By Tom LaBelle
There's been some pretty exciting news this month: the annual death rate for firefighters in the United States of America for 2009 was down, according to preliminary statistics released by the USFA. In fact, it's at one of its lowest rates in a long time!
The number as it stands now — 90 — will increase slightly as deaths that haven't been officially called an LODD are given that designation and added, but still, great work.
Now hopefully this number isn't a fluke, that it's not simply some statistical anomaly that will go back to 100 or higher consistently for the next 10 years. But although the number will obviously fluctuate with time, let us all hope the downward trend will continue.
The question comes, however, to my mind of who do we thank? Well, for starters, there's been a lot of really hard work by national and state organizations. And Web sites such as Firerescue1 and trade publications have dedicated resources, space, time and energy to getting out a firefighter safety message. The list goes on.
It seems like there ought to be some laurels handed out, but whose head are we putting the leafy greens on? Now I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am an incredibly lucky individual. I live in the greatest country on the earth. I have a wonderful wife and family. And, I get to work in the fire service day in and day out.
Overall, pretty stinkin' great! And I have to say I've run into quite a few folks who deserve a great deal of credit for the LODD reduction last year. These individuals are quiet — for the most part — and pretty unassuming characters. And they would likely never take any credit for something as grand as helping to lower the annual line of duty death number, but it's clear to me and many that they did.
I, for one, want to thank them. With this "thank you," I do not mean to take one ounce of credit away from the "big" guys who work on this issue. But there will be plenty of time for accolades there. I want to thank the little guy.
The chiefs who stood up for training, gear, safety equipment and in general led by example.
The fire officers who didn't take the easy way out when it came to safety, who worried more about members going home to their families than winning a popularity contest.
The firefighters who wore their seat belts, took classes, trained and made the effort for themselves and their fellow firefighters.
I want to also thank the elected officials who listened and cared. Those who understood the value of the fire service and the even greater value of a healthy firefighter.
It is often daunting to look at something as large as a national death or injury trend and truly believe that we as an individual can have an impact. After all, every one of us is very busy in our day to day lives of firehouse, friends and family. What can we do to change such a devastating tide?
In his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Dr. Stephen Covey discusses a concept of the "Circle of Concern" and the "Circle of Influence." The concept is fairly straightforward and enlightening.
Each of us has MANY things we're concerned about, but over which we seemingly have little or no control. This large circle is our circle of concern. Within this larger circle is a small circle — our circle of influence. These are the things over which we do have control.
The more time you spend focusing on things in your circle of influence (over which you have control), the more productive you will be. The more time you waste focusing on your circle of concern, the less productive you are and over time the less influence you have, making your circle of influence smaller.
More people seemingly focused on their circle of influence last year when it came to firefighter line-of-duty deaths. They wore their seat belts, trained, and supported good officers. Each of these things has a positive effective outcome. These items, when brought together, have a very large outcome and influence on the broader concern. We can each be proud, but we must also commit to keeping the work going.