Monday, May 24, 2010

More Thoughts on Firefighter's Line of Duty Death

I wanted to write more on the death of firefighter John Glaser of the Shawnee, KS fire department. I wanted to do it last night, but I ran out of WiFi. I was thinking about his death and the events that led to it, and also, about how one writes about police and fire personnel who make the ultimate sacrifice while doing their duty.
You can get all mushy and misty thinking about LEOs and FFs losing their lives in the course of their duties--about the sacrifice yada yada. You can also get a bit mushy about how they were in their lives--yada yada--and as I wrote not too long ago in a comment on this post from Ann T, you

could make them out to be saints, great family, yada yada. Such talk would cause eyes to roll in the fire house or police station, you just know that. They know that they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. However, the work they've chosen to do, it does separate them from the rest of us. They go towards infernos like the one pictured with this post, while the rest of us move away. Man with a gun reported? We are ducking and covering. The police officer is looking for the man with the gun. So police officers and firefighters are not saints, or perfect. However, they have an integrity about them that cannot be denied. There is an honesty and bravery to their work that most jobs lack. This is why I think the loss of a firefighter or police officer hurts as much as it does. They reflect the best of us, the most altruistic of us, the most courageous of us, us on our very best day. All loss hurts, but the loss of us at our best hurts just a little more.

To the incident at hand: No doubt there will be a lot of analysis. It will be hard work, while mourning the death of one of one's own. The fire service does not like to lose anyone; just this morning, a child was killed in an apartment fire in Kansas City, MO. That fire will be looked at too. For the fire in Shawnee, every FF there will be interviewed. Every command decision looked at. Tapes of radio transmissions will be listened too, transcribed and analyzed. Protective equipment will be looked at and checked. Questions will be raised. Are our procedures best practice? Did we follow our operational plan? Was there a radio glitch? Did something break? Did communications break down? And so on.

What FF Glaser was attempting to do is much harder then it looks on TV. When newbie FFs are learning how to do search and rescue in a building on fire, often the masks on their SCBA will be opaque, so they can experience safely the blindness of being in a smoke filled building. During the press conference yesterday Shawnee FD Chief Jeff Hudson said in describing the conditions in the fire: "You can't see past your face mask. To try and see anyone trapped inside is nearly impossible." Do this, either as a thought experiment, or for real. Go to the front door of your home. Put a good blindfold on. Now, try to go through every room in the dwelling. For increased realism, put on a 20 pound pack and crawl instead of walk. Did that pretty well? Now, go to a friend's home--not someone who lives in the same building or development--no cheating by finding a familiar floor plan. Do the same thing. This is something firefighters do every day when they search a building on fire. It is probably one of the most dangerous parts of their job.

John Glaser's funeral will be Thursday at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS. A fund is being established to help out his family. There is a Facebook page also. You can look at it without being a Facebook participant.

Illustrations, from the top: 1. Screen shot of Google street view of homes near the fire scene. The house on the left may be the home involved, but Google addresses are not always 100% accurate. 2. Screen shot of KMBC fire footage. 3. photo Kansas City Star. 4. Screen shot of Shawnee FD Chief Hudson at the Sunday presser. Click on illustration to enlarge, back button to return.


Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
This is an excellent explanation (for me the layman) to help me imagine the difficulties involved in S & R. It extends a new appreciation to this risk-filled work.

Another thing that always knocks me back about first responder communities is this: They Never Stop Analyzing Mistakes. They do not let sentiment get in the way. If someone made a mistake and was injured or died, God rest them, they go through it anyway.

The rest of the world could learn something from this.

Thanks for the link too.
A very thoughtful post.

Ann T.

the observer said...

Ann T:
Today, KC media went to Overland Park Fire's training center and got to be in a room that the trainers filled with "Hollywood smoke" to the point of no visibility. "Now, try to find the door." the training officer dared the reporters and photogs. I think this is an under appreciated aspect of danger in the fire service.

As to investigation, if we in all emergency services have an Achilles heel, it may be in openness to new concepts and ideas, and new ways of doing things. We can be hidebound sometimes! We are however very good at self critique and pretty much will call a spade a spade when it comes to mistakes, especially costly ones.

Thanks for reading!

The Observer