Standing Near the Epicenter of Line of Duty Deaths
If you live anywhere where there is seismic activity, you know the closer you are to the epicenter of an earthquake, the harder and greater the impact.
The same holds true when there is a fatality within or close to your agency. This is not to lessen the impact when a fellow firefighter or police officer dies anywhere. It’s simply natural that the impact is greater the closer you are to the person, geographically or emotionally.
I experienced this impact when I was first promoted to captain. My chief at the time sent me to company officer training in Phoenix. While I was there, Phoenix Firefighter Brett Tarver died during the Southwest Supermarket Fire (https://www.firefighternation.com/2018/03/14/the-bret-tarver-story/).
This one hit me hard. Although the fatality hadn’t occurred in my department, I was in Phoenix close to the incident and with Phoenix firefighters at the time. It certainly rocked my world!
And now, once again in Porterville, Calif. We recently lost Firefighter Patrick Jones and Fire Captain Ray Figueroa. Not only did these two firefighters serve the citizens and community in and around Porterville, like many of us, they responded to large wildland fires across California.
Their loss has rocked the fire service world. It was the first multiple-LODD (Line of Duty Deaths) in more than a year.
This article is dedicated to Firefighter Jones and Capt. Figueroa. It’s not meant to provide answers, but rather to reflect on the impact LODDs have on all of us. Here are a few things to consider:
- We might not like to talk about it, but LODD is a reality for all first responders. Have you truly faced this reality? Has your family?
- Is your agency prepared for an LODD? Maybe prepared isn’t the right word, since it’s difficult to really be prepared, but there are steps you can take now that will help the family and fellow firefighters should your department experience an LODD. Check out this list from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation: https://www.firehero.org/resources/department-resources/handling-lodd/
- Emotions run high whenever an LODD occurs. Finger pointing, blame, guilt and feelings of betrayal are all common. As hard as it will be, it’s important to keep emotions in check.
- The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program examines line-of-duty-deaths of firefighters and issues reports on the causal factors behind the incidents. These reports provide vital information to help fire departments and firefighters prevent similar incidents from occurring. If you’re not already in the habit of reviewing NIOSH reports, start now: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/investigations/investigations.html
I wish I knew what to say, what to do. I don’t. We know this will happen again. Let’s prepare ourselves as best we can, commit to doing everything we can to stay safe, and honor the memory of those who have fallen.
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” —Hebrews 12:26
–Chief Sam DiGiovanna
About Chief Sam DiGiovanna
Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif.