Courage First: Firefighters on Memorial Day
Courage First: Firefighters LODD #Remember
This Memorial Day, our country stopped to remember the many men and women who died fighting for our country in wars across the decades. Since its founding in the 19th century, Memorial Day has evolved into a symbolic celebration, not only of those who perished through conflict but also for those whose daily courage inspires our full respect and admiration.
Firefighters rank high on that list. One of the nation’s most hazardous occupations, there is little these professionals won’t do to save a life or contain a dangerous situation. Battling complicated chemical fires, taming unruly environments, and facing unknown hazards is just part of their civic agreement.
Firefighters have our backs.
On September 11, 2001, 343 firefighters died attempting to save lives while the Twin Towers fell. Other historic fires throughout Boston ring true to this day – the Coconut Grove Fire (1942), the 1972 Hotel Vendome fire, the eerie Worcester warehouse fire in 1999.
It is a dangerous job from the moment they leave the fire station. Approximately 25 percent of firefighter deaths are from vehicle crashes responding to incidents. Many more die of heart attacks at site scenes, their throbbing adrenaline instigating cardiac arrest. Structural fires at homes, businesses, and in empty abandoned buildings, are other dangerous and fatal touchpoints.
In fact, a firefighter’s work environment is so complicated, the U.S. Fire Administration instituted in 2007 a revised autopsy protocol for firefighter deaths to include both line-of-duty deaths, and those where a non-line-of-duty death may be related to line-of-duty exposure. By understanding the nature of these deaths, the firefighting industry can produce better protective gear, shape decisions to minimize risks, and ascertain the impact of harmful exposures.
Line-of-duty deaths (LODD) are on the wane.
The good news is firefighter LODD’s have steadily decreased since the first official count in 1852 when John Smith, a horseman, died as a result of injuries sustained after a roof collapse. In the 1970s the average annual firefighter LODD was 151 nationally. By the mid-2000’s, that had dropped to 99. And in 2019, there were 48 firefighter deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Massachusetts has sustained 68 fatalities between 1990 and 2018, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
In spite of the risks, firefighters love their jobs. Hopefully, this number will continue to dwindle, but until we can eliminate all risks from one of the world’s riskiest professions, we are left with simply respecting and thanking these heroes for all they do for us, each and every day.