What'cha Gonna Do When They Come For You?
"A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark" — Dante
By Dave Murphy
Pull up any popular fire-related web site, what do you see all too often? "Fire truck involved in wreck, firefighters injured" or "Live burn training fire goes horribly wrong." What do these headlines have in common? A lack of accountability.
Often the first instinct may be to say this accountability only concerns that of the department. But as the hard facts eventually emerge, departmental accountability will quickly transcend into personal accountability — your specific actions, direct or indirect, that ultimately impacted the event.
A quick question: Has the fire department ever instructed you to intentionally break the law? Take a moment, think of where that exact question may one day be asked of you. It is never a good thing when you are the six o'clock news. That is when it really "hits the fan."
The good ol' days where fire departments were always considered to be "the good guys" and could do no wrong is soon to be a thing of the past. Like a moth to a flame, lawyers will always go where easy money can be made, and according to a recent presentation I attended taught by a lawyer, we are widely considered in legal circles as easy pickings.
It's fair to say along with the all too common headlines I outlined at the start, there seems to be a fair few sprinklings of "court" or "jury" among them, too. Take the article from just the start of this month, about a jury finding the driver of a Kansas City, Kan., fire truck largely responsible for causing an accident that killed a man in 2000.
The victim was driving south in his car when the fire truck, headed west in response to an emergency call, entered an intersection and collided with it. Arguments in the case centered on who had the green light, the fire truck's speed at the point of impact and how much the it slowed down before entering the intersection.
Departmental SOGs/SOPs are primarily there to protect the department from any unwanted liability. How many times have you silently said a prayer for something you have witnessed at the station, while en route to an incident or actually operating at it?
This is where you come in to the picture. Are you always accountable for your actions? Think about this the next time you respond to a call. Do you always buckle up and respond in a safe manner? Do you wear full protective personal protective equipment specific to the hazard? Do you follow the correct departmental procedures and established protocols on every call?
Do you intervene when obvious arrogance or ignorant bliss seems to prevail? Remember this — everything is alright until something goes wrong, and it often does. Just read today's headlines on this web site. What'cha gonna do when they come for you?
Dave Murphy retired as assistant chief of the Richmond, Ky., Fire Department and is currently an assistant professor in the fire safety engineering technology program located at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. Dave is the eastern director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association and also serves as the health and safety officer for the Harrisburg, N.C., Fire Department.