Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility
Today is June 18th, the fifth day in the Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week. Today also commemorates the anniversary of the Sofa Superstore fire in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine firefighters lost their lives while engaged in aggressive interior operations at a commercial building, occupied and operating as a furniture store and warehouse.
On the evening of June 18, 2007, units from the Charleston Fire Department responded to a fire at the Sofa Super Store, a large retail furniture outlet in the West Ashley district of the city. Within less than 40 minutes, the fire claimed the lives of nine firefighters and changed the lives of countless others. The incident galvanized the nation’s fire service and to this day, continues to generate commentary and observations within a wide latitude of functional areas.
Take a moment to honor and remember the Charleston Nine. If you haven’t taken the time to read the authoritative reports, now is the time to do so. Make it one of your Safety Week task activities.
I still find it surprising during my travels around the country lecturing and presenting programs on building construction and command risk and safety, that when the audience was asked, “What do the 1978 Walbaum’s Fire and 1988 Hackensack fire share in common?”, the response typically were blank stares. The more seasoned and experienced veterans (translation; Older firefighters) when present, were able to convey some information on the subject. But yet, the true essence of the basic incident particulars and the lessons learned fail to be fully conveyed. We’re not remembering the past!
Continue Reading Legacies for Operational Safety
I recently spoke about History Repeating Events (HRE), and the common themes related to LODD. Events that resonate with common issues, apparent and contributing causes and operational factors that share legacy issues that the fire service fails to identify, relate to and implement. In other words, we fail a times to learn from the past, or we make a deliberate choice to ignore those lessons due to other internal or external influences, pressures, authority, beliefs, values or viewpoints. We make choices and we determine our direction, path and destiny.
When you look over these LODD events and reports over the years (NIOSH, NFPA, USFA ,EGH Reports), it doesn’t take long to identify that many LODD events share similarities, and that specific incident events, deficiencies, outcomes and recommendations are identical in every way, except for the fire department name and geographical location. In other words, we have History Repeating Events (HRE).
- What have we learned from the past?
- What is it that we’re passing down to each incoming recruit class and probationary firefighter?
- What are Company and Commanding Officers recalling and considering in their dynamic risk assessment, size-up and decision-making (IAP) process when looking at a particular building, occupancy and fire?
- Are mission critical operational elements & HRE factors being recollected? (Naturalistic/ Recognition-Prime Decision-making).
The reality is, we, the present generation of veteran firefighters and officers at times neglect or fail to recognize the importance of passing along the lessons of our life’s journey through our fire service careers, the events of our day and the profound tough lessons and sacrifices learned the hard way. We sometimes need a receptive, sympathetic and compassionate audience that is willing to listen, hear and comprehend the messages conveyed. There needs to be a high degree of empathy related to these past History Repeating Events. For each event, each and every line of duty death has a message and a Legacy of Operational Safety.
Throughout the past thirty-two years (1977-2009), a total of 3998 firefighters have lost their lives in the course and conduct of their duties as firefighters and officers within the fire service. Make the time to research, learn and understand the factors of these events, read the LODD reports from NIOSH, USFA, NFPA and state investigative agencies, the lessons and opportunities that are borne from each and how they relate to the theme, message and initiatives that make up Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week and beyond. Learn and Educate Yourself. Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility.
Each LODD incident involving fire suppression, rescue or other field operations also have significance as they relate to the building, occupancy, use, construction features, inherent structural systems, fire behavior and fire dynamics; coupled with interrelated elements of strategic and tactical fire suppression operations and incident management . Again, “Building Knowledge=Firefighter Safety”.
Honor and Remembrance- The Charleston Nine
• Bradford Rodney "Brad" Baity – Engineer 19
• Theodore Michael Benke – Captain 16
• Melvin Edward Champaign – Firefighter 16
• James "Earl" Allen Drayton – Firefighter 19
• Michael Jonathon Alan French – Engineer 5
• William H. "Billy" Hutchinson, III – Captain 19
• Mark Wesley Kelsey – Captain 5
• Louis Mark Mulkey – Captain 15
• Brandon Kenyon Thompson – Firefighter 5