“Did you hear about the line of duty yesterday?” Nine heartbreaking words no firefighter ever wishes to hear. But guess what…we do. We heard these words far too many times last year alone. We train as hard as we can… make sure our equipment works… get to know our buildings… and exercise every day. We do everything possible to prevent an LODD but in the end, it still happens. No one ever thinks it will happen within their small universe. However, fire is agnostic. It doesn’t care if you're working in a big city or a small suburb. If caught in the right conditions, and at the wrong time, it will eradicate anyone.
For how much we detest hearing those nine words, we have a way of rising above all as we give our comrades the final farewell. I think we would be hard pressed to find another profession who comes close to how vigorously we complete the loss of our fellow brothers or sisters. Black Bunting, Dress Blues, Bag pipes… you all know the anecdote.
As firefighters, we feel an unhinged sense of responsibility to attend the funeral when one of our comrades falls. Years ago, while en-route with a group to a service, I remember a lady asking, “You’re all going to a funeral for a firefighter? Did you know him?” “No Ma’am.” “You firefighters really mean it when you say the word brotherhood.” For how considerably well we do in honoring our fallen, I do have one question. Are all LODD’s created equal? When asking this I’m not referring to HOW someone is killed on the line, I’m talking more about the overall assembly. I’m fairly certain it’s impossible for a firefighter to attend every funeral across the country. There’s simply (unfortunately) too many and our country is too vast to be present for all. With my wife and two young boys, I am nowhere the best at it myself, but I do feel most try our best when tragedy strikes.
But why do some LODD funerals get thousands of firefighters from all corners of the country in attendance, while others get only a small handful? It’s a question I have pondered while attending both extreme disparities throughout the years. Does the cause of the firefighters death play a factor… does dying in a flashover bring out more of an attendance compared to a firefighter who died from occupational cancer? Does the size of the department matter… does working in a bigger city vs. a smaller lesser known town bring out more of a crowd? Does media attention matter… was it broadcasted during the nightly news, on all the major networks, or simply carried by the states local channels? Does the individual person come into play… was it someone known by many throughout the fire service or was it a member who came to work, did there job well, and was relatively quiet? Does the time of year matter… is it a beautiful week in the beginning of June or a bitter stretch of cold in the middle of February? Does audio matter… was there a mayday captured with clarity which transferred emotion or did the firefighter perish silently…
In no way, shape, or form am I trying to be objectionable. It’s honestly a question I have asked myself for quite sometime. I’ve been to funerals where departments from all across our country chartered buses and took flights to get there. Funerals so packed you were crunched in like sardines on a sidewalk waiting for the procession to pass by. On the flip side of the paradox, I have been to funerals where there were significantly fewer in attendance.
Every firefighter who dies in the line of duty gives the ultimate sacrifice. It’s not just a phrase we say or a cool banner to hang on our walls. The ultimate sacrifice are words which constitute the utmost unselfish act anyone of us could ever make. In the end, I don’t believe it really matters the manner in which they died, the department they worked for, or how many members were able to attend. Every firefighter who has died in our line of work has done so out of pure selflessness, attempting to attain our mission of protecting lives and property and so others may live.
Adam J. Hansen