, excluding the 343 from FDNY, so make it 1300.

We read the reports, we know the recommendations, we either don't care, or we just don't get it.

If you are from the Northeast area and will be attending the funeral, do not get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the flags, and class A uniforms and flag draped aerial ladders, but instead as you stand at attention and salute, focus your attention on the family, the mother and father and wife and children. As you listen to the strains and wails of the bagpipes that are all so present as we pay tribute to a brother firefighter, look at his family, and watch their pain and suffering, and tell me again how that now destroyed building was worth this.

Maybe then we will get it.

Stay safe, say a prayer or give your thoughts to the family of Firefighter Martin McNamara, and say a prayer or remember Deputy Chief John McLaughlin who is fighting to recover from injuries sustained.

Pete Lamb's commentaries appear on his web site, PeteLamb.com. He is also Director of the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy. The views and opinions expressed within this commentary are those solely of the author, not of his employer.

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