A line-of-duty death forever changes the fire department or agency and the community. So where does a chief turn for support after this tragedy?
The Chief-to-Chief Network grew out of a need expressed by chiefs who had lost a firefighter in the line of duty. They said that they felt very isolated after the death of a firefighter, that they had no one to turn to for advice and support.
The Foundation has established a network of senior fire officers who have one thing in common. They have all experienced the death of a firefighter in the line of duty and understand what a department goes through.
How It Works
Immediately after learning about a line-of-duty death, the Foundation gathers information about the incident and the fire department.
Any Chief who would like to talk to a Network Chief can do so by completing the information request form below. A member of the Foundations team will be in touch within 24 hours to gather more information in order to match up an appropriate Chief. The Foundation will arrange for a Chief-to-Chief contact.
We then arrange for a chief-to-chief contact, matching chiefs by criteria such as department size and location, career or volunteer status and the nature of the incident.
Network members share information on issues such as:
All discussions are confidential.
- Incident follow-up and investigations
- Support for the fallen firefighter's family and coworkers
- Funeral and memorial service arrangements
- Requests for information from media and community
- Personal feelings of loss
The Foundation also identifies a fire service officer or chaplain in a nearby area who can personally provide funeral guides and other resources within the first 24 hours. These officers have gone through training based on information gleaned by Chiefs who have been there.
Here are some insights from chief officers who have experienced the death of a firefighter under their command. Included are suggestions they would make to others facing a similar situation.
How does the death of a firefighter affect the chief?
- "I was surrounded by people, but felt all alone."
- "Others have been through this (line-of-duty death), but no one has been through this (my situation and the loss of this firefighter)."
- "After the death, I recognized responsibilities that I didn't even know I had."
- "I felt that, as chief, I had to be all things to all people.
- "I thought seriously about taking early retirement, but I have to stay and try to make changes so this does not happen again."
- It is difficult, but so important to seek and accept help.
- Often, the firefighter who dies is also a dear friend, and you have to address the multiple facets that the loss represents.
- What if you did not have a good relationship with the firefighter? How do you deal with feeling that you are not reacting to the death the way you "should?"
- The death of a firefighter affects the chief's family, especially the spousal relationship.
- A line-of-duty death often affects the way chiefs feel about the work they have always loved. "I used to look forward to fighting structure fires. Now I dread it when we get a call."
- Some chiefs feel relief that they pushed hard for safety before the line-of-duty death. Others feel frustrated that they had done everything right and still lost someone.
- "There is no way around feeling guilt after a line-of-duty death, no matter what the circumstances. But you can't let it consume you."
- "The experience forced me to learn."
What other insights have you had?
- A LODD, especially a multiple fatality or a high profile death, permanently changes the department and the community.
- Officers have to be officers, which may mean not being a part of the camaraderie at the firehouse.
- Command abilities need to be tested, just as operations and other areas are tested and simulated before an emergency occurs.
- Implementing increased safety measures can be unpopular and lonely.
- Investigating agencies are going to find fault with your department. Be prepared to answer.
What has helped you?
- "I called my own pastor on the phone from the hospital and took a few minutes to talk with him."
- "I needed time alone."
- "I kept a journal of my thoughts in the early days after the death, so I could have it for reference later."
- Individual and family counseling
- Support and outreach from other chiefs who have dealt with line-of-duty death
What actions have you taken since the death?
- "What you do to make things better will be the benchmark you leave after a line-of-duty death. You must make changes for the better."
- Threw out the old standards and started from scratch.
- Implemented a department fitness program
- Pushed for presumptive findings Insisted that firefighters follow all safety protocols religiously
- Reached out to other chiefs after line-of-duty death