Saturday, May 29, 2010

From Waldbaum’s to Hackensack- Worcester to Charleston; Legacies for Operational Safety

I still find it surprising during my travels around the country lecturing and presenting programs on building construction, that when the audience was asked, “What do the Walbaum’s Fire and 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!

I’ve spoken on numerous occasions 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 over the years (NIOSH, NFPA, USFA 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).

Are the fire service legacies of the past and the lessons learned from those incidents and the sacrifices that were made transcending time? Or are they lost in the immediacy of day to day challenges, issues and operations. Or are these events, lessons and operations issues dismissed and disregarded as a result of their “time and place” not being relevant to “today’s” operations and modern fire service advancements.

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-three years (1977-2010), over 4,000 firefighters have lost their lives in the course and conduct of their duties as firefighters and officers within the fire service. Although there are numerous LODD fire incidents and events that could be discussed, all distinguished and exemplified by heroism, nobility, cause and fortitude. There are four that stand out when related to the lessons learned and the significance and impact each LODD incident had at the time to the national fire service.

Each of these incidents 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”. Check out the expanded article post HERE at
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1 comment:

  1. Chris, one of the things that it's easy to forget is that a great many of today's firefighters have no memory of the Waldbaum's fire or even the Hackensack Ford fire. They are simply either too young or were not even born when the Waldbaum's tragedy occurred.

    Maybe we need to teach all of our new firefighters the institutional memories some of us "older" types have.


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