Photo Scott LaPrade A memorial to the 'Worcester Six,' who died in the line of duty nine years ago, was unveiled earlier this month.
As 2008 comes to a close, I fought for a while in my head about what I would write about. It always seems that we should be talking about the new, exciting things that happened in the previous 12 months for these kind of articles and what we have to look toward in the new year to come. I racked my brain to determine what the new thing was I would write about … and couldn't find a thing.
I took a trip down the East Coast this year for the holidays with my wife and kids, visiting family along the way. I also made an effort to stop in several places to recognize some of the more infamous losses the fire service has suffered in the past 10 years.
We stopped in Worcester, Massachusetts, NYC and Charleston. At each place I was reminded how far we’ve come and how far we still have yet to go. Only in Worcester is a final memorial erected; the other two await decisions on how to proceed.
I was struck in particular in Charleston how ordinary the area is where the Sofa Super Store fire occurred. It looks like the main drag in almost every town in the United States. It was a fire almost any of us could have encountered.
It reminds us how things can go terribly wrong, terribly quickly with terrible consequences. Yet still I had no sudden epiphany of how I would write this article.
So as I often do, I just sat in front of my computer and wondered where the words would come from and secretly wondered if they'd come at all. Then it dawned on me that there was a reason no new vision was coming — as there was no really new vision to write about. We're still dying and getting injured from the same issues we were 10 years ago.
The good news is we seem to recognize that fact more than before. Over this past year, things such as greater visibility on the roadways, a better understanding of PPE and how to utilize it and what appear to be some amazing progress in SCBA equipment all promise great things for the coming year — these great things being the hope of lower LODD numbers.
I also feel compelled to think of and thank all those who never make the news. The chief officers who fight city hall to help ensure their firefighters have what they need, who never tell the mayor "Sure, we can do that" when clearly they can't.
To the line officers who try to make every moment a teaching moment. Who try to ensure that each drill is new and informative, who put their guys first. And to each firefighter who pushes safety, even when it's not the popular thing to do. Keep it up!
Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.
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