Past Tragedies are Lessons for New Year

By Tom LaBelle

Summing up each year seems to make sense. As the calendar comes to a close it's natural to want to look behind and catalog the year's activities: our personal wins and losses, how we faired as professionals and as an industry and society.

As I sum up my year, it was outstanding both personally and professionally. Time spent with my family (the immediate and firehouse kind) was very rewarding. We made some good calls at emergency scenes and learned from some bad calls as well. Best of all, everyone went home. Yet it's only December 29 and I feel like I'm spitting in the eye of fate to call the year over just yet.

2009 was very similar to any year. There are so many opportunities to not perform correctly. To be taken by surprise at what seems like a routine "smells and bells" call. Each event provides us with learning and teaching opportunities; we need only take advantage of them. Hopefully we all did just that in 2009 and will again in 2010.

Unfortunately New York State had nine line-of-duty deaths. Although not all directly related to fire suppression. Each left a department and family saddened, and a community weakened. I can certainly say the attitudes and acceptance of learning from tragedies has come a long way. I hope we continue to increase that acceptance and utilization next year.

One tragedy that many faced in 2009, and we likely all will be touched by in 2010 is the economy. We must be prepared to deal proactively with the threat and implementation of budget cuts. If we do not prepare we will surely feel the pain of the economy. That loss will also surely translate to our ability to protect the lives and property of our citizens.

It was not all that long ago that civic leaders understood the terrible economic havoc that fire created in a community. With the passage of time, many of today's leaders have no knowledge of what happens to a tax base, a place of employment, lives and livelihood when fires rage. We need to work diligently to remind those very leaders what can happen when we face conflagrations within a community.

As I think about the year there is one thing that occurred that many discussed, but that we still don't know the full impact of: residential fire sprinklers. The continuation of this requirement in the International Code will slowly work its way into states across our country. The true impact will take time to realize, but the impact will come.

I had both the honor and misfortune to write a tribute to a friend who died in the line of duty many years ago. Besides being a great guy, Chief Kevin Shea was a local code enforcement officer and staunch advocate at the state level for codes that protected the firefighters who entered buildings facing "rapid demolition," i.e. structure fires. In that tribute I mentioned that many would benefit from Kevin without ever meeting him and without ever knowing his work.

So as we prepare to close the logbooks on 2009, I'd like to once again tip my hat to the unsung heroes of the fire service; the guys who toil away for a good drill, who remind us to do the right thing, the guys who work extra hard on the preplans, the officers who choose the right thing over the popular thing. Keep it up!

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