Thursday, April 25, 2013

Angels Wearing Helmets & Turn-Out Gear

As I write this entry, I am at my desk with another browser window open, as I watch and listen to the memorial service for the volunteer firefighters and EMT's, killed in the line of duty, in the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, TX. Yet, as tears roll down my face, I am seething inside.
On these posts, I have often ranted against the cable/satellite television networks and how they take so little regard of America's fire service. And now, in the dark, sad shadow of the loss of these brave heroes, the major news networks again disrespect us by only carrying the live broadcast of the memorial service online, most likely, until President Obama comes to the podium. After the tragic bombing in Boston (my great hometown, by the way) the entire memorial service was telecast. But when it comes to us, the ones who run in when everyone else is running, we, apparently don't deserve the same recognition.
Oh sure, there's plenty of coverage of the dedication of the Bush Library in Dallas. And there's a great deal of additional coverage on the tragic events in Boston and new details that are coming to light as the investigation continues. These stores do deserve coverage. However, the library dedication was this morning. The information from the bombing has been flowing since the capture of one of the bad guys on Friday evening. The memorial service did not begin until approximately 3:30 PM, EDT.
Being a news director is a job that is best described as a juggling act. There are times when the proverbial "cat in a tree," has to be the leading story. Then there are the times when very breaking news story could be the single headline all by itself. Add to that the personalities of news reporters on the scenes who are begging the studio to put their feed up, NOW; you can imagine why a news director's best friend is often a bottle of Aleve. And I honestly do appreciate the herculean task that they face. However, there comes a time when  you have to do what's right, not what's popular.
Today is one of those times. Twelve good and decent people, men with families, fathers and husbands, brothers and son, grandfathers, uncles, and friends. Yet, their characters stand high and above their other traits, because they had made a decision to protect their families and neighbors from harm, even if that harm cost them their own lives.
It's about time that the public remembers who answers their calls to 9-1-1, no matter the time, no matter the weather, no matter the danger. We do. It's who we are and it's what we do.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Sadness of Coincidences

I've been writing this blog plus another for several years now. I don't write every day or every week, and usually, not every month. But as it turns out, I'm writing this post one month after my last. So, what would bring me to this point?

Some of you may know that under our Twitter handle of @DalmatProd. All too often, my Tweets begin with the hash-tag, #LODD (Line Of Duty Death). I send out the info only upon confirmation of the loss and it includes the person's name, age, department, date of last alarm, and a compressed URL with details of the notice.

Sadly, all four of the line-of-duty-deaths that have occurred over the past five days have been health-related. No one died while battling a massive blaze; no one died in a collapse. Apparently, all four of our brothers were lost due to medical causes. And this is exactly what I wrote about in last month's column. For goodness sakes, just a month or so ago, we lost a firefighter who was 22 years old, to a health-related cause. 

Last week I was watching, "The View," and actor Kevin Sorbo, who used to play Hercules in a show of the same name, was appearing as a guest host. And during his segment, he mentioned that near the end of the show's sixth season, he suffered  several small strokes, due to a ruptured aneurism near his shoulder. He talked about having to relearn to coordinate his motor skills so he could walk again and speech therapy to help him re-tune his speaking ability. He considers himself one lucky guy and has even written a book about what he has been through, "True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal & How Nearly Dying Saved My Life."

For at least a decade many of us connected with fire-rescue and EMS, along with many in various specialties of the medical community, have worked hard to promote stroke awareness through the re-phrasing from "stroke," to "brain attack." And the reason is simple. Almost everyone older than 13 knows a little about the symptoms of a "heart attack." However, ask them, "What is a stroke?" and many will be lost. However, most of the time, a stroke is exactly the same medical occurrence as a heart attack, except that it happens in the brain, to wit, a blockage of blood flow to the organ. 

Now in Sorbo's case, his stroke was caused by an rupture in an artery near his shoulder. When the artery ruptures, it allows blood to escape its normal path. When that happens, the blood cells don't have the "flow" behind them to push them along. The cells start to "crowd up" and eventually, like the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill, a mass of these loose cells get sucked up back into the blood vessel. The problem is that the vessel is built to handle a certain size cell, the like lanes on a highway. When this "clump" of cells re-enter the vessel, the clump is too big for the vessel and stops it up, like your bathroom seek. That stoppage, interferes with the blood flow the brain needs and BANGO! you have a "brain attack!"

While aneurisms can occur on their own due to a weakness in the blood vessel's walls, they are often the by-product of HTN or "hypertension," which we know is a curable and preventable medical condition. You can't walk into most supermarkets or pharmacies and not see one of the blood pressure machines. While they are not always the most accurate readings, they can provide you with a range that you may want to advise your doctor of. Additionally, brain-attacks are often a sign of CAD (Coronary Artery Disease). But all too often, people often relate CAD to heart disease, not brain disease. 

Worst of all, too many of us, male and female alike, still suffer from this "macho" image that we are invincible and that the only danger to us is on the fireground. Do you still fight a fully-involved car fire without wearing SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus)? Or a dark, smoke-charged 2nd story window  of an apartment building? Why are you willing to take care of yourself on the fireground, but fail to care enough about your health to do so off the fireground?

If you have a family, do you make sure your kids get their shots? Take their vitamins? Do you call the doctor if their running a fever and complaining about ear pain? If so, why? Because you want the best for your children, the best for your family. Are you not a member of that same family? Are you not one of its very leaders? Then don't you owe yourself the very same diligence for your own health that you demand for your significant other and children!

It's time for us to put on our "big-boy" pants and schedule a visit with your family doctor or the department surgeon. Find out what your blood pressure is; learn what your total cholesterol is and if you need to change your food and alcohol intake, as well as salt, exercise, etc. to get it under control. If you are already on blood pressure or cholesterol meds, you owe to yourself, your family, and your colleagues, to do what you need to do to clean up your physical act and get as healthy as you can!

I never want send a Tweet about you!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Winning the Battles, But Losing the Wars?

My wife says I'm strange! OK, for most husbands, that's not too out of the ordinary. I suppose that most of us have an idiosyncrasy or two that may give our spouses pause. And for those of you who know me, you’re probably nodding your heads. 

However, what bothers her is that while reading the newspaper, I regularly read through the obituary column. I’m not quite sure how this habit started, however it has provided me with important information on the passing of an acquaintance that I had not heard about previously. As a matter of fact, when I was working as the administrator for a physician’s office, I came across the obit of one of our patients whom we had not seen in quite a while. In this case, the death was accidental, probably having nothing to do with a medical condition. Yet, when the rest of the staff arrived at the office that morning, no one else knew anything about this patient’s demise.

This strange habit carries over to my unwavering interest in the fire/rescue service. Through various email sources, as well as via Firehouse© Magazine, I carefully read through the details of each LODD (Line of Duty Death) listed. Why? It is because my attachment to my former avocation connects me to the well-known concept of the “firehouse brotherhood.” Though there are hundreds of women in today’s fire/rescue service, the term “brotherhood” is used as an endearment. We are family. No matter where you served, no matter whether you are/were a career member, a volunteer, or paid-on-call. Once you have carried the “red badge of courage,” you are in the family. And just as we pray for our loved ones to be safe, the same holds true for each and every brother and sister we have in the fire/rescue service.

Thus, when we hear of or read a notice of an LODD, it tears at our heart strings. I read each notice carefully. Why? Once he/she is lost, what difference is it how it occurred? The difference is that in the last couple of decades, firefighter deaths on the fireground, have been dramatically reduced. Yet, the total number of firefighters deaths per year, has remained around an average of 100, except for this past year, 2012. So, if we’re not losing our brothers on the fireground, why are we losing so many?

Some pass in either POV (Personally Owned Vehicle) or apparatus collisions on the way to or from the scene of a call. A more recent spate of losses have been from fire/rescue personnel on the scene of an incident on a public roadway, who are then struck by an oncoming vehicle. All too often, the driver who hits and often kills the rescue worker, is intoxicated or distracted and fails to heed the gazillion flashing lights, the tall orange cones, the brightly burning and smoking roadside flares, etc. And I write this column while living in the State of Florida which is one of the few remaining states that has not outlawed texting while driving. As a matter of fact, a new bill was introduced to the Florida Legislature recently, however, the previous five or six efforts never made to the floor! One Florida representative said that he felt that a law banning texting while driving infringes on the driver’s Second Amendment’s rights. Sadly, we occasionally lose members in the crash of a firefighting aircraft or a medical helicopter.

Yet, with all these various mechanisms of tragic loss, there is still one more that is all too common and one that we might stand a good chance of controlling and that is firefighters’ health. Sadly, the obituaries often note that the firefighter had just returned from a series of strenuous calls, or they had had a busy shift the day before and passed in their sleep. Some even collapse at the station or on the scene of an incident. Listen, no matter where it happens it is one too many losses that we might be able to prevent. If we don’t, we might win the “battles,” but we could lose the war.

Around the country, numerous departments, especially career, have drawn a line in the sand. They have created new, strict, standards for the well-being of their members. One of the most stringent is a “No Smoking” standard. “If you’re a smoker, don’t bother to apply for the job!” Some have taken it to, what might be considered an extreme by stating, “If you have used any type of tobacco product within 365 days prior to your application, don’t bother to apply!”

Back in junior high (middle) school and high school, I was in a successful band and part of the “cool” look was smoking cigarettes.  I gave up cigarettes when I got to college and switched to what I now call the “pseudo-cigars” of the day, i.e. Tijuana Smalls®, Hav-A-Tampa®, etc.  When I graduated, I took up a pipe and smoked it fairly regularly at home and in my office and never had an inclination to go back.

When I first volunteered on the job, several of the career members and numerous volunteers either smoked cigarettes or chew tobacco. I never gave it another thought. However, after my SCBA training and using it numerous times on active calls, I started to notice something. Here we were wearing SCBA to prevent the inhalation of smoke, poisonous hydro-carbons, and other toxic gases. Yet, when we were on a working fire and were rotated out for a spell, a lot of guys would dump the SCBA’s then light up a cigarette. 

I saw the same thing happen even more when I moved to the Syracuse NY area and joined a great combo department up there. We had some wild structure fires in the middle of those upstate New York winters. Ambient temps were in the single digits. Add a little wind-chill and we were somewhere between -10o - -25o F! Yet, the same thing happened. We’d spell-out and many of the guys would light up right after dumping their SCBA gear.

What was wrong with this picture?

What were we wearing the SCBA for? An endurance test? 

I’ve been out of active service since 1985. But fate has determined that I didn’t get enough practice during my eight years of service. No, since 1985, I’ve had the “luck” of being first or one of the first people to appear on the scene of a significant incident. From full-arrests to MVC’s (Motor Vehicle Collision) with overturned vehicles, ejections, to car vs. pedestrian, I’ve too often been the first one with any emergency medical experience who shows up. Over the past 28 years, I’ve made it a habit to carry an well-stocked BLS jump kit in my car, along with gloves, rope, collars etc. So, I feel pretty well-prepared. Except for one item…me!

I’m 28 years older and most definitely a “few” pounds heavier than I was in my heyday. And even back, I wasn’t the poster boy for volunteer firefighter health. Add to that two bad knees and a lumbar back that has caused me to be declared disabled. No, I don’t think twice about doing the right thing. The adrenalin kicks in and I do what I have to do until local fire/rescue and EMS show up. But I do know what working at every one of these incidents in the past nearly 30 years takes out of me. Because once that adrenalin stops coursing through my veins, I’m wiped out!

The difference is, I do what I do because it’s a part of who I am. We all know the axiom, “You can take the boy out of the firehouse, but you’ll never get the firehouse out of the boy.” This isn’t my job! And if the Good Lord decides that it’s time for my interview, then so be it. I will go, knowing I did what was the right thing to do.

However today, we are losing far too many brothers and sisters to preventable disease. Though part of our jobs is to help prevent the calls we respond to, we never will be able to prevent them all. So, yes, there is danger in the work we do. But, it’s not impossible for most of us to lose weight. It’s not impossible for us to change to healthier diets. It’s not impossible for us to get some regular cardio work-out time in. It’s not impossible to work with either our own physician or the department surgeon, to check us for possible medical conditions we’ve developed since getting on the job and keeping them in check. 

What is impossible is for your family to bring you back if you become a statistic due to preventable illness. Don’t give me that crap about being too busy! When I was on the job, I worked an average of 80 hours per week in my vocation, had a wife and two daughters, and still found time to volunteer at the local firehouse. Ask yourself, “What’s more important? You taking a day off to spend with your doctor and some medical tests or your wife and kids taking a day off to bury you with honors?”

The “LODD Notice” column in Firehouse® isn’t going to go away. But you can make it a lot shorter!