2009 LODD 6-Month Summary – Final

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. 
Strict Traditional
20. This includes all deaths in the earlier mentioned “Attack” category, three deaths involving apparatus; five in Response (excluding the travel to a meeting)
Not Traditional
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.
POV Response
1. There were five deaths categorized as “Collision”. Only one involved a privately owned vehicle.
POV/Department Apparatus/Age
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.
Training
5. Earlier five deaths were determined “Training” however three of these would most likely not be considered traditional line of duty deaths.

Conclusion
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.

Additional Reading
2009 LODD 6-Month Summary
2009 LODD; Position, Fireground
2009 LODD; Medical, Response

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1 Comment

  • Nick Martin says:

    Bill,

    Excellent points that most people would not have taken the time to compile. Considering the weight that the fire service gives these LODD numbers when discussing our tactical operations, it is IMPERATIVE that we re-consider our definition of an LODD.

    As you stated, this is in no way to take away from the sacrifice of any of our brother/sister firefighters, but instead to look more accurately at the implications of our actions. Further, I am NOT implying that we reconsider the definition of LODD’s from a benefits or awards to surivors standpoint, only from the perspective of considering our operations.

    It has been repeatedly said that the fire service is “200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress” and it is frequely referred to that we’re “still killing 100 a year”. These statements are often used to implicate that we are not being prudent operationally. The changes in our tactical mindset and actions that have resulted have been significant – and in my opinion, and that of many others – not always appropriate.

    Does a heart attack 24 hours after a automatic alarm have anything to do with our operations at a house fire? Do the number of deaths in responding vehicles have anything to do with our tactics AFTER we arrive at the fire? I’d aruge that it’s unlikely… Yet these numbers are repeatedly use to back-up arguments for changing our FIREFIGHTING operations.

    We are faster to change our firefighting operations than we are to implement physical fitness standards when it is CLEAR that the latter is responsible for signficantly more injuries/deaths.

    Again, I am not trying to make light of the loss or sacfrice of any of our brethern. However, we owe it to all of us to use the RIGHT numbers when making decisions with long-range, far-reaching, often unforseen implications.

    Nicholas A. Martin
    nmartin@traditionstraining.com

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“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”
Comments
Burton Clark
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All we need is one lesson with two parts. Follow all the S.O.Ps 100% correct, 100% of the time. Reason, anything less can get you and others killed. It also makes you a professional and defines a good firefighter.
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John Pignataro
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Bravo sir ...This battle began in the early 1990's having been a career DC Fireman for 30 yrs and a still active volunteer fireman for 37 the mentality has changed since 1977. Your article is clear and to the point but I am afraid the fire service maybe lost to the folks who preach the…
2014-08-23 01:12:28
Ben Waller
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Actually, the "Women and children first" idea cane from the sinking if the HMS Birkenhead. Now known as "The Birkenhead Drill", this stemmed from the ship beginning to sink, an inadequate number of lifeboats, and the Royal Marines and soldiers on board being called to formation and standing in ranks while the ships crew put…
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Ron Ayotte
Women and Children First by Dave LeBlanc
Bing-freaking-o!
2014-08-21 02:49:30
Brian Gary
Women and Children First by Dave LeBlanc
Very well written. I couldn't agree more with your statements. The problems are many, but they perpetuate and increase with every new class of recruits that are poisoned with the idea that anyone who feels unsafe has a responsibility to act and stop whatever is going on. When I came on, my instructors told me…
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