How do you direct your fire officers after tragedy in the fire service?

The FireRescue1/Fire Chief Editorial Advisory Board reflect on firefighter safety, apparatus training, and supporting each other so everyone goes home

In New York City, NYC firefighter Michael Davidson was operating the fire hose nozzle in a basement of a movie set fire when conditions intensified and he became separated from other firefighters

In York, Pa., firefighters Ivan Flanscha and Zachary Anthony were killed and two others were injured while investigating a four-story building a day after a fire, when a section of wall collapsed.

And in Kanawha County, W. Va., two firefighters were killed and three were injured when their fire truck crashed en route to a fatal vehicle crash scene. Pratt Volunteer Fire Department Firefighters Michael Edwards and Tom Craigo died after their fire truck flipped, left the roadway and hit a rock wall, according to Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

St. Patrick's Cathedral was filled with people who remembered Lt. Michael Davidson as a hero.
St. Patrick's Cathedral was filled with people who remembered Lt. Michael Davidson as a hero. (Photo/AP)

We asked the FireRescue1/Fire Chief Editorial Advisory Board to respond to the incident in West Virginia, sharing how they direct their officers after a tragedy occurs in the fire service. Read their responses and add your own thoughts in the comments section below.

What is the message you want your officers to be taking today from the tragic apparatus crash in West Virginia?

Pedro Cáceres: It has been a tragic week for the fire service with several LODD events. It is hard to focus a message on specific areas as we do not have many details of the incidents. However, as a chief officer, the safety and wellbeing of your personnel is your greatest concern. I would want to remind company officers and firefighters that we need to continue to pursue our mission of making a positive difference by focusing on our education/training, fitness and positive attitudes. Events like the ones we saw this week remind us of the need to be fully committed to minimize the risks of our profession as the consequences to ourselves, family and community can be devastating.  

Phil Stittleburg: Vehicle operation continues to be one of the most hazardous aspects of response. This tragedy serves as a reminder for us to redouble our vehicle operation safety efforts.

Gary Ludwig: Assume all other drivers are blind and deaf. Never assume that another driver is going to see or hear you and drive defensively with that assumption in mind.

John Buckman III: Slow down. I realize with my experience in the fire service, when I was younger, I drove too fast. I put my brothers and sisters at risk, and my family. I was one of the lucky ones. You have to arrive on the scene to be of any value to those who needed us in the first place. Train our drivers to slow down and arrive safely. Also, make sure our drivers’ training includes the proper reaction when a fire apparatus goes off the roadway.

Billy Hayes: As officers, it is incumbent to take the time to learn from incidents such as York, Pa.; FDNY; the fire apparatus crash in West Virginia, as well as the thousands of similar events that are well documented and easily accessible. There are inherent risks on every response and every action taken, and/or not taken. Being a responsible leader includes reviewing these incidents with your crew to discuss how they happened, but more importantly, how to prevent them from happening to you. We are in a business of risk management, mitigation and reduction. The same risk applies if we take no action by attempting to prevent incidents from happening to you and your crew, as it does when responding to a call. Furthermore, we should seek to not point blame or pre-judge others as we have all made mistakes and been accidently successful in our career.

Ted Aroesty: I would simply say to my officers, keep all the firefighters lost last week in your minds and hearts, and be very vigilant in all we do, as life can change in an unexpected instant. Be there to support each other, and let’s be sure everyone goes home.

Linda Willing: Slowing down, taking a moment to consider – these are some of the hardest things for a firefighter to do. Sometimes firefighters forget that emergency response, with all of its dangers, begins the moment the tone goes off in the station, not when the rig arrives at the scene. The officer sets the expectation about how the crew will respond in terms of securing the station, using safety gear en route, and operating the emergency vehicle while responding to an emergency call. It’s been said many times but it is true: You can’t help if you don’t get there.

More about the panel

  • Pedro Cáceres is battalion chief, Wayne Township (Ind.) Fire Department. He has been a lead instructor for the department and the Central Indiana Fire Academy, and was its director in 2008. Beginning in 2009, he served as the division chief of support services for one year and then as served as division chief of training and safety for two years. After three years of service with the administrative staff, he returned to the companies and his merit rank of captain.
  • Phil Stittleburg is fire chief, past chair, National Volunteer Fire Council. He joined the volunteer fire service in 1972 and has been chief of the LaFarge (Wis.) Fire Department since 1977. He serves as chairman of the board of both the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and the National Fire Protection Association. He is also legal counsel for the NVFC, the LaFarge Fire Department and the Wisconsin State Firefighters Association.
  • Gary Ludwig is fire chief, Champaign (Ill.) Fire Department, and a 39-year fire service veteran, having served in the St. Louis and Memphis fire departments for 35 years. He is the co-author of several books and author of "Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Prayers – Firefighting and EMS in Some of the Toughest Cities in America." He was the 2014 James O. Page EMS Leadership Award winner.
  • John Buckman III served 35 years as fire chief for the German Township Volunteer Fire Department in Evansville, Ind. He has served nine years as director of firefighter training for the Indiana State Fire Marshal Office. He was president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 2001-2002 and is a cofounder of the IAFC Volunteer and Combination Officers Section.
  • Billy Hayes is former fire chief, Riverdale (Ga.) Fire Department. He served as the director of public information and community affairs for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department, and is a past-president of the Metro Atlanta Fire Chiefs Association. He is a graduate of Georgia Military College and the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. He additionally served as the advocate program manager for the Everyone Goes Home campaign through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, where he was also a State and Region IV advocate.
  • Ted Aroesty is the executive director of the Brighton (N.Y.) Fire District. For 28 years, he has been a volunteer for the Brighton Fire Department, serving as chief from 2003 to 2005. Aroesty is responsible for the day-to-day administrative operations of the Brighton Fire District, working in conjunction with the fire chief to ensure that every aspect of their fire and EMS response is ready to meet the needs of the community.
  • Linda Willing is a retired career fire officer and currently works with emergency services agencies and other organizations on issues of leadership development, decision making and diversity management through her company, RealWorld Training and Consulting. She is also an adjunct instructor and curriculum advisor with the National Fire Academy. Linda is the author of "On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories." 

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