I attended a retiree luncheon the other day and got into a conversation with one of the most respected truck lieutenants that I ever had the privilege of working with. We were talking about the retired firefighters that have had to deal with varying types of cancer.
My thought was that my generation of firefighters would be the last of the high cancer numbers. My reason for saying this is that, though we had improved fireground safety, our practices, after we returned to the station, needed improvement. Some examples were sitting our bunker pants beside our beds, right after returning from a fire, or not cleaning our personal protective equipment (PPE), immediately after a working incident. There was significant improvement in our decontamination practices, about eight to nine years before I retired. Then, there was the fact that some of us wore our uniforms home from work. My wife washed dirty uniforms for 25 years. What was she or my son exposed to during that time?
Our conversation went in another direction when we talked about the fact that our department is one of the few organizations that has a tactical safety officer (TSO) who responds on a great number of calls each day. Though many are a part of the major decisions made in an organization like Chesterfield Fire & EMS, I credit Jim Graham with the vision for this position that emphasized safety in a way that it had never been recognized before. The retired officer that I was talking to said that he was saddened by the fact that more organizations had not created a position like this one. I consider the TSO one of the greatest enhancements and improvements, made for firefighters on and off the fireground.
The point of our conversation was to figure out how we, as retired firefighters, could positively influence the lives of new firefighters, whether family members or others that we have the opportunity to cross paths with. The greatest legacy that a firefighter can leave to others is to share his or her experience with the members of the organization that remain behind. It is more important to say that everyone goes home, but adding that everyone protects himself or herself, other firefighters and their families from the by-products of the job that can hurt those touched by them.
I then woke up this morning to learn that a friend’s mom and dad had been involved in a major accident, killing his mom and injuring his dad. If I understand properly, a tire blew out on their RV causing his father to lose control, leave the roadway and striking a couple of trees. You may think that I am all over the place on this, but we must learn from this, and every other accident that occurs. It is that time of the year when people are hitting the road and going on that much needed vacation. I have no idea what caused that tire to blow. My point is, how many of us check our tires for proper air pressure or defects? We used to check fire apparatus from front to back, side to side and bottom to top, at the beginning of every shift. Yes, as the driver, I climbed under my unit every shift. What could be prevented if we did a safety check of our vehicle, before taking a trip? My heart is broken for my friend and his family. The police reported that my friend’s mom was wearing her seat belt, when the accident occurred.
Safety is something that we must be vigilant about. When an injury or accidental death occurs, it most likely could have been prevented. Though accident investigations are performed after major accidents, many are still dubbed accidents. May we never use the term accident to prevent us from learning everything possible about the incident that occurred and then to make the necessary changes to prevent it from ever occurring again. My conclusion involves the fact that I understand that a light is finally going up at the intersection of Old Bermuda Hundred Road and Jefferson Davis Highway. I cannot tell you the number of accidents that have occurred at that intersection, many of which I responded to during my career. This traffic light should drastically reduce the number of accidents at this location, but it is only a band-aid. People’s attitudes and behaviors must involve them thinking of their safety and the safety of others, before real change will occur.