In 2009, from January to June, 53 persons died in the line of duty. The cause and nature of their deaths varies and is representative of the many different fire department personnel across the country. The nature of their work at time of death ranges from removing an occupant from a window of the fire building to a surgical complication following a work related injury. Their ages, 18 to 77, also represent the wide spectrum of men and women in firehouses across the country. In some ways, their deaths were felt by many; in others only the local community shared the loss. Regardless of categories and investigative reports yet released, each died doing what they enjoyed.
Over the recent years, the effort to reduce the number of line of duty deaths has included a number of social or cultural values. With the training that teaches us to respond safer, fight fire smarter and to take better care of ourselves two new strategies have begun to be discussed greater. First, that the definition of “line of duty death” as used by the USFA is perhaps too broad; and second, the broad definition may be responsible for the “100 on average each year” line of duty deaths. The fire service culture refers to line of duty death in a traditional way, such as having been killed inside the structure while searching or advancing the line. The purpose of the previous articles was to examine the first half of the year’s deaths and make the following determinations:
How many deaths are acts of duty in the strictest traditional sense?
How many deaths are acts that are not considered to be traditional line of duty deaths?
How many deaths involved privately owned vehicle (POV) response?
How many deaths involved driving POV or department apparatus and at what ages?
How many deaths involved training?
As stressed in the earlier articles, the intent is not to diminish the sacrifice and loss of these 53 persons, but to look at the statistics in light of apparent traditional and cultural values and see what weight they carry.
20. This includes all deaths in the earlier mentioned “Attack” category, three deaths involving apparatus; five in Response (excluding the travel to a meeting)
11. This included deaths involving department related training (out of town) and travel as well as a charity event. If we include those deaths that would not have been considered by the December 2003 Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act, the number is increased to 15.
1. There were five deaths categorized as “Collision”. Only one involved a privately owned vehicle.
6. This data would be the best to compare with previous years, due to the low category number, and determine if prevention methods are working. While the investigation details are not released, the current information reveals that only one death involved lack of seat belt use. Additionally, one death in this category involved apparatus malfunction. Three fatalities were drivers, one was a passenger and one was in travel for a meeting. The ages are 18, 34, 41, 45, 52 and 61.
5. Earlier five deaths were determined “Training” however three of these would most likely not be considered traditional line of duty deaths.
If we look at the value that the fire service places on observing line of duty deaths, then we can easily accept all 53; however a second value is being raised that follows the thought of traditional line of duty deaths. This second or sub-value is contrary to the December 2003 Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act and leads the culture to reconsider defining ‘line of duty” as well as “on duty”. If we use this to recalculate the number of line of duty deaths, then the number stands at 30. The remaining 23 are open to debate on various levels. The future of these debates will involve defining terms; the time allowance for cardiac events; inclusion or exclusion of department (or employer) related activities; and mandatory age limits. The information presented is not completely scientific. Readers’ personal opinions and/or interpretations of reports may lead to differing numbers and categories. Regardless of how the data is interpreted, 53 deaths still remain. Two dangers exist that the fire service should be aware of with this subject. The first is that we may fall into a false sense of security that preventive measures are working, if the method of defining and calculating are officially changed. The second is that lessons learned from line of duty fatalities go unrecognized, especially if they were officially quantified in previous years.
2009 LODD 6-Month Summary
2009 LODD; Position, Fireground
2009 LODD; Medical, Response