Two Line-of-duty death reports came across my desk today – although not a surprise, they were painful, especially since we’re getting oh-so-close to Christmas.  Each of them is a tragedy, but when put together it’s more than a double – it’s a resounding condemnation of the way we do business.

Timothy Jansen was 45 years old, a firefighter from Bartelso, Ill with a wife and two daughters.  According to news reports, he slipped and fell Sunday night pulling line off an engine at a residential structure fire, and the apparatus ran over him.

Jalen Smith of Tyler Texas, was even younger – only 20 years old last Friday when the personal vehicle he and two other member were responding to a tractor accident rolled several times, ejecting him from the vehicle.  According to his mother, he had wanted to be a firefighter since he was three years old, quote: “He said Momma, my job is to save everybody and that’s what I want to do”.

Many years ago, an Alan Brunacini quote got stuck in my head: “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a new one”.  Yet we refuse to learn.  We step off apparatuses into the traffic lanes without looking; we don’t check to make sure it’s safe to move an apparatus before rolling; and we floor it on the way to calls, often without taking the most elementary safety precautions.  We blame it on adrenaline – but that’s scant comfort to the families, friends, and fellow firefighters that we leave behind.

Face it, guys and gals – we get complacent (which sounds nicer than lazy).  Somehow, it becomes too much effort to do the little things to keep us safe.  A lot of us fall behind on physical conditioning, which is a prime reason that half of the firefighters who die each year succumb to cardiac issues.  Many of us don’t take the basic precautions that were drilled in our head during more attentive times: everything from checking doors to properly donning our gear.

And we’re too ignorant (a nicer word than stupid) to realize that we’re not just putting ourselves at risk.  If you’re a respected veteran, everyone that joined the department after you did is watching you for clues on how to be like you.  If you are too macho to wear SCBA for overhaul, every new member of your team is going to follow your lead unless their heads get cracked.  By the way, if their heads get cracked and yours doesn’t, then it’s not because your superiors respect you – it’s because they’re incompetent.

The Fire and Rescue service has to change, and the change has to come from the top down.  If not, we’re going to keep losing people, and not just the ones who are killed or injured.  Others will observe the carnage and logically reason that they need to be somewhere else, at the very least a new department.

LODD reports should be required reading for everyone in this job.  Subscribe to them; read them; pay at least a silent respect to the man or woman that will never again go home to a family. Then, learn from it: if you do, and especially if you spread the word, then that firefighter has not died in vain.

Slow down; pay attention; wake up – bring yourself and the rest of your team home.  Work every day to avoid making mistakes, but strive mightily to avoid repeats.