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The Numbers Game: A Lesson From Law Enforcement


Awhile back I stumbled upon a website geared towards reducing law enforcement LODD's. I have to admit, I had never given it much thought. I find myself, like so many others, caught up in the battles we are fighting in the fire service. Obviously we hear about law enforcement (LE) LODD's every now and then. I think I speak for all of us when I say it hurts just as bad to hear about an officer losing their life as it does when a fellow firefighter gets put in the ground. What struck me about this website is what they are pursuing. The website is called, with the simple goal of reducing LE LODD's to below 100 per year. Not since 1944 has this been accomplished. Most years see an average of 150 LE LODD's.

Switch back over to the fire service and all we hear about is the goal of zero LODD's. Everyone seems to be trying to find the solution that will finally get us to that elusive number. I have said it before and I say it once again, until every fire department in the country closes we will never see zero LODD's. We all know too well that cardiac incidents and motor vehicle accidents take most of us out. With this in mind, even driving to the drill tower can be cause for a LODD, even if everyone is wearing their seatbelts. The point I am trying to make is that even if we stopped fighting fire altogether we would still not see zero LODD's. Thanks to genetics, Big Macs, and texting and driving we just can't get down to zero.

The idea behind Below 100 is taking advantage of the things we can control. The web site lists their 5 Tenets as follows:

- Wear your belt

- Wear your vest

- Watch your speed

- WIN: What's important now?

- Remember, complacency kills?

These are five areas every police officer has direct control over. This is simple stuff! Wear you seat belt! Wear your bullet proof vest! Slow down! Don't get overwhelmed! Don't let complacency creep in! The people behind this movement recognize that the job of a police officer is extremely dangerous and extremely unpredictable. Even if everyone followed all five of the above rules, there are no guarantees.

How does this transfer to the fire service? Is our job extremely dangerous? Yes. Is it extremely unpredictable? Yes. Then I would argue that these five rules fit perfectly into our job as firefighters. We all should be wearing our seatbelts. Replace bullet proof vest with PPE. Wear it all, and wear it right. Watch your speed! I like the "WIN" concept. Every scene we run we need to be asking ourselves, "What's important now?". Lastly, we all know that complacency is a killer.

People like to argue that maybe we can't reach zero LODD's, but that it is still a worthy goal. I disagree. I think it is completely unrealistic. We need to focus on the factors we have control over. Ed Hadfield, Division Chief with the Coronado, CA fire department likes to say firefighters die because "they do something stupid, someone else does something stupid, or it was just their time to go." We need to start making smart decisions in regards to our survival. Chasing an unattainable goal will not bring us home at the end of the shift. Following rules like these, and training like it matters is what increases our chances. Sometimes the cards are stacked against us. It sucks, but that's life.

I challenge you to take a look at and see what they are all about. I think the message is one which needs to be brought to the fire service. I know some people will argue over whether or not 100 is a proper number, but the number isn't the important part. The point here is that we need to take responsibility for our own survival, the survival of those we work with, and the survival of those we serve. We need to take our job seriously for what it is. An extremely dangerous and unpredictable calling. As always, stay smart, and stay combat ready.

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Comment by Bill Carey on December 18, 2013 at 1:48pm

I work with Below 100 as part of my overall work with the PennWell Public Safety Group. This year law enforcement, although they are not exactly trending to stay below 100, will have probably the greatest reduction in line of duty deaths since 1944. 2013 shows a marked decrease in officer deaths due to gun violence and vehicle crashes. Clearly the Below 100 initiative and train-the-trainer events have made progress. The lesson I see in this for the fire service is to have a focus that no longer singles out certain LODDs (see "Culture Change Challenge: Why Have More Firefighters Died This Way ...") and presents them with respect to greatest number and cause of death AND having a realistically or concrete reduction goal. Ask most officers about Below 100 and they can tell you about said goal.

Ask a firefighter what LODD reduction percentage was the goal out of the Tampa symposium many years ago and see if they can recall the number.

Finally, "zero" is an illogical and unrealistic goal because life is fatal; sometimes bad things happen and because there is money tied to how we count our LODDs.

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