Each year at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg and at the IAFF Memorial in Colorado Springs, we gather to memorialize and pay tribute to our fallen. The ceremonies are dignified, respectful, appropriate and most moving. I would hope that every member of the Fire Service could make the opportunity to attend one or both of these ceremonies, at least once.
It is so important to keep the Line of Duty Death numbers in perspective and in sharp focus. Each fire service lost is certainly more than just a number. To their family they are a place at the family table that sits empty and will always remain empty. To their coworkers they are a memory of what could have been, what should have been and a scar that seems to never go away. Remember, like you and I, each one had plans and dreams.
I had the honor of serving as the family liaison for the family of a fallen member and to escort his widow to Colorado Springs where I presented her with the IAFF flag. It was one of my most difficult moments.
Each flag presenter practices the words to say to the family member. I forgot every word. My loss of memory was caused by a young girl who was seated with her two siblings and their mother on the front row of the family section. As I waited to move with my group of presenters to the front of the memorial, this young innocent child shouted questions that no child should ever have to ask:
"Where is my Daddy?" "I want my Daddy." "Why isn't my Daddy here?"
My question to each of us today is Why indeed? I hope that each of you will have coffee table critiques and try to answer this question. Look at the annual LODD numbers that are 80 to 100 every year. Examine your department LODD incidents or those of your neighboring departments and those published each day in our professional journals and on our professional websites and ask the question: Why indeed?
Have we reached our acceptable number that we can't change or that we are satisfied with? Examine NIOSH and LODD reports and I think you will find that we still kill Firefighters the same way that we did when our wagons were pulled by horses over cobblestone streets.
I am a firm believer that until each one of us makes a personal commitment to drive and operate safely, our staggering LODD numbers will not improve. No amount of rules, SOPs, SOGs, Directives or Operational Procedures will make a noticeable change. We have all tried that.
In my department, we lost a highly respected Captain who was a bright and shining star. He died on April 11,1974, fifty days before I entered his fire department. He died when two apparatus collided at a controlled intersection downtown. He died responding to a building alarm that was of no consequence. He left behind his parents, his brother, his wife and three small children. He died at forty-two years old. He was my Little League baseball coach, Captain Bobby Wyatt and I miss him very much.
I can come and speak to you on safety, we can debate safety and preparation or you can learn like I did in the school of hard knocks. It is your choice.
In my world I have but one job and that is to return you home as I received you. Everything else that I do is secondary. I am expected to be correct in my decision making, every time, much like the pharmacist, the surgeon or the airline pilot. I do not get a mulligan and neither will you.
Firefighting is a dangerous business. Someone is going to get dirty and someone is going to get wet. My forty-one year career is nearing the end. My day was back in the day. This is not my day anymore, this is YOUR day.
I do not wish to be honored in Emmitsburg or Colorado Springs. I don't wait well and I wish to be honored now. Will you, each one of you, honor our fallen and honor me now by allowing me to be a part of the generation of Firefighters that changed the safety culture and dramatically reduces the LODD numbers?
I can't do it without you and we have to win this one for the coach.
Have a great day - it's a GREAT day for it.