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 Why We Are Still Losing Our Own: The Simple Things
 By James Rose
As another year comes to an end we take a look back and evaluate the job we have done over the last twelve months. I don't know about you but personally I am my own worst critic. I tend to beat myself up because we know our shortfalls and where we can improve but alot of times we lose focus. In the fire service, firefighter injuries and deaths are the glaring statistics we face day in and day out, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. 

We are still killing firefighters and furthermore firefighters that aren't dying on the job are being injured at an alarming rate, sometimes with injuries so severe that they are forced into retirement. So you ask with all the technology, high dollar gear and so forth why is it still happening ? Very simple, we are forgetting "The Simple Things"

It is the stuff that has been drilled in our heads from day one entering the fire service. Wear you PPE, follow your SOP's, lay supply lines, pick up supply lines, pull a line, coordinated ventilation, etc. You get my drift. It is the same song and dance, we have all heard it. However, year after year we are still going to firefighter funerals and visiting fellow brothers in the burn unit.

Granted, not every injury or death is because of careless operations on the fireground. We all know that in this line of work sometimes bad things can happen even when we do everything right. With that being said, knowing the fact that even in a perfect world bad things can happen, you would think we would make every effort to try to be as close to perfect as possible when it really counts but for some reason alot of the time we are still coming up short.

This month we will take a look at several LODD's and near misses over the past couple of years. In doing so, hopefully shed some light on what went wrong as well as efforts to make sure we don't make the same mistakes twice. We will refrain from naming departments or personnel involved and concentrate on the actual events that took place so we can learn as much as possible to help us in the future.

Case Study # 1
A fire in a large single family dwelling took the life of a rookie firefighter in 2007. With three floors of fire a newly promoted Lieutenant and the victim were searching on the second floor without the protection of a hoseline when things went terribly wrong. The Lieutenant fell down the stairs and made it out while his rookie was left behind and died. At the time they were performing a primary search, a hoseline had been pulled but it was a two and a half pulled by an engine that had no intentions of entering the house to begin with.

Suggestions: It is imperative that we as officers and firefighters riding as acting officers make sound decisions because all it takes is one mistake and a little less than five minutes to kill a fellow brother. I'm not saying that there was not a need to search the house because there was but at the very least it would be nice to know that the engine is coming behind you with an attack line to protect you. For all you officers with less than seasoned veterans on the back step if you are ever faced with a situation like this it would be wise to keep your rookie,partner, or anyone else in front of you. In this instance, had the officer had his rookie in front and not behind him they could have both fell down the steps together and into the front yard with nothing lost.

Case Study # 2
Four firefighters received serious burns when they were operating on the second floor of a burning townhouse in 2007. They were consumed by fire from below after a fire on the first floor extended trapping them on the second floor. They survived by diving down the stairs from the second floor and making there way to safety but not after all four received critical burns.

Suggestions: Alot of times we become so involved with getting the fire that we lose sight of the basics. This fire started on the back porch and extended up the rear. It just so happens that the second floor was burning before the first floor and crews made there way upstairs not realizing that they were trapping themselves because fire was about to consume the first floor as well. No matter how much fire we see on the upper floors of a dwelling, we must NEVER, NEVER pass up fire below us in an effort to extinguish a larger amount of fire above.

Case Study # 3
Six firefighters were burned when they became trapped on the second floor of a large single family house in 2008. They were forced to rapidly escape by bailing down ground ladders, one firefighter was forced to jump from the second floor because a ladder had not yet been placed to the window he appeared in.

Suggestions: A proper size-up would have considerably increased the chances of these firefighters not being injured. The officers involved never got a look in the rear. They thought they were dealing with a second floor fire that had extended to the attic. When in reality, once again the fire originated on the back porch, dropped down lighting the basement off which extended to the first floor. In turn creating a massive amount of fire below as they proceeded to search on the floor above. 

Case Study # 4

Two firefighters were briefly trapped in a two story single family dwelling in 2008. The firefighters were trapped in the stairwell when they bypassed fire on the first floor. Thay managed to self rescue without injury.

Suggestions: Size-up, in this particular case, the officer knew he had fire below but chose to go upstairs where the bulk of the fire was because he assumed another line was coming behind him to handle the first floor. Once again, we can never pass up fire on a lower floor in an effort to make our way upstairs.

In closing every incident we discussed involved a number of the same issues. If a proper size-up had been done many of these incidents would not have had the terrible outcomes that they did. In total, four different jurisdictions within 100 miles apart experienced events that will forever change there departments. Thirteen firefighters went through a situation we all hope we never have to go through. Twelve of the thirteen lived to tell about it while one did not.

In the coming year let's get back to "The Simple Things". Size-up, attack line selection and placement, ground ladders, coordinated ventilation. All of these factors play a large role when it comes to being a success on the fireground. If you miss one or slack in one area or the other, you are setting yourself and your company up to fail. Put yourself in the shoes of the brothers and sisters in the stories above and ask yourself what would you do if faced with the same situation. 

Until next month, take care, and BE SAFE !

About the Author: James Rose is a 16 year veteran of the fire service. He started his career with the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department and currently works for the City of Charleston Fire Department assigned to Ladder 5. He also volunteered with the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department in Prince Georges County MD and currently volunteers with the Stafford  Volunteer Fire Department, the busiest all volunteer fire department in the State of Virginia. James has an AAS in Fire Science from the Northern Virginia Community College and his currently pursuing a BS in Fire and Emergency Services from the University of Florida. James is a three time recipient of the Medal of Valor from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. James speaks frequently on Engine Company Operations, Incident Command, and Rapid Intervention. James can be reached by email at

Tour '08-09 
Newark DE ~ Old Forge PA ~ Silt CO ~ Bullhead City AZ~ - Niles MI - Augusta ME - Dalton PA~ Norwich CT  ~ Auburn NY~Chinchilla PA ~ Clarks Summit PA ~ Lower Swatara PA - Dumfries VA ~Goose Creek SC ~ Wayne Co., PA - 
Benwood WV ~  Shippensburg PA~ South Manheim, PA - Pittsburgh PA ~ Syracuse NY - Jefferson Twp, PA