Who else is affected when a firefighter gets injured or killed is a question many of us in the fire service tend to avoid, or not dwell upon. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the realities and pain of life go away and all emergency service personnel should realize that the death and/or injury of a firefighter will have far reaching impact in their family, department and community.
The injury that befalls a firefighter can be a lasting and traumatic experience; in some instances, it may require extensive long-term medical treatment and care, maybe disfiguration, paralysis, or living the rest of one’s life with a permanent disability. It can be a very high price to pay, especially if the injury could have been prevented. The ultimate price would be the death of a firefighter as an immediate result of performance of duty, or at a later date from complications from injuries sustained while in the performance of duty. Needless to say, death is final, the last whistle has blown and the game has come to an abrupt end. Spouses, families, friends, department and community will be heartbroken and saddened, and they may be devastated by the loss of a brother/sister firefighter.
With the sadness brought about by death or injury, in the days and years ahead there will be many problems and issues that will have to be addressed and overcome, and in most instances, they will have a lasting impact on the family, department and community. We can evaluate this impact in the form of physical, financial, emotional and psychological stress.
The physical damage will be in the form of the injury, medical care needed and potential for rehabilitation. Many firefighters think small when they think of injuries; a cut, broken bone, sprain, minor burn, or some form of injury that will be short-term and soon forgotten. Unfortunately, there are other forms of injuries that may render the firefighter incapacitated for the rest of their life, placing a tremendous burden on family, friends and the department to always be there in support. Some victims and their families may have tremendous difficulty in handling the emotional and psychological trauma that can accompany long-term injury and potential confinement to bed, a wheel chair, or walker, and the endless medical appointments and treatments. Included will be the additional stresses in providing home care and transportation for an incapacitated individual. It will not be an easy task, and it will be fraught with deep mixed emotional feelings and at times, frustration and “Why me?”.
What about the financial and economic aspects of being injured? Who will pick up the bills, both medical and living expenses? In most instances, it will be the department's insurance carrier, or the local municipality, or state government through Workers Compensation, Volunteer Benefits Law, or the state pension system. What about future educational requirements for children and all those little extras one gets accustomed to, where will the extra cash come from? In most instances it stops and may bring about a change in lifestyle for the family.
The department will suffer for a variety of reasons, including saddened and weakened morale, increased costs for liability and workers compensation, increased workload, and additional operating costs. Some of these will also trickle down to the community, as any financial increases for the department will inevitably be passed on to them. The department and the community will be effected by the loss of services.
In the death of a firefighter, much of the impact and burden mentioned previously will be similar, but nothing will replace the fallen firefighter. There will be the mourning and wake, generally followed by a departmental funeral attended by colleagues from surrounding jurisdictions, all of which is quite ceremonial and impressive. More importantly, it doesn’t bring you back to life. Neither will all the benefits that come with dying in the line-of-duty. And remember, you don’t get the benefits, your survivors do as they will surely need them. These benefits have greatly increased over the years, but they still aren’t worth dying for. Practicing firefighter safety and maintaining an attitude to stay safe will help keep you out of harm’s way and extend your life and career.
Remember, death is forever and much longer than life, so do your best to live a long, healthy life in the performance of your duties by looking out for your personal safety and the safety of your fellow firefighters. When you do, you will also be looking out for those silent partners consisting of family, friends, department and community, to whom you mean so much.
Till next time, Stay Safe and God Bless!