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I recently made District Chief. I'm loving it and I'm having a blast training with the gals and guys in my district. I know some of you have been chiefs longer then I've been on the job (18) years and you have had to deal with some pretty horrific ordeals.

I'm not even sure if it is appropriate to bring up but I've never heard anyone speak to it and I'm wondering how a Chief is supposed to handle a situation when the worst happens.

If this thread offends too many of you, I'll remove it. I know it isn't easy to talk about and I don't imagine that there will be hoards of responses but if possible, can any of you share how you have dealt with the death of one of the people in your Battalion/District due to scene activities.

If possible, can you share what happened at the incident, how did you handle the remainder of the incident? How did you deal with the rest of the shift? Telling the Family?

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Hi D.C.

I’m no where near an expert (only 11 years experience)and I’m continually learning every day! However I too have recently became District Chief, and in my short year as D.C. I’ve experienced a type of “worst day” depending on your definition. I can share the story and some of the lesson’s I learned.

When I started as D.C. our department was down to 8 members, 4 of whom have left our service, a critical situation for any fire ground incident, as I had no experienced fire fighters. We’re now 24 strong, however with the incredible growth has come a whole new set of situations, which is a different story… I tell you this so you’ll have a big picture understanding when I explain my ‘worst day’ to you.

In the year I’ve been D.C. we’ve had 3 house fires (rural and urban) which for my small community is unprecedented, numerous structure and grass fires, countless medical calls, and MVC’s. These things aren’t that major when you’ve got an experienced crew who’ve been working with each other for years, I didn’t have that. I had a trained crew, who for the most part had never seen or experienced anything like this past year served up for us. Then I had my worst day…one of my Officers had a cardiac arrest while playing our weekly game of Floor Hockey at the fire hall.

One month ago during a regular Friday night floor hockey game, during a water break my Lieutenant suffered a cardiac arrest. While we’ve trained and many of us are EMR’s my new crew hadn’t experienced this first hand. I did the hardest thing possible, to stand back and lead (and not jump in as my previous 10 years experience as an EMR/Firefighter would have lead me to do) and asked for them to perform CPR on their Officer. They didn’t recognize his symptoms, I did, and they followed my orders to a tee, never once hesitating to do their best, under extreme pressure and conditions. I’m still humbled by their blind faith and trust in me and incredibly proud of them. I had a newly appointed Captain get our teenaged kids out of the room, and call 911 for EMS which is 18 minutes away. We had problems with reaching 911 (either by phone or our radios) and they in turn had problems contacting EMS to attend us at the fire hall, for their system was temporarily down.

We performed CPR for 40 minutes and gave the Lt. 5 shocks with the AED prior to EMS arrival and another one after their arrival. They were able to reset his V-fib rhythm after their arrival. We loaded the Lt. into the ambulance, one of my firefighters with a class one license drove, and another fire fighter who’d just got off shift as a cardiac care nurse hopped in the back of the ambulance to assist the paramedics.

I went into my office and called his wife, wondering with the Police standing next to me what my words were going to be… I couldn’t get hold of her, and didn’t have her cell phone number. I took another firefighter, as my officers were gone with the Lt. and drove almost calmly to their house. I knocked on the door dressed in my most professional uniform for the task at hand (sweats and a sweaty t-shirt from floor hockey) setting my shoulders back, ready for whatever was about to happen.

I had woken her from a deep sleep as she’d been without sleep for 30 hours, the very reason he decided to get out of the house and attend our floor hockey game! I told her what had happened, and she asked if I could driver her to the hospital. Of course I agreed and arranged to pick her up in 10 minutes.

I went back to the Firehall and called our Chaplain who’s also trained in CISD informed him of what had happened and asked him to attend us at the hall.

I picked up the Lt.’s wife and drove her to the hospital, not sure what to expect when we arrived. We were greeted by my members at the door to the emergency entrance and she was ushered into his room.

Later I learned, clearly a miracle had happened, the Lt. we’d loaded into an ambulance only 60 minutes ago was talking to the medical staff and wondering what he was doing in the hospital with an incredibly sore chest, he only remembered driving to the hall for a floor hockey game.

While my story ended well, it had a less than 8% chance for a happy ending after that length of time with CPR. At 15 minutes of CPR I found myself wondering how I was going to tell my firefighters that despite having done amazing CPR, Lt had perished, and sometimes that happens.

What I’ve learned, in my short time are a few things:

Run to the problem/situation, not from it (you can’t run fast enough). I stood strong on the doorstep of my Lt’s home ready to tell his wife what had happened and deal with the outcome no matter what it might be.

Trust when you’ve asked your people to train hard with you and for you, that when the chips are down, and you ask them to do something they never have, they will based on faith alone.

Always have a copy of everyone’s most recent medical history at your Hall/Station. I’m not allowed to have a copy of everyone’s medical history based on privacy laws here in Alberta. I’ve now found a way to have that information at my hall, and won’t hesitate to use it when the next situation arises, it could be a matter of life or death.

Insist that your firefighters give you all of their families contact numbers, this is critical information to have on hand and could save their lives.

Respect your firefighters and the contribution that they make on a daily basis, always. Never take them or their time away from their families for granted, never hesitate to call in the CISD team so that you return them wholly to their families.

Sometimes it’s ok to cry (after the storm) with the guys around you, and in fact they might respect you more when you show that you too were touched by the situation.

I hope this helps a bit, I know it wasn’t the outcome you were specifically looking for but I can tell you it was very stressful and I found myself preparing for the very worst in those few silent moments spent listening to my men counting out compressions while working on one of our own.
Thank you for sharing. That is a great story. I hope the Lt. is doing okay? I think I read something about this but I can't be sure.
Hi Mike,

The Lt. is at home and in recovery he is learning to accept that his life has truly changed. From my perspective he was dead on my apparatus floor and is alive today to see his kids graduate and get married, and that's a very good thing.

I'm working with my Chief to help get him into some health and wellness programs as soon as his recovery will allow. It's going to be an adjustment for everyone, myself included. We need to respect him enough to allow his body to recover, even if that means he can no longer return to the service. He's a 13 yr vet and I respect his time with us enough to do the right thing for him.

I've only told this story to our small paper here in my little Albertan town, so you're one of the first outside of my town/response area to read it! : ) I hope in some small way it helped and was relevant.


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