One of the less well-defined roles of a Company Officer (or even a senior firefighter mentoring younger members) is that of unofficial fire service historian. Sometimes in the whirlwind of EMS protocols, WMD training, fire dynamics, probationary check-off packets, apparatus operator approvals, and myriad other training requirements that are placed upon today’s firefighters, the “where we came from” and “how we got here” sometimes get lost in the fray. The Company Officer is in an ideal position to act as the fire service historian for the members of their company. Morning drills and discussions around the coffee table should frequently include mentions of historic fires on their anniversary date, and the implications that a certain incident had on the fire service as we know it today. Triangle Shirtwaist. Waldbaums. The Worcester Six. The Charleston Nine. Iroquois Theater. Beverly Hills Supper Club. Bricelyn Street. Southwest Supermarket. Hackensack Ford. Whether the incidents are related to a major loss of civilian life, or a notable loss of a firefighter’s life in a LODD incident, each one of those words or phrases should instantly conjure up a series of thoughts in each of the members of your company. If not, and any of those phrases elicit a blank, confused stare, it’s time to start educating. A well-rounded firefighter has a well-rounded grasp on the past, and any Company Officer worth their salt needs to make sure that their members understand the fire service foundation on which they’re now lucky enough to be standing.
The fire service has a tremendous amount of modern resources available to study previous notable fire incidents. More specifically, LODD incidents from the past 20 years or so can be studied in great detail with NIOSH reports, incident audio/video, news reports, and in some cases internal department reports. For incidents prior to that, the US Fire Administration Technical Report Series remains a tremendous resource database. For a number of more recent incidents, the good folks at NIST (under the guidance of Dan Madrzykowski) and also at ATF have produced vivid and accurate video simulations of many incidents using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software. Berkeley Way. Cherry Road. Keokuk. Herbie Johnson. Mark Falkenhan. Vandalia Ave. Houston McDonalds. The list goes on…..
As a Company Officer, you’ve got to be the one leading the charge on monitoring the release of this information as it gets pushed out the fire service and getting it into the minds and memory banks of your members. Be inspired. Be passionate. Make it clear to your members that you think the sacrifice that these firefighters made is important, and that their deaths are worth studying and understanding. I make it a point to say out loud the NAMES of the firefighters that lost their lives in each incident we study and discuss around our coffee table. Their sacrifice certainly deserves at least that. One of your most important jobs as a Company Officer is to make good future Company Officers out of your young, developing members. Make it a point to be a fire service historian, and someday they will be too.