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Since I joined the fire service in 1980, well over 3000 firefighters have died in the line of duty. Some of our better years, if you can call them that, were in 1992,, 1993, 1996, and 1998 when we were below 100 lodds. Approximate numbers tell us that 50% are due to cardiovascular stresses, heart attacks and strokes, 25% are attributed to vehicle collisions, and the rest fall into categories of trauma due to collapses, gun shots and falls. So far in 2009, we are at 46 lodds. Sadly it looks like we will reach 100 once more. I hope not, but the reality is there. So much time is dedicated to writing articles and blogs, developing training, developing equipment and trying to improve our overall safety on the training grounds and on our firegrounds. Yet, I read the summaries of each year's line of duty deaths and they virtually say the same things. To quote an old television show, "the names were changed to protect the innocent". It is mind boggling to read and re-read the paragraphs that state causes of death are related to physical exertion stress, a vehicle collision, or trauma related to scene safety and size-up issues. With each year, just the firefighter names change, the causes remain the same. I understand that we are in the business of saving lives. I understand that we are in the business of taking risks, including life saving risks. I understand that we may die in the course of our duties. I understand that the innocent ones that we are trying to protect are those citizens in our response districts and in our mutual aid districts. For the past ten years, our line of duty death statistics have been above 100. Do you ever wonder why? (09-11-2001 not withstanding) I have said this before, but we have better technology, we train more, and we have less fire than in previous years. The fire service is doing a good job at increasing our awareness in firefighter safety, but something is amiss. Are we all talk? Some of our actions appear to indicate that. When you read the lodd reports, you read that most should have been preventable. When line of duty deaths occur there are more innocent ones that we are not protecting when we don't come home. Who is responsible? Who needs to step up to the plate? Who needs to think about the next step or two steps in what we are doing on the fireground? The answer has to be us as firefighters and company officers. The Nation's fire service leaders are providing us with strategies. Throughout the years, we have heard from the "greats", Brannigan, Brunnancini, and Brennan. Vincent Dunn, John Norman, John Salka, John Mittendorf, Billy Goldfedder , Ron Siarnicki, Burton Clark and Chief Charlie Dickinson and more. It is up to us to decide on what tasks and tactics to employ so that the final outcome is always a positive one. I believe that any reduction in line of duty deaths and injuries in the fire service will directly be related to those good strategies set forth and our tactical implementation. Therefore, for example, we need to incorporate physical fitness in our weekly of bi-weekly or even daily training. We need to take better control of fire prevention and code enforcement efforts and lean on those, politically, who do not want residential sprinklers or any other fire safe measure in place. We need to walk through our response districts and formulate pre-plans and perform risk assessments before actual incidents occur. With the last one, we will do some physical fitness and we will address firefighter safety. What's more is that it doesn't cost a lot. The benefits of this will far more outweigh the cost. 25% of our line of duty deaths involve apparatus and personal vehicle crashes. Are we combatting that by committing at least 25% of our training towards defensive driving, emergency vehicle operations, department sops, and individual state driving regulations, especially highlighting that "driving with due regard" issue? We have chosen the profession of firefighting to help people. Our citizens call us during the worst days of their lives. They expect us to be there each and every time they call. If we are not arriving there safely, or not at all, are we doing our job? If we are not knowledgeable with the buildings and residences within our response districts during the safe times,how will we be safe during the worst of times? We are smarter now and better protected than any other time in the fire service's history. We are failing to show that when we still have line of duty deaths reaching above 100 per year. We are in a powerful profession. We have power behind the big rig we are driving. We have power in the hoseline we are using to knockdown the dragon. We get into situations that under most circumstances, others would not dare to be in. There are several ways that power can be felt and utilized. Be empowered to engage you and your crews in firefighter safekeeping activities. If you have ever experienced a firefighter line of duty death funeral, you know the other end of the spectrum. There is nothing more powerful or moving, perhaps even chilling, than walking or riding under the raised aerial arches for one of your fallen brothers or sisters. We are at 46, currently. May we have no more! Let this year be our best year! "Stay Smart, Stay Safe". "Train to perform and perform as trained". "Plan your work and work your plan". Those are examples of some cliches I like to use. Cliches are a dime a dozen. Put them to work. In comparison to our lives, and to our family life, it will be a worthwhile investment. The keys to open the doors of firefighter safety have been given to you. When we operate more safely, we increase our chances of staying alive. That's what it's all about. Take care of each other, take care of you, and please take care of me! Let's make sure that "Everyone Goes Home"!

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Comment by Bobby Halton on June 20, 2009 at 9:47am
Andy well said, we often resign ourselves to certain outcomes because we assume that's just the way it's always been and there is little we can do to defy the inevitable. Case in point the cardiac death rate among firefighters for too long we have just accepted that number as a fact, as a condition of the human experience.

Nothing could be further from the truth we now have concrete data about the physiological effects that structural firefighting has on respiratory and cardiac stress. We now know due to the Indiana Physiological firefighting study done by Dr. James Brown that firefighters need to be in much better cardiovascular physical conditioning than any of us ever imagined.

We know that there are five factors which affect firefighters respiratory and cardiovascular response to structural firefighting those are, the size of the building, the size of the fire, the experience of the firefighter, the firefighters weight and the firefighters cardiovascular conditioning.

We can only affect two of those factors the weight of the firefighter and their cardiovascular conditioning. We know from the Indiana study that firefighters who could be expected to fight more than one fire in a 24-hour period should be in elite athletic physical condition. Much as one would expect from a swimmer or professional
tri-athlete.

Dr. Brown's study proved that when an alarm is received our heart rates typically rise to 80% of their maximum and that during structural firefighting especially if there is the probability of a potential rescue that the firefighters heart rates can exceed 100% of their projected maximum capability and further that they may sustain those highly elevated levels for up to 40 minutes.

And this knowledge to the fact that we were put on notice by Dr. Kales from Harvard two years ago in a 2007 study conducted between 2005 and 2006, which revealed that every firefighter who died from a heart attack in the study had underlying cardiovascular disease and there you have pointed example of drift. How was it then that we failed to react, how could it be that we not have taken action correct this sin of omission on all of our parts.

And so now is the time for all of us to refocus on NFPA 1852 and 1853. We must increase our vigilance on our physical screening and testing we must develop more intense and more effective physical training programs.

And we must begin to make the hard choices and take the tough actions when one of us or we ourselves fails to maintain adequate physical conditioning. The time is long past when out of shape and grossly overweight firefighters will be seen as reasonable, prudent or legally defensible. We must become better acquainted with the Indiana study and we must help to support the continuation of that program.

The next phase to investigate the effects which positive pressure is having on our cardiovascular systems, heart rate variability, what are the effects of parasympathetic balance and sleep deprivation on our firefighters.

This part of our professions drift can no longer be ignored we can and we will control our weight and cardiovascular health. I am with you Andy, let’s stop talking about it and do something, all of us. I am going out on my run now. Happy Fathers Day Brothers.

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