On Duty Injuries

To save a life may cost a life. The price of a rescue is a balancing act that -pits the skill and courage of the Firefighter against the risk of injury or death. This is the time when heroes emerge.

There is never a lot of time to think at a fire scene. Decisions are based on knowledge, experience, and instincts. It is one of the reasons the Detroit Fire Department relies on seniority as the prime consideration in it’s promotional system. During my time on the job I was witness to many acts of bravery and was involved in actions where Firefighters were injured. Cuts, bruises, burns, smoke inhalation, broken bones, and even dog bites are to be expected when involved in the dangerous business of fire fighting.

Many times the risk cannot be managed. We once had a fire at a facility that  sold bottled gas. The company was located on the southwest side of Detroit. We rolled out of quarters at one in the morning. We could see the night sky lit up by a major fire. As we drew close we could hear explosions above the sound of our sirens. We pulled our rig upwind of the fire and set up a heavy line on the protective edge of a railroad track. The sight of exploding gas cylinders that skyrocketed upward into the night sky was awesome. It was also fearsome because when the heavy canisters returned to earth they buried themselves in the ground like 200 pound steel javelins. Some were landing over a half mile away. It was an unmanageable risk. We had to bring the fire under control before civilians in the surrounding neighborhood  were killed or injured. We did this under great pressure but with the happy result of no injuries to anyone. Luck, another unmanageable factor, was on our side that night.

Careers have been cut short by injuries sustained in the fire wars. My former running mate, Gary Siuru, was the officer in charge of Engine 27 one night. My son Joe was riding the back of the rig that evening. They caught a nasty dwelling fire. Joe and Steve Schimek, a trial man, were on the pipe as they advanced through a hot smoky attic. Lieutenant Siuru hovered over his men pointing out hazards and dangers as they advanced. “Watch for that hole. It looks like an open trap door,” he commanded. They worked their way several yards further and successfully brought the fire under control. Lieutenant Siuru moved back to pull more line. He forgot about the trap door opening and crashed to the floor below. That momentary  lapse in memory was the end of his career. His knee was so badly injured that it could never be fully repaired. The department lost a good man at that fire. The knowledge gained in the attic, that night, went into the memory banks of Siuru’s two young Firefighters and better prepared them for the dangers they would face in the years to come.

I know this is a story repeated many times over in  Fire Departments around the world. It is part of our business. The moral is to train often, be safe, and stay close to a lucky partner.

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"Fire Horses" book authored by firefighter R.J. Haig.


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