A line of duty death is a tragic event that impacts those closest to it the most and cause ripples throughout the fire service. The causes are usually one of several reoccurring factors. Many times, it is a short series of mistakes or omissions coupled together or layered on top of each other that trigger the event and its conclusion. The fire service typically examines these crushing losses so that everyone else can learn from their fellow firefighters’ sacrifice.
What the reports often feature is a list of standard causations alongside needs assessments that can often mask the nitty-gritty of what really occurred. These reports do investigate down into how the department operates and specifically on that day but the bottom line is often buried.
Typically, something occurs which is known by some, but not all, and this information itself is not enough to raise an alarm. Something else occurs which again isn’t highlighted or communicated or considered attached to an escalating event. Then there is the piece that joins the others, and this last segment triggers the event and now it’s a battle within a battle for us to overcome and sometimes we just can’t do it.
These reports are very long and in depth. These reports should be read by every firefighter working today as a silent tribute to their fellow firefighter’s last call. Pay the respect forward, learn from the tragedy and look at your own department to fix what’s wrong there. Many times, the actual cause is not an error on the firefighter’s part but the departments lack of SOP’s or attention to best practices or policy short comings.
Sadly, there is also human error which is a fickle thing at fires, we know they occur and the vast majority of times they don’t amount to much but sometimes they do. For a LODD, the correction comes too late. Strong policies allow everyone to be raised under one roof of expectations and while a search rope could be forgotten, not having one because they were never purchased, is another thing, entirely. Report depth should give you those details because causation matters.
The problem with many reports is boiler plate. What should be readily apparent is the string of events that led to the loss. Is it crass to whittle a death or deaths down to several sentences as to why it occurred? Hopefully not, but when the bottom line is hard to find is a new report writing style all that’s required or do, we prefer broad causational categories to carry the burden of authenticity?
While ambiguity may to help us move on emotionally the lessons must come through. They are the gift that the fallen impart to us and we need to see them clearly or those may be lost too.