It is a tragedy anytime a first responder loses his or her life trying to save others. The hurt is greatly compounded when the death was preventable.
It is impossible to know if an SOP, even one that was taught rather than just written, on high-rise fire response would have prevented N.Y. housing police officer Dennis Guerra and his partner Rosa Rodriguez from using the elevator during an April 6 Coney Island fire. Guerra died and Rodriguez remains hospitalized.
The two officers were on scene before firefighters and took the elevator to the 13th floor — the fire floor — to help rescue residents. They were overcome by smoke and later rescued by firefighters.
To their credit, New York police and fire officials worked together to draft a protocol for police who arrive first on fire scenes.
Stories of police jumping in to help fire victims is nothing new. They are often first on scene simply because they are already in their vehicles. And in communities protected by volunteers, they can be on scene for 10 minutes before fire crews arrive.
What surprised me is that New York didn't already have a protocol for this in place. I would venture to guess that many jurisdictions are in the same boat as New York when it comes to how police behave on fire scenes.
Police have made some incredibly heroic rescues at structure and vehicle fires. They've also gotten into trouble, putting themselves in peril and drawing limited fire resources away from fire and rescue activities.
Having an SOP for police response isn't enough. Nobody needs another sheet for the binder. Police need to cross train with firefighters, even if it is just tabletop exercises, on how to best help victims and other responders. And they need to understand how fire behaves.
This may mean that fire chiefs, especially volunteer chiefs, will need to reach out to their police counterparts. It might mean developing special training or lessons — but if it saves one cops' life, it is worth it.