By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Suggestion for Revised Firefighter Oath:
You have a duty to act. You do not have a duty to act stupidly or recklessly. There is no honor in dying on the job from a preventable cause.
In fact, it is most likely that in the weeks and months after your line-of-duty death, your actions and those of your department would be closely examined and scrutinized. Take a good look at a couple of Firefighter Fatality Reports, aka, LODD (Line of Duty Deaths) reports, from the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The language used in the reports is a bit bureaucratic at times, but the messages come across clearly in report after report: names are not listed, but inappropriate personal and organizational behaviors and practices on the emergency scene, or lack thereof, are consistently listed as causative factors in the deaths of firefighters and officers that NIOSH investigates.
I regularly read the reports as they come out and I still consistently see the same “Top 5 Factors that Contributed to this Firefighter’s Death”:
- Lack of standard operating guidelines (SOGs) or the SOGs were not being followed.
- No Incident Command System was being used to manage the scene.
- There was no personnel accountability system being used.
- Communications (hard and soft communications) were poor or non-existent
- There was no risk assessment conducted by the Incident Commander and/or no overall plan (Incident Action Plan) for managing the emergency.
Try this. Take out a piece of paper and write what you think a NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation Report will say about your LODD.
Not only will your death be scrutinized by NIOSH and other state and federal agencies, but your actions and the actions of others involved will also be judged in the “court of public opinion.” Years ago, that court only existed in the “Letters to the Editor” section of daily newspapers and trade service journals, e.g., Firehouse, Fire Engineering, and the like. The “feedback” and “second-guessing” and “Monday morning quarterbacking”–for public consumption–usually didn’t start until days or weeks or even months after a LODD.
Today, the public scrutiny is almost instantaneous because the Internet and social media platforms give anyone with a device and access an outlet to this “new” court of public opinion. And in this “court” there is no judge and no jury of your peers–only millions of people with Internet access and their own oft-times “half-baked” opinions.
Is that really what you signed on to the job for? Is that what you’d want to put your family and friends through after they’ve already buried you once?
Think about these things as you ponder these statements about your life as a firefighter. For each statement, rate yourself on a scale of 1-4: 1=Strongly disagree; 2=Disagree; 3=Agree; or 4=Strongly Agree
|I do what’s right even when it’s not what is popular.||1 2 3 4|
|I regularly work out to keep up my cardiovascular health, strength, and flexibility to meet the physical demands of the job.||1 2 3 4|
|I have an annual physical assessment and I know that my key health indicators, e.g., cholesterol levels, respiratory function, blood pressure, etc., are within normal limits for my gender and age group.||1 2 3 4|
|I properly wear my personal protective equipment and use my SCBA according to my department’s SOGs and the risk present.||1 2 3 4|
|I consistently comply with all of my department’s SOGs for tactical operations and safety.||1 2 3 4|
|I pursue education and training opportunities beyond those required for my job.||1 2 3 4|
Add up your scores for the six statements above. Use the Scoring Scale below to see how you’re doing.
|20-24||Put the pen and paper away. You’re on the right path and will likely enjoy a long and healthy career.|
|19-12||You’ve got some work to do if you don’t want to wind up as a fire service LODD statistic. Take a good hard look at those statements where you scored yourself less than a 4. Why did you feel that way?|
|12 or less||Are your personal affairs in order?|
I hope that you thought carefully about these statements because these are the issues that too often are causative factors in firefighter LODD events. We know that too many firefighters are not physically fit for duty. We know that firefighters get killed or injured because of a culture that continues to have too many firefighters and officers believing that to put out fires you have to, “Get there fast. Get close. Get it wet.” (Props to Dr. Burt Clark for the quote). We’re just beginning to gain some real understanding how the risk of developing various types of cancers is greater for firefighters when compared to the general population.
See Related: Taking Action Against Cancer in the Fire Service (PDF format)
The best ways to keep yourself and your fellow team members safe in this line of work or avocation is to steadfastly adhere to those statements that you just rated yourself on. There’s also a great list of behaviors for reducing your risk of exposure to carcinogens resulting from firefighting activities that’s part of the white paper in the link above. Here’s an excerpt from the paper’s last page:
- Use SCBA from initial attack to finish of overhaul. (Not wearing SCBA in both active and post-fire environments is the most dangerous voluntary activity in the fire service today.)
- Do gross field decon of PPE to remove as much soot and particulates as possible.
- Use Wet-Nap or baby wipes to remove as much soot as possible from head, neck, jaw, throat, underarms and hands immediately and while still on the scene.
- Change your clothes and wash them immediately after a fire.
- Shower thoroughly after a fire.
- Clean your PPE gloves, hood and helmet immediately after a fire.
- Do not take contaminated clothes or PPE home or store it in your vehicle.
- Decon fire apparatus interior after fires.
- Keep bunker gear out of living and sleeping quarters.
- Stop using tobacco products.
- Use sunscreen or sun block.
The importance of annual medical examinations cannot be overstated — early detection and early treatment are essential to increasing
survival, not only from cancer, but other medical conditions as well.
So, how did you score?